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Average Rating: 3.5 in 2 reviews
I saw there wasn't a review for this game and so I just had to write one. Writing a review for an out of print title may not be all that useful, but on the off chance that Funagain gets a copy floating through its doors in the future I thought I would let people know a bit about it.
Talisman - The Magical Quest Game was first published in the early to mid 1980's, when fantasy role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons were quite popular. Games Workshop published a few other games before this one, but to my recollection Talisman was the first game they published that had wide-spread acclaim and really catapulted the company's success.
There are three editions of the Talisman game. The first and second editions are the same game, with the second edition incorporating card errata and rule clarifications but not changing the game play at all. The third edition is a substantial redesign with all new components and several rule changes. The changes are substantial enough that third edition Talisman actually plays like a different game. This review applies to the first and second editions of the game. I'll make some comments about third edition at the end.
Talisman is a fantasy board game where each player takes up the role of a hero seeking to rule the world. Heroes battle monsters, and each other, to be the first to travel through the three regions of the board (Outer, Middle, and Inner) and place the Crown of Command upon their head. Once someone wears the crown, the other players can swear fealty (i.e., concede victory) or attempt to brave the killing power of the crown to eventually wrest it for themselves.
Heroes have four stats: Strength, Craft, Lives, and Gold. Strength is used to physically battle creatures and other heroes. As heroes defeat creatures this way their Strength increases. Strength is also increased through the use of weapons and various magic items. Craft is used to battle spirit creatures (psychic combat), escape traps or other puzzles, and cast spells. Craft does not increase as it is used, but can be increased through magic items. Lives represent the life force of the hero. Each hero starts with 4 lives and loses one each time he/she is defeated in combat or fails in some other lethal situation. When lives are reduced to zero, the hero is dead and the player is out of the game (optionally, the player can start over with a new hero if no one yet has the Crown of Command). Lost lives can be healed, and the hero can have more than 4 lives through magical means. Gold is the hero's wealth and used to purchase items, spells, healing and so forth.
The game mechanics are straightforward. Players roll a die, move their pawn the appropriate number of spaces, and follow the instructions for the space they land on. There are places to buy and trade items, learn spells, gain healing, and so on. Primarily, though, the board has open areas where players draw adventure cards to see what happens. This is the crux of the game. Adventure cards have monsters to fight, magic items and equipment, gold, events, and various people or entities who may harm or help the players. Cards are ordered such that events take place first, then conflicts with monsters, then interaction with any items or other denizens.
Game play consists of traveling the board to increase your hero's stats, gather useful items and followers, and find a magic talisman that you need to enter the Inner region. Once you think you are powerful enough, and you have a talisman, you head for the center of the board and the waiting Crown of Command. Once you wear the crown the other players either concede victory or continue on. If they continue, you roll a die instead of taking a normal turn. On a 1, 2 or 3 nothing happens, but on a 4, 5 or 6 every other hero takes one point of damage. Eventually either another hero will reach the center of the board and engage you in combat to determine who keeps the crown, or they all will die from the damage you inflict with the crown.
Talisman became so popular that GW published six expansions for the game. The first two: Expansion Set and The Adventure, add new heroes and adventure cards to the base game. Talisman Adventure also adds an optional rule for random endings, so the Crown of Command becomes only one of several possible endings. The next three expansions: Dungeon, Timescape and City, add additional boards to the game with their own cards and opportunities along with new heroes. These extra boards expand the scope of the original game and consequently also increase the game length. The final expansion, Talisman Dragons, adds a number of dragons to the adventure deck as well as items with which to better defeat them. It also adds four new heroes and a new ending: defeating the Dragon King in order to win.
Talisman is very exciting, challenging, and entertaining. The heroes are quite varied so game play is interesting as players use different tactics based on the character they are playing. Some are brute-force types while others rely on guile and stealth. The random nature of the adventure deck and the numerous different hero types results in no two Talisman games ever being the same. This makes the game exciting and creates a sense of adventure. It also means the game is not strategic, so if you loathe having your best laid plans laid waste by a few random events you should steer clear of this game. If, however, you enjoy exploring and overcoming hidden challenges, then this game is perfect for you.
