Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon, from Awaken Realms, was a crowd-funded game that appeared on Kickstarter about this time last year. It was designed by Krzysztof Piskorski and Marcin Swierkot, and features the artwork of Piotr Foksowicz, Ewa Labak, and Piotr Gacek.
Set in a world that is deep in Arthurian Legend, this fantasy co-op campaign game sees players exploring locations in a similar vein to 7th Continent, whilst combat and diplomacy uses a unique system that involves the stringing together of cards to best deal with the current encounter.
The Kickstarter campaign is currently coming to fruition, and mine has just arrived on the doorstep – let’s take a peek…
The Game arrived all nicely packaged up, and everything was well protected within the box.
Opening things up, the first thing I find is a ‘Surprise Box!’ This is something that Awaken Realms are becoming known for, adding in little surprises for their Kickstarter backers, and this one is… well, it’s a surprise, and I’m not about to spoil it for those backers still awaiting theirs.
Removing the top section of the sturdy protective foam insert, I see the Monsters of Avalon box peering up at me, as this is an expansion I’ll come back to it later, and I’ll concentrate on the core box first.
The core box is weighty, indicative of the many cards and other goodies packed inside.
The box artwork is atmospheric, with the detailing hazy and thought provoking – a body lies at the feet of what appears to be a giant statue bearing a golden chalice (This is a Menhir, more on these shortly). The body lies, crown adrift, with a sword piercing its torso. Who is this? Why does he lie dying, or in fact, is he already dead, and why does the statue appear to be tilting the chalice, letting its contents (maybe blood?) flow over the unknown’s head?
This is just the start of the immersion that opening this box draws you into, because inside you start to get the feeling that this is going to be a journey, one that is going to create an atmospheric world with the players at its centre.
As I take off the lid you’ll see what I mean.
My eye was immediately drawn towards a couple of things: a set of letters and a map. The map looks tatty, but that’s deliberate. It looks as if it has been well used – there are stains in the corners, one of which may have been blood, and it looks as if it has been folded up and kept in someone’s pocket! There are actually four of these, all identical.
The letters are addressed to the characters, and I have five of these, as I opted to add Niamh to my pledge. Again, these have been printed to give the effect of being old and worn, and I think it was a great idea to do this – it makes playing a character a little more personal; it makes the player feel a little bit special, and all it took was a letter addressed to a character. These letters form part of the characters backstory, and are a must read before starting off on the campaign.
Also lying on top of the main components are some save sheets, an open and play guide, the rulebook, and the Exploration Journal, which is protectively encased in cardboard for transportation.
There are plenty of save sheets, 30 apparently, and these are printed on both sides. On the front is an area to record each characters statistics, player notes, and Menhir locations and dial values. On the reverse is a list of different statuses, most of which have several tick boxes next to them.
The open and play guide offers an introductory scenario, which leads you through the basics – movement, combat, and diplomacy. This scenario uses its own, pre-built deck of cards, which are in a specific order so don’t go shuffling things!
I have played through this scenario and would advise others to do the same. I read the main rulebook first, and was a little unsure on the odd rule or two, but playing through this cleared up those concerns. It is pretty basic, but it takes no time at all, and may save you from mistakes later on.
The Rulebook is a big, glossy booklet of 24 pages, and I thought it did a pretty good job of explaining the rules (though I’m yet to play anything other than the intro, so my opinion may change!). There are plenty of examples, and despite it first appearing to be heavy on text, it is actually a fairly easy and quick read.
The Journal is ring bound and contains a lot of pages. The quality appears excellent; the same applies to the previously mentioned paperwork, with thick, glossy pages, clear text and some nice sketched artwork. At the front there is a short explanation on how to use the journal, and here it details the use of the Menhir dials to decode the secrets. Basically, it shows you which direction to orientate the dials, which in turn gives you a number. This number then refers you to a verse in the Book of Secrets contained at the rear of the Journal.
With the paperwork out of the way we come to the main components, which are stored in a very tidy, plastic inlay. There’s a clear plastic lid protecting the majority, with the player trays sitting on top in a recess. These are lovely, double depth cardboard, with recesses to hold the cubes. The character tiles fit snuggly into their matching tray – you need to flip the tile over to see their setup information.
I really like the artwork on these. The main character stands out, nicely detailed, whereas the background is more of a suggestion and reminds me of a watercolour painting. Each tile and character has a predominant colour that some may find a little drab, but I don’t mind this at all.
Looking at the character boards you can see that there is some variation in their attributes – Energy, Heath, and Terror – each character has their own special abilities.
Niamh is the only character that doesn’t have her own tray; she can use that of any other character.
The main insert holds a lot of cards – over 700 in fact – in three different sizes.
The oversize cards are comprised mostly of locations, which resemble the ones used in The 7th Continent, in as far as how they’re linked together and have actions on them. These are double sided and are flipped when you explore them.
Also in the oversize deck there are 9 help cards, all double sided (you’ll obviously need a lot of help!) Each player can have their own set, which is good to see, with the odd card being the combat/diplomacy overview. All the icons are here, so you won’t have to keep flipping through the book to identify things; the rest of the cards give you an overview of turn order, actions, and such like.
The mini sized decks contain items, skills, and secrets. Flipping through these I see that the artwork is nicely done, simple but effective, and like the player boards most have a predominant colour running through them, which gives them a hazy, atmospheric look rather than a bright, crisp, detailed image. The text is clear and easy to read, and there appears to be a good variety, especially within the item deck – from rusty sword to riding donkey’s, and even an old crow!
