An epic digital adventure awaits!
Android & iOS
# of Players
Talisman is the classic adventure games from Games Workshop which has been brought to the digital world by Nomad Games (it is published by Asmodee Digital). Players take the role one of many familiar RPG archetypes and must build up their character, through various encounters, until they are strong enough to reach the Crown of Command and vanquish their opponents. A game plays up to six players and typically takes about 90 minutes.
Talisman is a game with a massive amount of expansion content available, unless specifically noted this review will be discussing the base game only.
Despite the weighty length, Talisman is a fairly straightforward, medium weight game. A turn starts by rolling a die and choosing which direction to move. The map/board has three distinct sections with locations offer varying challenges. The default location will simply have you draw from an adventure deck and deal with whatever you find, be it a reward, monster, curse, etc… Special tiles have dedicated actions and throughout the game cards will be dropped on locations for the next visitor to encounter. Players move, tackle the location’s action, and then turn shifts to the next player. This continues as players try to build up their character through spells, items, gold, fate, followers, and some other effects. Players gain strength and may move to the next section of the map, which is more treacherous, whenever they have the means to do so. Once players have acquired a Talisman, they may attempt to enter the Crown of Command in the inner region of the map. This region has special rules which make it more difficult to navigate, an especially strong strength or craft rating is necessary. When a character reaches the center of this region, the Crown of Command, they begin casting spells on their opponents, attempting to kill them. The last player standing wins the game.
There is a ton of minutiae in Talisman which make the game tick. It would be impractical to cover every nook and cranny of the game here, but we will attempt to highlight some of the key points. Character are chosen from one of some standard RPG archetypes; warrior, troll, monk, wizard, assassin, thief, etc… Each character has their own set of starting stats and a special ability to make them unique. The character stats in Talisman are strength, craft, lives, fate, and gold. Most are exactly what they sound like, just for completion’s sake: Strength is your combat number, craft is your magic ability, lives are your hit points, fate allows you to reroll a die, and gold allows you to buy items.
Combat plays a key role as you will face off against both enemies via adventure cards and opposing players. Combat can be either a battle or psychic combat. A battle is a strength-based fight where you take your strength, add in any modifiers from various cards (usually weapons), and the result of a die roll. The opponent does the same and whoever has the higher total wins. A psychic combat has the same rules, but uses your craft rating rather than strength. Unless a special ability is involved, fights between players defaults to battle rather than psychic combat. The winner of combat between characters can take an item from the loser or choose to deplete their life points by one. If a character loses all life points, they drop all of their attachments/followers/gold and must start anew on their next turn. This is potentially game-breaking should you have to reset everything, especially late in the game, so beware of low life points. Note that characters killed once any player has reached the Crown of Command cannot restart and are permanently out of the game. Defeating enemies is vital as you will collect trophies by doing do, once enough trophies are collected you may trade them for valuable strength or craft points to build your character.
There is a lot more I could go into detail on, including getting transformed into a toad for a few turns, but I will stop here as I think I’ve covered the basic aspects. The important takeaways are that most everything in the game will come down to die rolls, as all combat is resolved this way and many encounters are as well. Fate points allow you to reroll and there are significant modifiers available to lower the importance of the die, but they still play a major role in the game.
The game has a bit of a dated feel with the extremely long build-up phase to start, most modern games would likely attempt to speed that up considerably (the first edition of Talisman dates to 1983). This will be hit or miss for players, I feel. If you are into the game, it is a lot of fun to adventure around for a while, encountering enemies, battling opponents, casting spells, gaining followers, building up your stats, etc… until you are strong enough to navigate the treachery that awaits in the inner region. Some, however, will find all of the build up to be a bit overdone given the time it takes and the fact that there will be many “empty” turns along the way. Along those same lines, the game definite carries the feel of a runaway winner (or two) more often than not. Somebody will have their stats up higher much quicker than the rest of the pack and the latter third of the game could be a mere formality. Frequently, it’s two runaways who end up battling it out in the Crown of Command, but that doesn’t really help if you aren’t one of those two. The plus side here is that it’s an app so you can easily quit and start a new game when you see this happening.
My biggest takeaway from Talisman is that this game is huge and is one of the few apps out there that could legitimately fall under “the only app I play” category. There aren’t too many I consider in this category, but the variation of the game and the huge amount of expansion content (more on that later) really make this a game you could play for a long, long time. The flipside of this, of course, is that Talisman certainly isn’t a game for everybody, the length of a game alone will turn away a lot of people, let alone some of the dated mechanics. Those who do find themselves diving in could get lost for quite a while.
