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Written in the mid-80s at Cambridge University, published by Topologika, and recently ported to Inform, Quest for the Sangraal is on a distinctly different wavelength than most IF produced nowadays. In one sense, it's a puzzle-fest with only the slenderest strand of plot to bind it together, but the puzzles themselves are pretty unusual: many of them turn on puns, wordplay, and literary allusion to an extent largely unfamiliar to those who grew up on Infocom. The gameplay can be frustrating--the parser, true to the original, is limited to two words and doesn't recognize a lot of verbs that are now standard, notably EXAMINE. The saving grace is the literacy and intelligence that went into the writing of the game: the allusions are varied and sometimes rather subtle, and the writing is usually dryly funny. Sangraal is not an easy game, however--finishing it involves some major intuitive leaps--and the player is advised to seek help rather than trying to make all the leaps himself.
-- Duncan Stevens
Sangraal occupies such an odd niche that it's hard to liken it to any recent work of IF. There's no plot, really--the initial premise (retrieving the Holy Grail) is entirely irrelevant, as with most fantasy quests--and neither is there anything binding the game's world together. (I.e., the world depicted feels less like a setting than an excuse for a lot of silly puzzles.) The puzzles have a way of disappearing once they're solved, and most of them either give the player a treasure-type object or simply award points; none, as far as I can recall, changed the game's landscape, and not many even opened up new territory to explore. No doubt this is a function of the memory limitations of the day, which made it difficult to code for both a solved and unsolved state of a puzzle, but the effect is to magnify the random-collection-of-puzzles feel.
-- Duncan Stevens
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On my latest Quixotic journey through the Phoenix Mainframe canon I have just completed this game and retired to Castle Moan with six other Knights Errant, porting the Sangraal in my gauntleted fist.
This 1987 game is the third of a loose trilogy with Fyleet and Crobe by the same talented author. You leave (or rather are expelled) across the drawbridge of Castle Moan beside a cheering crowd as they wave you on to certain death. Lovely eh? Something akin to Les Tricoteuses who sat in the front row for the best views of a beheading by Madame la Guillotine. And not even a lamp or sword to brandish.
Sangraal was rumoured to be slightly less dendrite exploding than other games from this super hard stable and so it proved to be; it took me about 40 playing hours as opposed to the hundreds I laboured through on Hezarin, BrandX , Acheton etc. However, easy it is not and there is still ample scope to screw up. As ever with these games, make sure you have a solid chronological set of saved games to dip into, all leading up to a maximum of 600 points.
Across its 167 locations Sangraal is jam packed with the usual pen and paper puzzles and there seem to be more of these in this game than others from Dr. Partington's mind; it is also unusual in that much of the game is open from the start. You can probably traverse around two thirds of the map without solving anything which is handy for mapping purposes.
There are a number of set piece puzzles here which tend to seal off the whole area you were just in when you leave. These include an oriental palace dedicated to the seasons and months of the year; a maze which rotates every move so mapping it is tough; a set of boolean logic gates (yes I know!) an area of Limbo loosely based on Don Juan which also features Alexander The Great and some ancient grease (groan); and my favourite which is a magnificently constructed area where you have to commit the Seven Deadly Sins in a certain order. This is a masterpiece of imaginative logic. And you get to rob a beggar and enjoy some time in a harem! There is also a thinly veiled criticism of Orthodox Jewry defining one puzzle.
The game is studded with references to other literary works too including Keats's La Belle Dame Sans Merci; the legend of Parsifal, Orpheus and Eurydice; and the Wooden Horse amongst others. There is also an absorbing set piece in a folly where you pit your wits against an evil wizard and have to solve a series of logic puzzles, word and number games. Thankfully you can save after each puzzle which surprised me. This is one piece of evidence backing up the slightly easier reputation of the game; Hezarin and Acheton would never have let you do that.
As a side task from the Sangraal hunt you have to collect a number of animals for Noah and amass fourteen treasures and deliver them to an appropriate location. Be careful though as some treasures double up as puzzle solving objects too so don't deposit them too early as there is no way to claim them back. Frying tonight!
The game has the usual T/SAL coding for these games; an excellent two word parser but without the examine command, a seven item inventory limit and unusually no lamp or keys. That is pretty unusual for games of this age and genre. The descriptions are of medium length and very well done. I only came across one typo in my picaresque journey.
There are a couple of puzzle solutions which aren't that obvious; namely disposing of the hitherto mentioned La Belle Dame and catching the lamb. And shouting out mint sauce isn't the answer. Most of the solutions though are logical.
There are the usual sprinkling of hilarious puns including the Gordian newspaper, the hitherto mentioned ancient grease and a pile of salt which looks a bit like a running woman (but not a lot).
Having amassed the requisite treasures, deposited them and sent Noah off happily on his way across the flood plains you have short endgame to enable you to procure the Sangraal. You will need several peoples'help to achieve this and fittingly the game ends on a number manipulation puzzle.
This game would make the perfect introduction to the uniquely intellectual Phoenix world. Just don't expect Fyleet to treat you as nicely as this game sometimes does.
Oh dear it may be time for Quondam next....pith helmets and chest plates on lads.