Let’s make this easy, if you are a fan of board games, dungeon crawlers, variety, replayability, D&D, or not just staring at your wife for two hours when she says “entertain me!”, go out and get a copy of Talisman, from Fantasy Flight Games. If you haven’t heard of Talisman, then you are already behind the curve by, I don’t know… 33 years. Whether this is the first you’ve heard, or you clicked on this due to a 25 year old case of nostalgia, keep reading, because this game has been updated quite a bit since inception.
What Is Talisman
Talisman is a game of adventure, looting, and powering up. It is a game where, even without expansions, you have hundreds of cards to dig through while looking for that perfect item or easy monster to fight. In Talisman you play one of 13 different characters, each with their own skills, and roll your way around a board. Your goal is to make it through the 3 different regions to obtain the Crown of Command and order your enemies to die. Your opponents are traveling the land with you attempting the same thing, and you can utilize spells, events, followers, and good old fashion brawls to take them down along the way.
In Talisman, adventure cards are drawn from landing on most squares; these cards can be beneficial, neutral, or downright destructive. Sometime you land on a spot allowing you to draw 3 cards at once and find a righteous weapon, only to find out that there were 2 diabolical monsters lying in wait for the weary traveler coming to take their loot. If you are unable to defeat the monsters, then you take damage, receive nothing, and they stay on the board to block that space until defeated later. Drawing the right cards in Talisman can really rocket you to the finish quickly, while drawing the wrong cards can end your pitiful life before it even had a chance to begin (but don’t worry, just draw a new player and jump right back in!), which leads me to my next point.
Luck vs. Strategy
I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: This is a very important aspect to me in a board game. In most cases, a game of luck ceases to be fun when it doesn’t go your way. Yahtzee loses some of its appeal when your cousin rolls 2 Yahtzees in a row and you can’t get a damn full house… or large straight… or 4 of a kind… or… you know what, not a huge fan of Yahtzee. MOVING ON. In Talisman, luck plays a huge roll. When you fight a monster, you both roll for damage. When you encounter just about anything, you roll to see what happens, and when you try to move to a certain spot, you roll. Rolling and drawing cards have such a huge part in Talisman, that strategy will take a backseat. Resource management, limited rerolls, and a fair amount of choice do happen constantly throughout the game, and a player isn’t going to win if he run around blindly, but, all things equal, he who draws best, wins.
So With All the Luck, Why Play?
Great question! The best thing I can do to explain, is to give you a very real life example. In an expansion for Talisman, Death roams the board. When you roll a 1, you also roll to move Death. You choose where he goes and try and land him on another player. If that player rolls a 1, he dies. If he rolls a 5, he can send Death to another player. Other things happen when you roll anything else, but that doesn’t matter right now.
While barely getting into a game with a couple of friends, call them Jim and Jane, I rolled a 1, moved my character, then rolled for Death. It just so happens I rolled what I needed for Death to land on Jim. Jim rolls a 5 and immediately sends Death back to me. I roll a 1. Not a big deal I’ll just use one of my rerolls… 1… Well, at least it’s early. Redraw a new character and continue the adventure. Sometime around an hour, when the game was drawing close to end, Jane rolls a 1 while Death is very close to Jim. What do you know? Jim is attacked again. Jim rolls a 5 and sends Death right back to Jane… Right? WRONG! He Sends Death to me again. But don’t worry, my loyal readers, I have a reroll and there is no way I can, again, roll two 1’s in a row, dying and losing everything I had amassed throughout the game. Roll a 1, used my reroll AND…
Never, I repeat, NEVER, have I played a game of Monopoly, gone bankrupt TWICE, and said “Put me back in Coach! I don’t need property to play this game”, but I made it a point that, for the next 30 minutes, every move I made and every spell I cast had one purpose–Kill Jim. Did I emerge victorious, reigning over Jim with an iron scepter and the Crown of Command? No. Did I attack Jim and take off a single point of health, making it harder for him to win? No. Did I demand pity since I had died twice in a game and had nothing to my name? Maybe. Did I have a fantastic time losing tremendously? Absolutely. Because when I play Talisman I don’t look forward to gloating about how much I won by, I look forward to playing.
