When I think about the thousands of board games that I’ve played, and I consider which ones might be a good fit for conversion into a video game, Talisman is close to bottom of the list. First released in 1983, the same year as my birth, Talisman is well-known in the board gaming community for being incredibly long, often dull and sometimes frustratingly variable depending on the luck of the dice, or the draw. These factors directly link to my reservations about Talisman’s potential as a digital board game, however after a few rounds of the game, I fear that I may have been a bit hasty in jumping to conclusions.
Talisman: Digital Edition remains incredibly faithful to the original game, meaning that each game still takes at least two hours, and often more than three depending on the number of human players, the way the dice roll and so on. The original Talisman probably inspired many other board games in the halcyon days of the 1980’s, but in modern terms, it plays kind of like a mix between a very light miniatures game themed around Dungeons and Dragons and trapped in a restrictive shell that is almost as basic as Snakes N’ Ladders.
Up to six players take it in turns to roll dice and wander around the outside edge of a rectangular board until they finally have the right combination of items, strength and other supporting cards to progress to the inner track, and ultimately to the centre where they fight to claim the Crown of Command. Progress around the outside track usually makes up the majority of the game, with players moving from space to space interacting with the conditions of each one. Most squares result in the player drawing a card from the Adventure Deck and following the actions – be that collecting a follower or an item, or facing down a tough enemy. Some squares have unique interactions such as navigating through a thick wood on the roll of a dice, or choosing which city-dwelling denizen to interact with, but because players can move either way around the track, you always have at least two options, even though both may be bad.
Sometimes, neither option is good, and as the game goes on, items and hazards (including enemies) that players encounter and do not either pick up or defeat begin to accumulate on the board. This means that what begins as a pretty spartan board state can rapidly become a hazardous and feature rich environment, and in my opinion, this is actually an improvement that the Digital Edition offers over and above the paper game. In the Digital Edition, the board remains clean and well organised, with an interface that is accessible once you’ve taken the time to understand it. By contrast, over the course of two to three hours, the paper game can become a nightmare to manage as the piles of card mount up all over the place.
One huge plus point for Talisman Digital Edition is that the range of options (known as house rules) and add-on content that can be added to the base game. The digital edition includes the full suite of additional expansion packs, and these add a ton of characters, new cards and features and even, additional playing space that slots onto the corner of the board as you can see in the picture below. One of these expansions is The Grim Reaper, a neutral character that roams the board and potentially harms anyone with whom he occupies a space.
The house rules and this huge wealth of additional content add tremendously to the value proposition that Talisman Digital Edition provides. It has a high price to begin with, but that is justified by the additional content being included in the base price, rather than as DLC, whilst the sheer number of house rules serve to demonstrate how passionate and knowledgeable the design team is about making a faithful recreation of this classic game.
Multiplayer features are available both locally and online, but the nature of Talisman makes it difficult for an online game to reach its natural conclusion due to the time needed. Finding a game with a full complement of human players is fairly hard, but playing with a few bots doesn’t cause any major hardship, the real issue is that the number of dropouts can be quite high. That said, there are a fair few players who know exactly what to expect and clearly set themselves up to make an evening of it online, and when you do find these players, they will readily be added to your friends list for future organised play.
I haven’t really commented on the graphics and sound in Talisman, because there isn’t much to write home about, but in keeping with my comments earlier about how much more accessible the game is when played digitally, I can confirm that this is largely because of the clear, functional art style. The board is clear and well laid out, and cards and features can be zoomed to provide clarity. Character inventories work in a similar way, so you always have the information you need to hand. The art is fairly pleasing, and whether you like it or not, I think most people will agree that it looks every bit the 1980’s inspired board game that it is. Music is suitably atmospheric in tone, and reminds me of the kind of heraldry often seen in movies about medieval times from the early days of cinema.
To conclude, there is no doubt in my mind that Talisman Digital Edition is a much more valid board game conversion than I had first imagined. It is absolutely packed with features, and it remains entirely true to the source material (even if that does cost it a few fans) which is a brave choice. If you are a fan of Talisman, buy it without hesitation. If you are a fan of digital board games or are curious about them, you could do a lot worse than cutting your teeth here. Clearly, if you hate board games, then you probably won’t have read this far in the first place, but if you did then maybe Talisman is more interesting than you thought?
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