CIOASIISAG Part 11 – Talisman: The Magical Quest Game

I love this game.

It’s a fantasy board game that was released by Games Workshop, where you attempt to work your way through 3 regions of a board to get to the Crown of the Command, and then win the game by making all the other players bow to your will. The game mechanics are fairly simple, you play as one of a bunch of fantasy types (Troll, Wizard, Thief etc…) each with their own rules variations and 4 stats – Strength, Craft, Gold and Life. Your aim is get your Strength and/or Craft high enough to enter the final region and undergo the trials to get the crown. As you go around the board you take adventure cards that act as random events you encounter. There’s a high random element in how the cards flow and how your dice roll (everything is on a D6). The key to winning is in three things:

  • Gambling – there’s a lot of random elements to the game, but because the odds are so easy to calculate – normally number plus D6 versus another number plus another D6, or a roll against a chart with D6 or 2D6 options – and some gambling elements are static – there’s various spaces where you can roll a die and get positive or negative alterations to your character (extra stats or turned to toad). The only unknown random elements are the cards decks. Which brings me to point two.
  • Deck Knowledge – Knowing what cards are in the deck is a huge advantage. The adventure card deck is large and varied enough that exact memory of it’s composition is unlikely. However certain useful cards are either unique or in low numbers and so controlling their presence on the board is useful. For instance, the horse and cart card allows a player to have unlimited Item cards compared to the normal four. There are two horse and cart cards in the deck, so it’s useful to get both, or get one and rapidly put the other in the discard pile (it will resurface when the deck is depleted, the discards shuffled and the deck made fresh again). Of course you may not get to draw the horse and cart card. Which brings me to point three.
  • Player Vs. Player – You can attack other players and take their lives, gold or items. Also a number of characters in the game have abilities you can use on other players. This can be a vital key in winning. There’s the chance that in doing so, all the other players may turn against you, but I’ve found that once you start messing up other people’s play, if you keep it up aggressively it can turn the game for you.

The Luck/Strategy balance is probably leaning heavily towards luck, if only to prevent the PvP elements becoming too overbearing and preventing the endgame being reached. But the visibility of the luck aspect allows the players a lot of control over how big a risk they choose to take each turn.

The 2nd edition is the version I’m most familiar with, though I’ve never owned it myself, two of the gaming groups I’ve been a part of have had access to a copy. The 3rd edition made it more Warhammer-y and less recognisable as Talisman. The exhorbitant prices the 2nd ed. was getting on eBay made it look unlikely I’d get my own copy, but thankfully GW have seen the light and last month released the 4th edition. This is based on the 2nd, down to the artwork being reinterpretations of Gary Chalk’s great art from the 2nd Ed. And it looks to have fixed the two rules that bothered me from the 2nd ed., namely you can earn Craft as easily as Strength (before it was harder, though random increases favoured Craft slightly.) and it has eliminated Spell Deck burn.

Characters can cast spells, and certain characters have abilities that mean they always have a set number of spells. The spells are a deck of shuffled cards similar to the  adventure deck, each card representing a spell. Certain spells were described as “cast as required”. This meant certain characters could burn through the spell deck, casting spell after spell after spell, in search of the particular spell they desired. It held up the game flow and was more than a little unfair. Now, apparently, you can only cast the spells you start your turn with and I assume you restock your hand at the start of your turn, to avoid cumbersome bookkeeping.

An aside: between getting excited about the release of 4th Edition Talisman and playing far too much Tetris, my mind has now become preoccupied with the idea of the balance of Luck and Strategy in games now (all games should aspire to the balance Tetris has btw).  So – “RANDOM STRATEGIES” – sounds like a great name for something. In fact it sounds so great I think I must have encountered it in some sort of games writing before.

Anyone have any ideas where? Dragon? GM Magazine? White Dwarf?