Tainted Grail was one of my Top 10 Anticipated Games of 2019 and it didn’t disappoint. Within a few short weeks of playing it at every opportunity, it catapulted itself into my Top 10 Games of All Time!
It’s a co-operative adventure game set in an Arthurian dark-fantasy world where much of the land is covered with “weirdness” – a darkness that distorts and corrupts all life that it comes into contact with.
Mixing elements of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, resource management, RPG-style levelling and a novel card-based combat system, it creates a fantastic overall experience. Let me tell you about it…
The world that you explore is represented (much like the excellent 7th Continent) by cards on the table. As you move around, you reveal more and more cards. However, you are severely limited by the range of the menhirs.
Menhirs are giant statues that cast a holy light on the surrounding land and hold back the weirdness, but they only reach so far. You simply can’t reveal cards that aren’t adjacent to a menhir.
Over time though, the menhirs darken and go out. You have to spend a significant number of resources to light them again and much of your time initially is spent just trying to survive: trying to get enough food to eat and enough resources to keep your closest menhir alight. It’s tense and creates a great atmosphere.
When you arrive in a location, you can explore it by turning to the relevant page in the Exploration Journal, a big ring-bound book full of events and stories. The entries provide context and typically present you with tricky decisions: do you give some of your much needed food to the passing beggar or send him away hungry?
Decisions matter and there’s an effective status system (like Legacy of Dragonholt) for remembering what decisions you’ve made, who you’ve spoken to and which locations you’ve discovered. You really feel like you’re creating your own path through the story. The writing is also very good, which further immerses you in the world.
When you encounter monsters creeping out of the weirdness, combat is resolved by playing cards from your combat deck. The cards chain together in a way I’ve never seen before, which provides for plenty of interesting decisions.
Playing a card might deal damage, or block damage, but it also sets up the next card that you play, which could make it a lot more powerful if you set up the chain well. This means playing the same cards in a different order can drastically affect your damage and defence.
You have a separate deck for diplomatic encounters. If you encounter angry townsfolk, they may need placating (rather than killing!) so you use your diplomacy deck, which has its own mechanisms, but uses the same chaining system.
The card play is very thinky and ideally suited to solo play. The only issue is that it can be very AP-prone, so I wouldn’t recommend playing the game with more than 3 players: there’s just too much downtime if one character is involved in combat and the other players are having to wait.
Tainted Grail is a campaign game, but will still provide you with dozens of hours of gameplay. Partly because the campaign is long: completing it is likely to take 30-40 hours. However, it can also be replayed.
If you make different decisions, you will end up in different locations, possibly fighting for the opposite side compared with your previous adventure. There is so much content in the game that you are unlikely to repeat many storylines. That’s before you even consider expansions.
As you defeat monsters and complete quests, you gain XP, which can be used to “level up” in various ways. You can obtain improved cards for your combat and diplomacy decks, you can gain special abilities, and you can increase your stats.
The interesting thing here is that your stats tend to come in antagonistic pairs: increasing one stat (eg. aggression) might make you better at fighting, but it will make it harder to incease its counterpart stat (eg. empathy) later on. You need to make some difficult levelling choices about what kind of character you want to be; you can’t be great at everything.
If you’re looking for an adventure game with depth of content – whether that’s realistic storylines, meaningful decisions or involved combat – Tainted Grail is as good as it gets. It’s the best adventure game I’ve ever played. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough!
Have you played it? What do you think?
The Tainted Grail pledge manager is currently open so if you know anyone who backed it, you should be able to piggyback off their pledge and get your own copy.