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Published June 4, 2013

Game Master Greg Tabletop Reviews: Talisman

Knights fight foul dragons. Witches curse fair maidens. Wizards cast mighty spells. These fantasy conventions have endured since the first days of gaming, and in Talisman, they return here in another interpretation of exploration and conflict.

The goal of Talisman is to circle the game board, designed as three nested rectangular regions, to gather talismans. These Talismans will open the way to the next region until a player reaches the Crown of Command in the center. From there the end of the game is near, as players fight to be the last player standing.

Talisman Box Art
Pictured: Revised 4th Edition. Not pictured: Bacon.

There are a lot of things going on with Talisman. Players choose characters with differing special abilities and stats. These stats, quite like the roleplaying games Talisman emulates, include Strength, Craft, Fate, and Life, each affecting different aspects of the game. As the game progresses, players collect Gold (the currency), Objects (like Magic Swords and potions), and assemble Followers (like squires and unicorns).

Players take turns rolling the dice and moving back and forth, encountering events, monsters, and other players as they gather the strength and tools they need to reach the Crown of Command.

This is a decent amount of stuff to keep track of, and while the possibilities are appealing, they don’t pay off completely.

On paper, the system is designed well enough for a single two or three hour session. In practice, however, the game’s flaws stand out.

There is one main strategy: get as strong as you can before moving on to the Crown of Command. No other strategy will work, and it takes time- longer than it should. Often, gaining a point of strength or obtaining an object requires a lucky roll, which is a terrible way to progress the game given the importance placed on obtaining them. Further, encounters are clunky and sometimes confusing. This is partially due to some wording issues, but the majority of the problems develop because the game tries to marry the variability of a card game with the flexibility of a board game: the resulting experience is choppy and full of ruling questions.

The answer to all of your magical-triangle-related questions.
The answer to all of your magical-triangle-related questions.

The conflicts occur so often, entire 20-page FAQs have been developed to smooth out the wrinkles and only partially succeed. Players, either happily or regrettably, will have to devise house rules to keep the game running without a simmering level of frustration. There are expansions available, but they add just as much to the ruling issues as they do to the fun experience. The major boon of these expansions is the addition of new characters and cards, which give players more options to play at a reasonable pace.

Overall, while Talisman is popular with small pockets of Tabletop gamers, its shortfalls are too glaring to give it a full recommendation.

If you like a fantasy game you can tinker with to your heart’s content, Talisman will fit your bill. If not, there are other games out there with more polished play and more worth your money.

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  • Greg Trombley

    Greg

  • I'm an RDU-based novelist and passionate champion of scientific progression. Nature and science live side-by-side in my heart. I clean dinosaur bones in my spare time, and love reading about local history. All my articles.

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