Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, October 25, 2022
Tainted Grail - A late review

[I finally decided to try out Tainted Grail in the 1.0 rules version, and not wait for 2.0. That also allowed me to gather my thoughts on the game, and post them on BGG.]

This is my review of a game that at the time of me writing is 3 years old. And I am reviewing the 1.0 version, knowing that a version 2.0 is currently being made with the next expansion. The advantage of being late to the review party is that I don’t need to take overly care to avoid spoilers, as everything is already known. Up to you to decide whether this review is of any relevance to you.

Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon is a narrative game in which you explore a dark fantasy world inspired by Arthurian legend. You are trying to understand what is going on with the world you live in, and to hold back the oncoming doom of that world. The game combines these narrative aspects with gameplay that mixes resource management with card-based combat. The story is the best part of the game, with gameplay coming a distant second.

The base game of Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon comes with miniatures for the 4 heroes, oversized miniatures for 3 menhirs, and one miniature for a “boss” enemy. You can buy an expansion box with miniatures for all guardians, but you really don’t need those to play. The miniatures, cards, and other components are of good quality. The only negative component that stands out are the gray plastic dials, because unless you paint the numbers or wash paint the dial, the numbers are very hard to read. You might want to replace the dials with 12-sided dice.

Gameplay - The Good:
Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon is played on a map that consists of large rectangular cards. Traveling from card to card, exploring each card, and revealing new cards are all quite well done, enhancing the sense of exploration of a strange mythical world. The four heroes each have their own strengths, weaknesses, and outright flaws, and are more interesting than the usual generic hero archetypes in fantasy dungeon crawler games. Upgrading the heroes with better stats, skills, and new cards is fun. There is enough content in the base box to keep you occupied for many hours; but the 15 chapters are still few enough to make it feasible to finish the campaign.

Gameplay - The Bad:
When you start playing Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon, you will most likely be hit by a sense of deliberate confusion: There is a lot of hidden information in the game, and it is completely normal to not exactly know where you should go, and what you should do. That mixes very badly with two major aspects of the game: Time pressure and randomness. Everything you do costs energy, you only have a very limited amount of energy per day, and only a limited number of days before the menhirs go dark. What you need to do to advance is to go to specific locations, explore, choose the right options, and then in many cases also roll high on a six-sided die. You might get hints, but often you aren’t terribly sure which is the right location to explore, what the right option to choose is, and whether it is worth redoing the same action when you roll low. There is a lot of trial and error in this game, and the error might be as random as rolling low. But if you didn’t get a high roll, you often don’t know if you missed out on a vital step of your quest, or just missed some minor reward.

The official way around bad luck is to collect resources and pay them to light the menhirs, giving you more time to try failed explorations again. If you read in other reviews that Tainted Grail is grindy, this is the reason why. You spend resources to gain more time, but half of the time you add is then spent to gather those resources again, which isn’t much fun. And there is a second time pressure mechanic in the game, via the number of event cards, where even if you manage to keep the menhirs lit all the time, you will lose the game eventually if you don’t manage to complete the quests. Note that there are already optional “story mode” rules in version 1.0, which give you a bit more time and thus make it more likely for you to succeed. And the upcoming version 2.0 rules will also go in that direction to make the game less grindy.

Gameplay - The Ugly:
Combat in Tainted Grail: Fall of Avalon isn’t horrible, but it isn’t great either. You have a deck of 15+ cards, and you draw 3 random cards at the start of battle. Your goal is to fill the combat pool with a number of red cubes that corresponds to the enemies “health”. You do that by lining up the cards to the right of the monster card, and achieving “matches” between the symbols on the left of the card you play with symbols on the right of the previous card. You can always play one card, but to play more cards, certain bonus symbols need to match up. Once you can’t play any more cards, the enemy reacts, based on the amount of red cubes. He could then damage you, remove some cubes, or discard cards. Then you draw one more card and the next round of combat.

The result of all this is that this very much feels like a puzzle with you randomly drawing puzzle pieces which might or might not fit very well. That is very slow, because you usually need to consider several possible combinations of cards. If you play solo and like puzzles, this can be okay; with more players around the table, the complexity of the puzzle and the small symbols involved make it difficult for others to participate. At best, if the characters are on the same space, they could fight the monster together, but that just means that everybody takes turns to solve “his” puzzle with “his” cards. This combat system is a big part of the reason why on BGG it is recommended to not play with more than 2 players, even if the game officially supports 4 players.

The random draws make combat a lot less tactical than for example combat in Gloomhaven. And the puzzly nature makes combat a lot slower and less visual than combat in games that use a system of chucking dice. Note that while the upcoming rules version 2.0 and the upcoming stand-alone expansion Kings of Ruin fix a lot of the grindiness flaws of the game, the combat apparently remains largely the same. Personally I feel that Tainted Grail would be a better game if it had a faster and more visual combat system.

The story is the strongest point of Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon. It is very different from typical generic fantasy. The flawed characters feel a lot more real than “heroes” do. And the game is good at displaying shades of gray instead of a simplistic black and white, good vs. evil morality. The low number of available characters, four, also makes it possible to include a good number of character-specific story elements. You not only explore the world, but also the history of the character you play.

The box of Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon comes with all the components you’d need to play a great game. And then the rules of the game make it just a good game, with moments of frustration mixed in. I am pretty sure that with rules version 2.0, this will be a better game. If you don’t want to wait that long, I would recommend to play the game with standard 1.0 rules for at least 2 chapters, and then restart with some house rules, depending on what frustrated you most in the game up to then. House rules to consider are those that give you more time, or decrease the time spent gathering resources; as well as rules that diminish randomness, e.g. rerolling dice. In its standard rules 1.0 form, I would give Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon a score of 7 out of 10, “good - usually willing to play”, but house rules or rules version 2.0 would most probably improve that score.


Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

  Powered by Blogger   Free Page Rank Tool