Grab a good old game book, add resource management, deck building, a modular map, some cool miniatures, some dice to flavor, mix everything in an Arthurian setting revisited in "dark sauce", let the expedition time rest, and you will have "Tainted Grail - The fall of Avalon"!
As for style, setting and result we are diametrically opposed to that mess that is the Netflix series Cursed (do you remember? We talked about it in a previous one article).
Tainted grail is the result of a very successful Kickstarter campaign, the biggest of 2018, by Awakened Realms (This War of Mine, Nemesis, Lords of Hellas, and others), distributed in Italy by United Games.
Tainted Grail setting
We are, as you have already understood, in the magical world of King Arthur, or rather, in a reinterpretation of him. Avalon has been almost completely engulfed by the Anomaly, and only the Menhirs, gigantic and mysterious statues, illuminate some areas keeping the inhabitants safe. Avalon's greatest heroes set out years ago to uncover the secrets of the Anomaly and defeat it, failing miserably. Who knows if there is the hand of Sir Mordred (a very complex character that we have analyzed in this one article)!
Now it is up to us, who are the "reserves", to try to follow their trail, try to solve this mystery and save Avalon.
The mechanics of Tainted Grail
Tainted grail is divided into 15 chapters to be tackled one after the other, but characterized by numerous crossroads that will make us want to play again to discover "what would have happened if ...".
It is a pure collaborative, in which our miniatures will move on a modular map made up of various numbered cards representing the main places of Avalon. However, only the areas illuminated by an active menhir will be reachable; so our first concern will be to feed these huge statues.
It will be essential, to solve our "quests", to explore different places, and here the "Exploration diary". It is a full-bodied tome with rings, with a chapter dedicated to each place, within which we will move through a crossroads structure similar to that of a game book. Inevitably, along our adventure, we will find ourselves facing two varieties of events: fights and diplomatic meetings.
Both types are resolved with a similar mechanism: the relative card is placed on the table, then each player draws cards from their deck corresponding to the type of encounter (combat or diplomacy), and cards are played to try to "solve" it.
At the end of each player's turn, the opponent will react according to a table on the card. The event ends positively if we inflict a certain number of wounds on the enemy (combat) or reach a certain condition (diplomacy). Otherwise, if we haven't escaped before, and especially at the beginning it's not a bad idea at all, the encounter can end in various ways, all of which are unpleasant.
The growth of the Heroes
With the passage of time, and with so much experience accumulated, our character will earn points in the six main characteristics, will acquire skills and equipment, will improve their decks, until it looks like that terrible bear from which we ran away a few chapters before, similar to a puccioso plush.
All this for the fifteen captivating chapters of the campaign. Once finished, you will almost certainly want to start over to find out what other secrets Avalon hides.
The game materials
We can only speak well of the quality of the components. The cards are valuable and have very inspired illustrations. The modular planks are made of thick cardboard and have spaces to hold the cubes so that they stay in place. Finally, the miniatures are a feast for the eyes!
Also available separately, or included for those who had added them to the kickstarter, the metal coins, the miniatures of all the monsters, the “sundrop” versions (painting technique that combines the techniques of preshade and washing) of all the miniatures. And a series of other amenities for those who, like many of us, want to "pimp" their copy of the game.
The only caveat is that the box insert doesn't have enough space for wrapped cards, which was made clear during the Kickstarter campaign.
Tainted grail I liked it, a lot. I'll make it clear right away because, to begin with, I want to talk about the "defects" of the title which, in my opinion, could make it unappetizing for some players. First of all there is a lot to read and, if you play in many, to listen to. For me this is an added value, but for others it could be a flaw. The fights, in the long run, could get slightly monotonous, but it mostly depends on how you want to face them.
I cannot give you advice that would be "spoiler", but I tell you that it is not necessary to face every single encounter. Skipping any of them will decrease playtime and make it smoother. Obviously this is something you hear at the end, let's say in the last 2-3 chapters, but it was right to bring it back.
Last "flaw" is the number of players. This game performs better, in my opinion, as the number of people around the (Round Table!) Decreases. Perfect in solitaire and excellent in 2, but in 3 or 4 players you start to feel a lot of downtime. But you can always face it as a team by taking all the decisions together.
Having clarified these points, the game is truly the best you can expect from a title of this genre. The story is beautiful and exciting, but we will not be able to see everything in one "run". Luckily! So we will want to start over with different characters and discover new glimpses of Avalon.
Furthermore, the line between good and evil is always very blurred. Often we will be faced with important moral choices that will not make us sleep at night (literally?).
But be careful, because the game, in certain situations, can be very punishing. As the chapters pass, our characters will acquire new items and abilities, but at the same time they will face increasingly difficult encounters, keeping the challenge level always quite high. The only advice I can give, without spoiling anything, is to read everything well, because the clues are there.
The gameplay runs fast, even if the sessions can be quite long, but for this there are the comfortable and very clear save cards.
The regulation could have been clearer in some passages, but on the net there are FAQs and explanations in abundance. Given the very high text content, a mention to the translation must be made: apart from some sporadic errors, I would say that a very good job has been done.
Conclusions on Tainted Grail
Tainted grail it's a great game. Not for everyone, as I said, but for lovers of the genre it is a gem not to be missed. My advice is to play it in sessions that are not too detached from each other to enjoy the story to the fullest. And that they are at least a couple of hours, also because it will not be easy to get up from the table just as you are starting a new search!
But it doesn't stop there ...
In addition to the main campaign, four expansions for the game are already available in English, and will soon be in Italian!
Age of Legends e The Last Knight are two complete campaigns set respectively 1000 years before and 400 years after the fall of Avalon. Echoes of the Past instead it is an expansion that adds some side quests.