If you haven’t guessed yet, Talisman is a game with many different possibilities. Playing with the same character is going to be different throughout each playthrough, playing with a new character is going to change your focus, and playing with different numbers of people will completely change the scope of the game. As a base game, Talisman has plenty of variety for many enjoyable playthroughs, but there are also so many expansions that you could keep the game fresh and exciting for a long time to come. Each expansion adds new characters, new cards, and, sometimes, even new boards; these expansions allow for replayability well past the normal expectations of a board game.
Talisman looks pretty good. It’s got artwork that varies around the board, every card is a full color picture, and the miniatures are detailed, not flat pieces. Many people suggest painting your minis, and so do I. It will add that personal touch and also make it easier to identify who is who. The cards themselves are small and cheap, but honestly, with the sheer number of them, I’m happy not to have full size playing cards.
Talisman is simple to learn. Since most everything is explained on a card you draw one at a time, you can essentially pick up the game and go. For a game with this many options, not spending 45 minutes explaining how to play before playing can be a game saver for the less enthusiastic board gamers out there. There are several nuances that require a person to know how to resolve card order, moving between regions, etc., but, as long as a person at the table has played before, it shouldn’t be a big deal.
Player interaction is incredibly high. Thievery, battles, and spells are all aimed around the table. Not only can you literally fight other characters in the game, but every time one person is facing a monster, another player rolls for that monster, so even the NPC fights feel as if everyone is involved. Adventure cards also don’t shy away from affecting all players simultaneously, and it’s not uncommon for a person to draw something he cannot use himself, dropping it to the ground while other players start their race to try and pick up that slightly OP weapon.
This is an excellent gateway game into the deeper RPG’s. You have a character with stats, roll for damage done and damage taken, collect loot and level up by turning in kills, and spend gold in the town to rest and heal yourself. A few sessions of Talisman with a group of 4 and you are just one step away from being the DM of your own campaign.
Talisman is not without its flaws. The first of which is the fact that when you get to the Crown of Command, you roll dice and have a 50/50 chance to do damage to the other players. That’s it. A bit lackluster if you ask me. This causes the end of the game to happen very quickly which I believe is the purpose, but I believe it feels a little anticlimactic for such an epic adventure. There are expansions that allow for multiple endings, but as a base game, that’s what you get.
The second problem with Talisman as a board game is it’s potential length. Due to RNG, there is a potential for characters to level up extremely slowly. While unlikely, it is also possible for characters to die after a bit of time playing. The number of people playing Talisman increase the time exponentially, more players obviously mean more turns, but it also means more player interaction and spells that slow down the winning player as people gang up on him. While 2 people could open and shut the box in around an hour, if you want a 6 player game of Talisman, be ready for multiple gaming sessions to finish the same game.
And The Eh-ly?
Lastly, Talisman expansions are in both the good and bad list. Expansions are great, it’s proof a company is still backing their game and coming out with new ways to keep players engaged. In a game with so many cards, though, too many expansions can throw off the balance of the game. The Talisman adventure cards have some very powerful items and events that guarantee players level up. It helps to ensure that the game does in fact have an end. If you were to buy every expansion, with well over a thousand cards, you might end up shuffling the game movers to the bottom of a very, very, deep deck. This could cause players to get stuck in a game where the board is covered in monsters and they haven’t been able to level up or win anything yet.
Talisman is an incredibly exciting, medium to long length adventure that is fun for almost all skill levels. The amount of luck means you don’t need to be super experienced, while the amount of choices will still make it your fault for winning or losing.
Talisman has an immense amount of expansions, which can bog down gameplay. As a counterpoint to having too many expansions, I would suggest having a few expansions and playing with one or two mix and matched, but I would limit the combinations before you just add on seven at once.
Whether for 2 or 4, Talisman is fun for different reasons, be sure you are prepared for the game you are getting into and you won’t put it back on the shelf upset. I give Talisman a thumbs up and call it a staple game that, while changing, has been around for several decades, improving and weathering the test of time.