Talisman 4th edition

Our RPG group took a break from its Mutants and Masterminds campaign last night to play Talisman 4th edition. The 1st edition was published by Games Workshop in 1983 and, apart from the updated graphics, the current edition feels much the same as the original.

Each player controls a unique character type, each of which is rated for strength and craft, the two main combat attributes. Characters also have fate points (which allow you to re-roll dice), gold (to purchase items) and life points. Each tie a character loses a fight they lose 1 life point. Lose all of them and that character is killed. A player can then start again with a brand new character.

I had a gladiator, which had strength 4, craft 3, fate 1, gold 1, life points 3. In addition, he starts with a sword, which adds 1 to his strength, and a helmet, which may deflect a blow that otherwise could have caused him to lose life points. Each character aslo has one or more special abilities. The gladiator is allowed to use any followers he attracts to fight for him (each follower adds 1 to his strength).

The board is divided into 3 circular track. The outer track, where characters begin, is the easiest to navigate. The next track is more challenging, and the inner track is very tough indeed. The aim of the game is to get to the centre most space on the board and claim the Crown of Command.

Players take turns in rolling a dice and moving their character that many spaces around the track. There are decks of cards that players randomly draw from when they land on a space. The card might be a monster, which must be fought, or an item (weapons, magical items and so forth), or other beings which might be potential followers, traders and so on. Additionally, there are spaces  like the Temple where characters can go for healing, or one might consult the village mystic and be given a blessing (or a curse).

Essentially, play continues with characters collecting items and getting more powerful until they feel strong enough to move into the centre board spaces, which contain very challenging encounters. Players get stronger by defeating monsters. Each one is rated for strength or craft. Both roll a D6 and add their relevant abilities, the highest roller wins (a tie means that neither is defeated and the monster remains in the space). If the monster is defeated, the player collects the card. Collect monsters worth 7 of any attribute (so seven monsters with the strength of 1, one of 3 and one of 4, and so on) and you cash them in and raise that ability by one.

There is more detail, but this is the game in essence. I had played earlier editions of Talisman years ago and wasn’t impressed, and sadly my impressions were confirmed. The issue is one of time. The random nature of movement and of card distribution means that if you get poor cards, you’re unlikely to do well in the game. For example, a character that’s high in strength might keep running into creatures with craft as their attribute, and have trouble beating them. In a game of 1 or 2 hours, that’s OK. You can grin and bear it, and hope for better next time. Our game lasted for 5 hours for about 1/2 that game it was a show-down between 2 of the 5 players. At this point the game became an exercise in tedium.

The other thing that left me less than impressed was that there is little interaction between the characters. One can attack a character if you land on another character’s square, but the rewards for doing so are quite small in proportion to the difficulty in doing so. In practice, the game is a solitaire game played by several people at once.

We played with two of the expansions, which add variety on monster and treasure types, but probably serve so simply make the game longer. There are rules for shorter games and had we used these my opinion might have been different. It was entertaining for the first hour or two, and if it can be kept to that you might find it worth persevering with. Young adults who are interested in fantasy-themed games, but balk at miniatures or pen-and-paper-style RPGs might also find this to their taste. I run D&D sessions for my youngest step-son and his friends roughly once a month and I think they would enjoy this. I may get a copy to try out with them.