Updated: Jun 12, 2021
A while back some of you may remember I reviewed 3rd edition, you may also remember that I had played the game to death and was rather fed up of facing the same challenges time and again. Well, as a treat, I bought 4th Edition to take with me on my summer holiday. The following review will focus on the game itself, although I will comment on the differences/improvements between 3rd and 4th editions, along with a quick note on the current expansions.
Talisman is questing fantasy game, where you take on the role of a mighty hero or villain in an epic race to the Crown of Command. Unfortunately, as they say, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” upon reaching the Crown, the player becomes corrupted and turns his gaze on his fellow adventurers, until he alone possess the Crown, unchallenged. Perhaps he believes his vengeance is somehow justified, but he will not rest until all others are defeated.
Although I have the Black Industries edition of the game with the FFG upgrade pack, I’m largely going to talk about the FFG version of the game.
1 Large 6-fold Game Board (slightly revised)
Revised 4th Edition Rulebook
14 Character Cards with matching plastic character figures
104 Adventure Cards
24 Spell Cards
28 Purchase Cards
4 Talisman Cards
4 Toad Cards with matching plastic toad figures
4 Alignment Cards
6 Six-sided Dice
120 (40 each) Strength, Craft, Life Counters (8 large and 32 small plastic cones in each set)
36 Fate Tokens (cardboard)
30 Gold Coins (plastic)
If you do own the BI edition, the upgrade pack gives you everything listed above except the Board and the Strength, Life and Craft Tokens. Fixing the board is easy if you have some label paper and a colour printer or a good memory. Just go here and download the 4th ed revised overlays. Also I recommend downloading the FFG PDF Rulebook.
Also I “fixed” my tokens by giving them a quick wash with Asurman Blue, Baal Red or Thraka Green and then repainting the number with Pale Flesh to make them easily visible on the table.
But what about the rest of the stuff? Well, the board is very big and very nicely illustrated. As a 3rd edition player I find the spaces a little disorientating because they aren’t all where they “should” be.
The cards and chits are very nice and the artwork is stunning, much better than the cartoon artwork of previous editions. I love the coins and the dice, the fact that one die has been included for each player is a nice touch. I would consider adding a couple of extra dice in different colours for marking the duration of effects, number of creatures remaining etc, as “someone” kept picking up and rolling the dice marking the number of Pit Fiends the leading player had left to fight.
Once again, my only complaint is the that the figures aren’t as detailed as they could be. I think this is partly due to the fact that I’m a miniature wargamer and I am used to really good quality minis. However, once I got my brush out and gave them a lick of paint they seemed to come to life and make the game even more thematic.
Playing the Game
The game play is almost identical to previous editions. Roll a six sided die, move either clockwise or counter clockwise then draw some cards or perform the action listed on the space. This is what many people complain about with this game and I can see why.
Being able to pick your direction of travel does give the illusion of choice, however, if your choice is one card or one card then there really is no choice because it is the same card. I’m not sure if there is a fix for this short of putting facedown adventure cards on each space. However FFG has attempted to fix this random move and draw in small ways. The first is Fate. Each character starts the game with some amount of Fate which means you can reroll any one dice you have rolled, including movement. A second is the introduction of powers and items that allow players to discard cards they don’t want to encounter.
In addition, you have the option to enter a new region without needing to land exactly on the space that leads to it. In fact you must have enough movement to move beyond it. This means that you can often have three or more spaces to choose from on your turn. It also means that getting to the Inner region is quicker and far less annoying now that you don’t need to land on the Causeway (Portal of Power) by exact count.
Combat too is almost identical. Each character has a Strength score for Battles and a Craft score for Psychic Combat. Thankfully these two terms (Battle/Psychic Combat) are very clearly defined on all cards and special abilities in this edition, clearing up all questionable areas. To determine your score in battle you add your strength, all bonuses from items and followers and a roll of a d6 together. The monster then does the same, the highest score wins. Not particularly thematic but it gets the job done. Again the ability to spend fate to affect your roll is a great boon and helps to mitigate the chances that you will die due to poor dice rolling.
