Talisman is a high-fantasy board game set in a medieval-styled world full of monsters and magic. The original tabletop game has been seen as a king among the fantasy board game community, with high praises all around from various review sites and groups. Lauded for its simplicity and ease, the game has seen play from its first incarnation back in the 1980’s to its more recent revised edition that arrived in 2008. Various expansions have been released here and there, adding new adventure cards and spells among other things, including a new board and a new region in a couple of the updates. Talisman has now taken a true digital approach for players, including the ability to play with friends online — a move that has become increasingly important in the world we currently live in.
The digital edition of Talisman includes three of its expansions: The City, The Sacred Pool and The Frostmarch. Players explore the board by rolling a six-sided die and moving that many spaces in any direction. Depending on where they land, they can interact with the board. The rules that apply to each space will be clearly listed when making a decision on where to move, making it easier to make a selection based on the effects of each space. Up to six players, including yourself, can play together locally or online, with each of them making their way around the board to fight monsters to increase stats and collect items to gain power and currency.
When starting the game, each player can choose from a list of pre-made characters. Each character has a set of stats, as well as unique traits that can turn the game in your favor if used at the right time. The Thief, for example, can steal items from other players, giving them a competitive edge in building out their limited arsenal of equipment. As you move around the map, monsters can also be fought, each with their own stats. Fights are decided based on the strength of each character and monster along with the addition of a six-sided die roll. Whichever tallies up to the highest number wins the fight, which means if you’re just a lucky person, you win. In some spots, more than one card can be drawn at a time, in which case those cards are resolved individually in order instead of all at once.
As you move on, you adventure ever closer to obtaining the legendary Crown of Command, an item that possesses the power to destroy anyone and anything. The holder of this crown wins the right to rule over the Kingdom — a feat that seems to be accomplished through fear and power rather than actual leadership skills or right of bloodline, but hey, this is a fantasy world and their rules, right? As a result of this monarchy being earned by Right of Arms, expect for things to get cutthroat pretty early on. You can choose to fight other players, and doing so can result in taking over their items or gold pieces, giving you a bit of a lift up and knocking them down a peg. Gold can be spent in towns to heal or buy items, and is a pretty hot commodity that everyone will be trying to get their hands on as a result.
Word of caution: Talisman plays slowly. A single session with four players can take upwards of four hours or more to complete, and adding up to six players will definitely increase the run time of a single campaign. Make sure you have the ability to dedicate the time to a full playthrough if you’re jumping in with friends, because leaving a game like this unfinished can leave a pretty sour taste in your mouth. While playing with AI is possible, it’s not nearly as fun as playing with your friends or family, and the time sink is just as long, if not longer because the AI is pretty ferocious and will gun after you the moment you get any sort of edge over them. This can be equal parts defeating and frustrating, and has led me to really abandon AI playthroughs in favor of playing with real people. The game simply feels unbalanced when playing with AI, and that’s not exactly the worst thing for learning how to adapt and get better, but definitely makes for a feeling of hopelessness when you end up getting crushed over and over.
The digital adaptation of Talisman does a great job at converting the tabletop experience into a digital game. The board itself is beautiful, and with a feature to zoom in on what actions a player takes you can really get a feel that this is truly an RPG experience despite that lack of grinding monsters and leveling up out in a field somewhere. The rush to the obtain the Crown feels real enough, and the monsters and areas in the Kingdom give a sense of immersion that you wouldn’t normally find in this kind of game. The cards you pick up are detailed, just like the world around you, and the tutorial gives you a great introduction to the game without detracting from the fantasy experience.
While more modern fantasy board games take a cutesy approach to artwork with cartoony and outlandish styles, Talisman is a throwback experience with all of its assets. Taking a look at the art on each card and the way that effects display on screen feels like gazing at the chapter art in a Tolkien book: an engrossing scene before you that does its level best to both immerse and amaze the player. While younger children may not be too enthralled with the lack of popping colors and giant anime-eyed characters, your older kids and teens may appreciate a more grown-up experience in refined art.
Impressions and Conclusion
The digital edition of Talisman has taken years of tabletop gameplay and put it firmly in the hands of gamers around the world. Players familiar with the original game can come back together and play again. Families can bring their kids into the fold of a past time that resonates deep in their hearts. This is truly a unique experience to be had. If you have played the game in its original incarnation, picking this up and pestering your friends to do the same would not be a bad move at all. With the price point it’s offered at, it’s definitely way less money than buying a comparable, tangible board game, and getting your household in the living room together for a round can be a great way to unwind and adventure through this open landscape full of monsters and mayhem — political alliances will be made just as commonly as in any table top game or TCG match, and that is just good, clean fun.