Talisman is yet another board game that has been given new life in the digital sphere. The original board game, Talisman: The Magical Quest was first published in 1983 — that’s 6 years before I was born! This fantasy themed board game for up to 4 players is well established as a favorite among board game players. The mere mention of its name causes displays of admiration (or sometimes visceral hatred!) from board game fanatics around the world.
Talisman’s style of gameplay wouldn’t go down too well if it were implemented as a new game today, as the “roll and move” mechanic has sharply fallen out of favor in modern board game design. It would also possibly be considered too slow and cumbersome by many video game players. Game developers appeal to the instant gratification that players insist on from today’s titles, yet Talisman remains unchanged. I try to be rather objective when it comes to older games and comparing them to their modern counterparts, however.
So, does Talisman’s age catch up with it, or does the game really deserve our reverence? Read on to find out…
Let’s strip down Talisman’s gameplay to its most basic element. At the early stages of the game it is essentially a “roll and move” board game with randomness being at the heart of what occurs as a result of these dice rolls and card draws. After a die roll, you choose whether to move that many spaces clockwise or anti-clockwise around the board, so you’ll always have two choices as to where you’ll land. Landing on an empty space on the board allows you to draw a card from the randomized Adventure Deck. From here you can gain treasures, encounter monsters, gain followers, and a number of other events.
There are many non-empty spaces on the board that have their own effects. Visiting the Tavern, for example, will result in a few different occurrences based on your die roll, from gambling away your gold, fighting a local farmer, or simply getting drunk and passing out and missing a turn. Although some of the locations’ effects can be beneficial, a large amount of them are hindrances. The absolute worst roll can result in you being turned into a Toad for 3 turns by the Enchantress (this seems to happen to me a lot, especially when I run out of Fate points to spend on re-rolling the die!!).
Many die rolls later, and after many random encounters and card draws from the Adventure Deck, you should be well equipped and able to progress onto the inner ring of the board. The ultimate goal is to journey to the very center of the game board, finally reaching the Crown of Command. This is where you hope to inflict damage onto the other players (rolling one die a turn, with 4, 5 or 6 dealing 1 damage to everyone but you) to eventually kill them and become the victor. You can modify the house rules for the Crown of Command before you begin the game. I did get into an endless loop situation where my opponent was able to heal any damage every turn thanks to a Follower and a Healer card on the board, so we just had to call it a day, but those situations are rare.
Getting to a point where you can survive on the inner ring will take a while. If you want to be able to traverse it safely you will probably be playing for well over an hour. This to some might feel boring and repetitive, but I found it to be exciting. The sheer randomness of what can occur at any given time adds to the thrill of the game. There are a few issues that plague the game because of its age, such as a snowball effect when one player appears to have more favorable rolls than anyone else. There are only a few ways to redress the balance of power should this occur. I just found myself going along with it and enjoying it regardless. What’s the point of being upset at a game that is just a series of random events?
Talisman shakes gameplay up by having a number of classes and races you can choose from before departing on your epic adventure. There is the Dwarf who excels at avoiding die rolls, the Wizard who can cast more Spells, the Warrior who can use two weapons at once, and a Prophetess who can slightly influence what she encounters. The starting values for the major attributes of Strength, Craft, Life, Fate, and Gold varies among the classes.
Characters can be Good, Evil, or Neutral, and these alignments carry some significance for the spaces on the board and encounters in the Adventure Deck. Playing with a different class or alignment in each game will keep things moderately interesting, though the core mechanics of the game do not change in the slightest. There are ways to change your alignment mid-game, and this can be advantageous, opening up more possibilities for carrying certain items or visiting certain places, like the Graveyard which is beneficial for Evil characters but harmful to Good characters.
Monster encounters from the Adventure Deck will trigger a combat event, which is just another die roll and the highest total wins. Strength is used against a majority of the foes whereas Craft is used against those of a supernatural disposition, such as Wraiths and Ghosts. If you land on a space occupied by another player, you can choose to battle them instead of encountering the space you have landed on. Just as before, both parties roll a die and await the outcome. The winner can take an item from the other player, if they choose! Talisman is far from cooperative, you know…
Talisman features a number of different house rules that can be customized by the host of a game. These have limited impact on the overall randomness of the game, but can omit endless loops from occurring. Leveling up from playing a number of games will also give players access to Runestones. These can have effects such as increased Life, Strength, or even limiting the number of turns you are a Toad. If I had a dollar for every turn I was a Toad…
Playing with the maximum number of players (4) will result in some very lengthy games. I would suggest you only play with that many players if you can spare a number of hours to do so. Asynchronous play is not a thing in Talisman and you are expected to stick around and play to the end. I would also suggest that your device be fully charged, too. Dropping out because of a dead battery means you will forego the experience points earned from the game. Luckily if you do drop out, it won’t cause the game to end for others, as the A.I. will pick up from where you left off.
Achievements are now present in the digital version that could not be included in the original tabletop version. I found myself looking at what I could score from this list when choosing my character class. It can influence the way you play a little, but you should happen across most of the achievements through conventional gameplay. This is about the only digital innovation for Talisman. It has remained largely unchanged from the tabletop version, specifically the latest, 4th Edition of the game.
There are expansions which add new areas to the corners of the game board, lots of new characters to play, and lots of new cards for all of the decks in the game. They’re going to be more of the same, but they vastly improve and expand the Talisman experience — I especially recommend the Dungeon expansion as a must-have.
You may have noticed that this review has omitted the Strategy section we normally cover. There’s very little strategy to cover in this fairly random game. You’ll need to learn how to make your character stronger and make your way to the center, but this is the actual game requirements and thus not strategy per se. My only suggestion would be to stay away from the Enchantress if you don’t have Fate points. She turned me into a Toad far too often!
Don’t expect any elaborate effects or animations in Talisman, as there are none. Sure, there are the obligatory magical effects and highlighting of cards that are active, which is very helpful. The board can be zoomed in on and cards can be looked at in a greater detail, but that’s about the limit for physical enhancements. The board is very well optimized for tablets, as everything is large and easy to press.
Is it enjoyable and should you buy it? If you are the type of player who can only manage short bursts of play at any given time, then you should avoid this. If you loved the original and have yearned for a way to play this on the go, then it is a must. Any serious board game fanatic should find this to be an excellent addition to their digital collection.
I am envious of those that were able to experience this as a fresh and innovative game system back in the day of its original release. Today it feels slightly dated and cumbersome with a lot of waiting around for other players to take their turns, but if you’re looking for an old fashioned board game experience, Talisman is the top of the line.
Talisman is an oldie, but a goodie — a game so wholly deserving of its reverent status in the board game community that it’s clear why its success is enduring. If you’ve never experienced the joy of Talisman, you’re missing out!
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