The game is not without its faults. Game balance is not perfect. Some of the heroes have abilities that are more useful than others, which gives them an advantage. Usually the advantage is minor and doesn't affect the game much. Sometimes, though, the disparity is so unbalancing that either those heroes should not be used at all (e.g., the Prophetess) or the players should make sure that all of the heroes used in the game are of similar power levels. Game balance is further eroded as you add the expansions. Some of the added heroes do not mix well with the originals, and should only be used in a game against each other. Timescape is the most blatant example of this with the opportunity for characters starting on the Timescape board to get firearms or power armor early in the game and then easily plow through the main board to win.
Another detractor is the potential for 'chase the leader' to occur. Because so much of the game is random, should a player get a few good draws that increase his/her hero's power early in the game it can be difficult to catch up or knock that player down. Difficult, but not impossible. There is always the mighty Random spell that can turn even the greatest hero into a toad--for a short while.
Lastly, the game components are not of the same quality level as today's 'german' games. The hero pawns are thin, coated paper pieces that you put into plastic stands. Over time the bases tend to not stay on. GW came out with pewter miniatures that are very nice, but are quite expensive if you buy the whole set. You could substitute miniatures from a different game, I suppose. The adventure cards are made from the same thin paper and thus have a tendency to tear or bend if not treated with some level of care. This isn't a problem for adults, but kids enjoy the game too and can be rougher on the parts.
Overall I think Talisman is a great game and well worth the time investment it takes to play (at least two hours). I have yet to play a fantasy themed board game that does as good a job of creating a sense of adventure and role-playing as Talisman. My enthusiasm for the expansions is a little less than for the base game. I recommend the Expansion Set, Adventure, and Dragons with no reservation. Talisman City and Dungeon are OK for variety, but I do not consider them to be 'must haves'. Timescape is too unbalancing, in my opinion, to use other than in a game with Timescape-only heroes, so its value is limited.
A comment on third edition Talisman: Some of the criticisms I mention above were corrected in the third edition. The paper pawns were replaced with very nice plastic miniatures. The heroes were completely redone with simpler, more balanced powers. Instead of combat victories only improving your Strength, they added an experience point system where all creatures are worth points that you can then use to improve any stat you want: Strength, Craft, or even Life or Gold. This adds a good measure of flexibility that is lacking in the first and second editions.
These changes greatly improved game balance. They also took away a lot of the character of the previous editions, however. Third edition heroes are not as unique and thus the interaction among the players is not as varied or necessary. The adventure cards were also simplified and balanced. To me, the result is that third edition feels 'dumbed down' and sanitized. I think they balanced the game a little too much and ended up dousing a lot of the excitement found in the earlier editions. It may be that I am just used to the earlier editions and do not appreciate the finer points of the third edition. The third edition is definitely a better choice for families with younger children because the rules and cards are simpler and the components are more durable.
Talisman came out in the very early 1980's, a fantasy board game that very obviously sought to do for fantasy what Cosmic Encounter had done for science fiction. The systems were simple, and each character had unique powers. Unfortunately, Talisman was not half the game that Cosmic Encounter was.
Talisman was popular enough to spawn a number of expansions which gave the game an amazing amount of variety, with the fantasy characters suddenly thrust into the roles of time travellers, as well. A new version came out which gave nice full-color artwork to the many (many, MANY) cards in the game.
Was it worth all the fuss? Ultimately, no, but it was still a fun ride. There was simply too much randomness to the game, and games could take an outrageously long time. Still, a lot of us who have been gaming a long time have fond memories of hours (and hours and hours...) spent trying to make it to the Crown of Power.
Auction sites like E-bay sometimes have copies of this, but they go for exorbitantly high prices. Best to put it on your Funagain wish list and hope for the best.
One nostalgic thumb up.