A grail game is a rare, difficult to find game that you attempt to seek out. Often, because they tend to be both rare and well-liked, it can be hard to find someone willing to sell it. It can be harder still to find someone willing to sell for a reasonable price. I’m just not willing to pay collector’s prices for games. Let’s just put that out there right now. I can see myself paying a bit more than retail for a good game that has fallen out of print, but I’ve no intention of paying hugely inflated prices. I buy a game to play it and not so much for ‘collector karma’. Well, saying that, my ‘pile of shame’ indicates that I do not always live up to this mantra… I try.
So, then, what are the games that I seek out? Well, there are a few. Usually, I’d scatter a post like this with some affiliate links, but the nature of these games and their scarcity makes that seem somewhat futile!
Starcraft: The Board Game
Starcraft is a video game franchise from Blizzard Entertainment, and one I have long enjoyed. Back when Fantasy Flight had the Blizzard licenses and put out their games in coffin-sized boxes they released a game based on Starcraft in one of these huge boxes.
The game had a modular map and a ton of miniatures in that hard, rubbery plastic that FFG was using at the time. I like how the game works, with a planning phase, followed by an execution phase. I like this type of game, where you must commit to your actions at the start of the turn. It means you actually need to plan, rather than just reacting to what other players do.
This same idea was used really well in A Game of Throne: The Board Game, and also in Warhammer 40,000: Forbidden Stars. Forbidden Stars actually reused a lot of the Starcraft game, being listed on Board Game Geek as a reimplementation of the system.
I really enjoy Forbidden Stars, but in the same way that I still wanted to buy Dune despite having essentially the same game re-skinned as FFG’s Rex, I want to play the original game. I know this is just for theme and flavour, but these are important elements in a game. I want to fly around like a badass in my Protoss Ships. I want to rush my enemy as Zerg. I want to play as redneck Terrans in space.
“In the rear, with the gear!”
From the sci-fi adventures in a distant future, we turn to the politics of the relatively recent past. Die Macher simulates a German General election in, depending on what edition you play, the 1980s or 1990s.
In terms of simulation, the game covers a surprising amount of ground. Each player controls a political party, beginning by competing for seats in each of the seven state elections. Parties will engage with a number of different political issues, with each state having different priorities. Getting wins in local elections then equips you to tackle the national one.
There’s a lot of nuance as you navigate each of these elections, possibly conceding ground that you don’t want to, being pressured into forming coalitions and deciding whether to accept money from a number of special interests.
Although 35 years old this year, I’m sure you can see that the issues are still very relevant. This game really appeals to me and I’m gutted that I missed the recent-but-limited reprint.
Battlestar Galactica: Exodus
The Battlestar Galactica board game is really good. Our group likes it a lot and it’s seen semi-regular play over the years. As you’ll see in all of the Fantasy Flight Games titles in this post, there’s a consistent issue of licensed games going out of print when the games company loses the license. It makes sense and there’s not much the FFG could really do about it, but so many of their great games are licensed. This means that you really do need to grab these games when you can.
BSG is a great cooperative game with a fun traitor mechanic in the same vein as Dead of Winter or Shadows Over Camelot. For those familiar with the show, the traitor is a human-form Cylon who had infiltrated the Colonial fleet. Fans of the show will be familiar with the concept and will have seen lots of great examples of how such infiltration works. For those not familiar with the game, it’s not exactly a difficult concept that needs a lot of explanation.
The core game is great, but each expansion adds new elements to the game and new characters. I have the other two expansions – Pegasus and Daybreak – but missed this one. To be honest, although there are some interesting things, like the fleet board, it’s the expansion that appeals least to me. The completionist in me won’t listen to this. It wants the precious.
Chaos in the Old World
Yes another licensed FFG title, Chaos in the Old World is a dudes-on-a-map strategy game set in the Old World of Warhammer. I tried this for the first time a little while before the first lockdown, back in early 2020. I loved it. It was genuinely a fantastic game and, although I’d heard that it was good, I had never really paid it all that much attention.
First of all, I loved the theming. Warhammer is a great setting with a long-established history and lore. The Chaos Gods are a really cool part of that setting, with each one quite distinct in theme and feel. This is carried through in this game, with each one playing quite differently. I love asymmetry in games, so this is a big selling point for me.
We all had fun with the game and I decided to have a look for the game, maybe see if I could find it second hand… oh dear… £200 minimum? I’ll need to keep an eye out, but I don’t think I’ll be finding this one at an acceptable price!
I’m actually quite surprised that FFG has no reimplemented the system like they did with Starcraft or Dune, reskinning it with another license or one of their in-house properties.
Paranoia 2nd Ed Supplements
I love the current edition of Paranoia than Mongoose has put together. It’s fun, accessible and straightforward. It’s a much easier game for someone new to pick up and play. It’s very well presented…
But I still love second edition.
Don’t get me wrong; with the vast majority of groups, I’d be playing the Mongoose edition, hands down. There are some folk though, some groups where the slightly more crunchy feel of second edition would just be better received. I also think that this edition had a lot of really great supplements.
I’ve got a lot of these supplements in PDF format, but you cannae beat a physical book. One big thing in second edition was the addition of a metaplot. My favourite bit of this metaplot was the removal of Friend Computer for a time, completely changing the dynamic of Alpha Complex.
Some particular highlights that I’d like to get my hands on are Paramilitary, The Computer Always Shoots Twice, Alpha Complexities (invisible Commies? Get ’em!), and The People’s Glorious Revolutionary Adventure.