Talisman (GW)

Keen readers will note that most of this issue's games are lightweight. There are plenty of new serious games on my shelves but I have been trying to initiate the younger Bowens into gaming with some success. Talisman is pretty well known and until recently was sold in a big box with 3 hardly small boxes of expansions in its 3rd edition of rules. The whole set up has vanished from GW store shelves but was recently discounted by Bookland remaindered book shops. Having played all the 3 editions of Talisman I can state that they all play much the same and the map graphics are pretty similar. The big box version uses plastic figures which look darn good if well painted and rather dull if not. The child appeal is greatly improved with a paint job. In typical GW marketing style the basic box is playable but rather lacking in depth but the game works best with all the 3 modules. Talisman is so well known that the method of play deserves only brief attention. Play is largely against the system, although players can fight one another their interaction is usually restricted to racing to a good object and getting to the centre 1st. Each player has a character that moves by D6 along 3 square tracks, the tracks can only be moved between at 1 given square on each track although events may turn up other gates. When a character lands on a space cards are drawn up to the number stated for that space, usually 1 only. Cards may be monsters that must be fought, goodies to pick up or something that stays on the board and affects subsequent landings on that place. The board gradually fills up with drawn cards that will be avoided or headed for by players depending on their goals. As characters fight battles they gain 1 experience point per point of monster destroyed. 7 experience points are traded for an extra life, craft, gold or strength. High craft and strength is essential to beat the dragon at the board centre and win. Lives can never rise above 4, craft and strength vary with the character but start around 1 to 4 and have no upper limit. Gold can pay off some baddies and can be spent on some spaces, the city expansion is primarily designed to make characters spend gold.

Death is not too final with the player gaining a new character having all the deadite's goodies but limited to its own starting abilities. With all 3 expansions there are plenty of cards, the pack will never be cycled through in a single game. Some of the cards from the expansions are only produced on a specific realm or track but any goodies gained there can be carried out. Earlier editions were famed for the witch that turned characters into frogs but the number of event cards now present means that the witch will only turn up in about half the games. Other powerful cards may or may not show each game.

 The basic game is rather limited in characters but the selection doubles if all the expansions are used. Some of the more marginal characters from the old edition are missed, the mad scientist and Indiana Jones clone would have made excellent models, instead we get the usual fantasy assortment. 2 of the modules add corner tracks which can be entered from the main board or characters may be kidnapped by event cards and dropped in the middle of them. Set up is speeded up if the extra tracks are only put down when needed. The 3rd expansion offers a centre 3D track with a plastic dragon to kill. The dragon is the same as the event card dragon that must be played in all other games. Although this baddy is no harder to kill the module has sales value because GW dragons are pretty expensive and many GW types buy this expansion for the dragon alone. Neither the assembled dragon nor the 3D track fit back inside the box however everything else from all 3 expansions will fit in the basic box highlighting GW's ability to sell air. The dragon expansion adds a centre track that was present in the old 2nd edition if somewhat smaller. The basic 3rd edition endgame consists of entering the board centre and drawing set cards in a given order.

The character has to pay a Talisman (which can take some getting), test to lose followers and objects and then fight the dragon. Unless the character has the single "finger of death" spell the dragon will take some killing involving players in a lot of running around before they can safely enter the centre. With the 3D expansion more character improvements can be picked up on the way up and it is possible to turn back if things get sticky. This oddly makes play with the centre extension faster than without it. Returning to the idea of playing with the kids, my 9 and 12 year olds had no problems with working out how to play the game and have a fairchance of winning. The random nature of the cards reduces skill and gives younger players the chance to do well. They can get too absorbed in building up their characters and forget when to cut and run and go for the centre space and thus not win. Some of the cards use pretty long words which prevent younger children from getting very far without supervision. The game takes about 2 1/2 hours which is cutting it fine between making tea after work, setting everything up then finishing before bed time. Although aimed at the GW market there is little attempt to link with the current Warhammer Universe which Talisman predates. In terms of difficulty and suitability of market it ranks among the MB game of Heroquest (not the GW advanced variant) and Waddington's Dark World both of which look good if the models are painted and both of which eventually flopped