Friday, November 4, 2011

Talisman: The Magical Quest Game

Last night I sat down to a game of Talisman.  This is becoming an annual affair for me - an itch that I feel the need to scratch once every 10-15 months.  Often considered to be something a classic, Talisman is a strange mix of mechanics that I have no reason to like, but that I still enjoy every once in a while.  But I don't want to spoil my review, so read on, intrepid adventurer and see if the quest for the Crown of Command is right for you...

Components: There's not a lot to say about Talisman's components.  It's Fantasy Flight.  The figures are top notch, the cards are sturdy and the board is absolutely gorgeous.  I'd like to point out the artwork on the board itself.  The board is laid out in fairly standard Ameritrash style (simply square spaces going around the board), but the artwork and layout do wonders in making it feel like a more lush and definitive setting than, say, Monopoloy.

Talisman's board injects a lot of theme and flavor into what is an otherwise very basic design

Gameplay: This is where Talisman suffers the most.  The gameplay is completely random.  Roll based movement means that you can never be sure where you're going to end up.  You do have the ability to move either clockwise or counter-clockwise around the board, but that often ends up just being a choice between landing on a space where something bad will happen or a space where something potentially bad will happen.  Much like Settlers of Catan, there is no meaningful strategy that one can apply to playing Talisman.  You're basically spending the whole game reacting to your opponents moves and your own luck with the dice and encounter card deck.

Rules: For what it is, the rules work very well in Talisman and are as balanced as they can be in a game that is based almost exclusively on chance.  Characters roll dice, decide which space to move to and then are confronted with challenges that largely consist of a random roll to see if they can reap their space's rewards while avoiding it's pitfalls or drawing from the event deck and hoping you pull a shiny new sword instead of a devastating dragon.

Overall: Despite my harsh breakdown of the gameplay & rules, I still like to play Talisman - just not often.  The theme and overarching goal of the game is something you'd expect to see in a strategic, choice-driven fantasy game like Descent or Runebound, but the reality is that need to approach Talisman as a casual, goofy game where you may end up as a toad hopping around avoiding ghosts or a troll decked out in Holy Crosses and Crusading lances with a unicorn mount.  This game will often leave you feeling helpless and without any control over your own destiny in the game, but with so many tactical games that hinge upon a player's actions from turn to turn, Talisman offers the opportunity to just kick back, roll some dice and see what happens.

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