The majority of the cards are standard poker size (63.5 x 88.9mm), and are broken down into several different decks – by that I mean eighteen! There are encounter decks, combat and diplomacy decks for each coloured player tray (important not to mistake these as being character specific, because Niamh can use any tray!), character decks, Random event deck, story event deck, you’re dying/going insane cards, and some dividers.
Most of these cards fit in one section of the insert. There are other sections of the tray that will keep cards separate when you save your game, but the rest all go together. This makes them a little difficult to get out, and of course, you’ll have to divide them up every time you take them out.
The artwork on these cards is a little more colourful than elsewhere, but retains the atmospheric haziness that runs throughout the game; I actually quite like it. Close up they aren’t the most detailed of images, but then they don’t need to be, and they portray the mood of the game very well – an eerie, dark and mystical world that is slowly dying and drawing to an end.
The graphics are very clear and easy to read, and the quality of these, and all other included cards, appears to be very high. They have a glossy finish and are reasonably stiff – only time will tell how well they hold up to being handled.
The combat and diplomacy decks are quite varied, and just glancing through I can guess that there’s going to be a good level of strategic thinking to be done. Working out your card combinations – trying to align the most effective symbols from one card to another – is probably going to form the meat of the game. You can tailor your character’s deck to a degree, and with play you should become quite conversant with the combinations available.
Next thing to look at are the cubes, called markers, and they come in two colours, red and purple – a purple marker is worth 5 red ones. They’re of the common transparent plastic type, but they do fit nice and snug into trays to mark your attribute levels. They are also used to keep track of your resources, again on the tray.
Another addition for the trays is the simple, and yet really clever, health limiter. The centre square marks your current health, with its ‘arms’ marking the energy and insanity thresholds – as your health changes so to do these thresholds, so your energy declines as you lose health and it is also easier to become panicked.
Also in the box are some quest and timer tokens. These are small plastic tokens that do what’s needed – Quest tokens are used to track progress during certain quests, whilst Timer tokens are used during combat and diplomacy. Some cards that you play have delayed actions, only firing when you remove the last Timer token.
Last of the plastic tokens are the Menhir dials. These fit in the bottom of the Menhir, and are used to count down the days until that Menhir goes dark, allowing the Wyrdness to move in. They’re hard plastic with a scullion one side and a grail on the other. The numbers they have running around the edge are really difficult to see, which is a pain, as this is their main purpose – you’ll definitely want to highlight these some way, maybe with a simple wash. You’ll also get to toss these like a coin – one side’s a Skull, the other a Grail.
There are two dice that fit snuggly in the corner of the insert, and what pretty dice they are! I just love the look of these/ They’re simply decoded, but the black on the off white gives them an old worldly look, like you’re playing with a couple of relics!
Finally, there are the miniatures. Three of these are Menhirs, the guardians of the world in which you’re playing. An active Menhir keeps the Wyrdness at bay, and enables you to move around the Island of Avalon.
The Menhirs are hard plastic, and all different sculpts, which is nice to see as they could easily have kept them the same. They have a pretty reasonable level of detailing, and there isn’t too much work needed to clean them up ready for painting – the mould lines are mostly hidden within the detail. Once painted, they should look pretty impressive on the board as they stand close to 100mm tall.
There is a single guardian contained within the core box, again hard plastic and fairly well detailed – the base is also detailed, though fairly basically. It’s in quite a static pose, but should prove interesting to paint, and it will be fascinating to see what colour schemes people use.
The character minis stand around 40mm tall, head to toe, and again have a fair amount of detailing, more than good enough for something that isn’t essentially a miniatures game. Some of the figures have fairly prominent mould lines, Alei for instance, and will take a bit of paint prep. The bases are detailed, but all identical, though the positioning of the figures varies. On the whole these are nice miniatures and a good representation of their character tile.
A word of warning though, they do fit quite snug within the insert, but if you pull them out from by base you shouldn’t have any issues.
That’s the core box covered; let’s take a look at the expansion…
Monsters of Avalon
This expansion is all miniatures, 20 of them to be exact. Just like the core box there is a plastic insert to hold them in place, and this has clear plastic lid. There is also a nice print showing where they all fit within this insert, which is a thoughtful and useful addition.
It is all miniatures, as they just represent the Guardian cards included within the core set. They’re all hard plastic and nicely sculpted, and there are some unusual things in here, like the Wyrdbear, Warped Elk, and a Mulchman!
They should make for good painting, as there are some interesting sculpts here, though there’s also plenty of mould lines to clean away and some of the minis have fairly large gaps to fill, especially the Selkie.
Obviously it isn’t a required expansion, and is going to appeal mostly to those who enjoy the painting side of the hobby, and once painted these will give the game quite a dramatic table presence.
After the unboxing, and having played quickly through the intro, I’m really looking forward to getting into this game for real. It oozes theme – the addition of the maps and the letters helps to immerse you into its dark and eerie storyline, and the artwork is though provoking, leaving some of the finer details for your own mind to fill in.
The production quality is very high, and there is a lot of attention to detail here – the plastic inserts hold everything nice and snug, and the clear lid ensures nothing comes awry. The journal, rulebook, and all the other components are of a very good quality, and the miniatures are very good for what is essentially a board game.
I’m looking forward to explore the world, as well as getting to grips with the unique combat and diplomacy mechanisms. The box states play time is 2-3 hours per chapter, and there are 15 chapters, plus there is variation based upon the characters you choose, so there should be plenty of game to keep you busy, at least until the stretch goals get sent out next year!