Barrier to Entry
Talisman’s help section links you to a slightly confusing webpage which outlines the Playstation instructions. There isn’t an explicit tutorial, but during your first few games there are pop ups throughout which explain things along the way until. I admittedly missed a few things my first time through, but the basics are covered for the most part. The most confusing part for me initially was the strategy. There is no benefit to racing to be the first to cross into the inner regions before you are ready, in case you were wondering.
Beyond that, I was thoroughly crushed my first few games. I kept dying and resetting my stats so every other opponent could easily stomp me in combat, not a good situation. The point being, there is definitely some learning curve involved in Talisman. The tutorial could be better to provide more strategic hints, but if you don’t mind a fair amount of trial and error, the tutorial does cover the basics well enough to get you on your way.
Early game board
Look and Feel
Talisman presents the game board from an angled, top-down view. The character pieces move around the board and cards sitting on tiles are represented by small icons with their names shown above. In short, there is nothing special about the visual appeal of Talisman. That’s just fine, as everything here does its job and there aren’t really any issues holding it back. The controls work just fine, every action is completed with a small menu of choices in the screen corner. The option to speed up AI turns is fantastic, and greatly reduces overall playtime. Note that our 90 minute estimate is with this setting turned all the way up for the fastest AI turns possible. The AI turns will fly by, but the game will pause if you press the screen, so you are free to take a look at your or your opponent’s hands or anything else going on. Overall, it doesn’t look amazing, but the app gets the job done and allows you to play the game without any significant issues.
Talisman features real-time online play and pass-and-play. Being real-time only makes perfect sense for this game having so many player interactions, an asynchronous game of Talisman could last months, but it also means you have to have a big time window to sit down and play.
Pass-and-play is a tricky issue for Talisman. I would never want to play it on a phone, having to pass between players every few seconds, but it would work better on a large tablet. This is one of those games where multiplayer in general is a tough sell for the app. If I am sitting with friends for close to two hours, I would pick up a physical game before busting out Talisman on my tablet, and I clearly have problems finding the time to play a full game synchronously online. However, those who have different schedules will find a well implemented multiplayer game.
Single player is where I’ve spent the bulk of my time in Talisman. The game allows you to choose how many AI opponents you will face, which alternate endings and expansions to use. Characters can be assigned individually or by setting any/all players to randomly assigned characters. There are a handful of “House Rules” which allow you to change some specifics to add unique twists, such as limiting the deck to a single Talisman card or hiding the ending condition until somebody reaches the Crown of Command. There are no difficulty levels on AI players. This absolutely doesn’t affect me as I’m quite awful at this game, but I am curious if experienced players find the AI challenging enough. I will note that the AI will target you if you are especially weak in one area. Have low craft? The Sourceress will hunt you down and use her special ability to pick a psychic fight.
One of many alternate endings
Sorceress vs. Warrio
Victory! (for the AI)
There is a lot in the base game, but Talisman is clearly made for expansions and the app delivers in spades in that area. You have two familiar purchase options for the wealth of expansions: bundle or a la cart. The bundle, at a price of $35.99, gives you all currently available expansions and a handful of content slated for future release. If you want to buy at a slower pace, you can purchase one of 11 expansion packs ($2.99/ea) or one of 20 characters ($0.99/ea).
Characters add new playable characters to the game with their own starting stats and special abilities. Expansion packs are where the meat of the additions are as they may contain some combination of characters, adventure cards, spell cards, quest cards, new map boards, additional alternative endings, and other items which can alter the game slightly or significantly. If you enjoy what Talisman has to offer you will be thrilled at the volume of expansions available, you could play for years and not have the exact same combination of settings.
Talisman: Prologue and Talisman: The Horus Heresy are separate apps based on the Talisman ruleset. Prologue is a solo game built around campaigns while Horus Heresy takes the classic Talisman rules and puts it into the Warhammer 40k universe.
The Wrap Up
Talisman is a good implementation of a fun adventure game. The only other game in the genre we’ve reviewed has been Pathfinder Adventures which was a game I could appreciate more than enjoy. Personally, Talisman hits the mark more for me. It’s more relaxed than most contemporary games, you have to be willing to sink the time into the buildup for the final battle payoff, and that will surely not sit well with everybody. Part of the joy of digital board games is streamlining everything so a game can take a fraction of its original playtime. That is thrown out of the window here, but that’s just fine by me. I’ve found myself disappearing into the world of Talisman quite a bit since I started and I’ve really enjoyed what it has to offer.