Psychic Combat functions like Battles except that the character fights on Craft instead of strength. Only items that give a bonus to your craft can be used in Psychic Combat. In addition Armour cannot be used to save a life lost in Psychic Combat, which is a nice thematic touch in my opinion and it helps make the two types of combat different.
When you defeat an enemy on a card you take the card as a Trophy. When you have enough trophies in Strength to equal 7 (i.e. a Strength 3 and a Strength 4) you can trade them in for a point of strength. You cannot make change, so if you trade in a Strength 6 and a Strength 2 you still only get 1 point of strength, however you can choose to wait and trade them in when you have the correct change or enough to take several points at once. Gaining Craft is done in the same manner. This is a good change from 3rd edition as it means you will struggle to improve in the weaker of your two stats.
If a player lands on the same space as another player, they may encounter them as opposed to the space. Unless a character’s card says otherwise they must fight the battle on strength, making Psychic Combat between characters much rarer, but generally much more deadly. Winning a battle against another player entitles the victor to a reward, either a gold or an object or they can force the player to lose a life.
Once you feel that you are strong (or lucky) enough, you can attempt to get to the Crown of Command and win the game. To do so you must brave the inner region. Firstly you must pass the Portal of Power by rolling less than your Strength or Craft (decide before rolling) on 2 dice. Success grants you access to the Plain of Peril, failure causes you to lose a point of strength/craft depending which stat you were using. Obviously failure is bad!
Once inside you progress at one space per turn and must face three different challenges. Depending on whether you excel at craft or strength will usually determine your path. You may attempt to break through the Crypt using strength, or puzzle out the Mines using craft. Roll three dice, minus the appropriate stat and you need to end up with a result of 0 or less otherwise you’re likely to be kicked out of the region altogether.
Once through you must test your luck, either against the Vampire (if you came through the mine) or against Death (if you came through the Crypt.) There is no skill here, although rerolls can be helpful. It’s worth noting that when you spend a fate point you may only reroll one dice once, after that you can try and spend fate till you’re blue in the face and it’ll make no odds.
With those nasty places behind you you have arrived at the final battle. You must either fight d6 Pit Fiends with a Strength of 4 each or a Werewolf with 2d6 Strength. Defeat your opponent and move on to the Valley of Fire. Here you need a talisman or you can progress no further.
Finally you enter the Crown of Command. Here you must roll a die each turn and (depending on the number of players) if you roll a certain number all other Characters lose one life. You continue to do this until all players are dead. If another player reaches the Crown the two of you must duel for control. Last man standing is the winner.
I have to say that we don’t play the “everyone must die” rules. Mostly to stop people bickering and shorten the game length. That said, we’ve had quite a few games which have been won by a single space and may have turned out differently if we had been using the full rules.
Unboxed on Luck
I will happily admit that I don’t enjoy a game which plays itself (Pandemic for example could easily be solved by a computer making optimised moves) but I also don’t like games that give you no control because they are purely luck driven.
But, I do like the new version of Talisman. Yes, it’s very luck driven and sometimes you can play for an hour and get no further. But, the addition of Fate Points can really help you out. Because of Fate Points I’ve only seen one player turned into a toad in seven games. Because of Fate Points I’ve seen players survive when they should have died or found a way through the mine when they shouldn’t have.
The ability to enter new regions without needing the exact count means that movement is much less random, especially when you add the four corner expansions. For example, rolling a six in the Chapel would offer you 5 different movement options if you have the Highlands expansion.
In addition to that, the expansions offer a lot of cards that affect movement and card draws and allow players to rid the board of other cards. It is very nice to see FFG attempting to resolve the issues with the game, without changing the core mechanics which some player are very nostalgic about.
Thoughts on the New Edition
Overall I like the new edition. I think it’s very very pretty. It’s no longer set in the Old World but rather in a fun and gritty generic fantasy setting.
Of all the Fantasy style games I own, Talisman is the easiest to play with new gamers and the new edition is very very clear and concise with the rules. Just the introduction of keywords like Armour, Weapon etc, makes it so much easier to know what effects other Adventure cards have.
The Fate Points and tweaked movement rules I’ve already mentioned. I also enjoy the tweaks and clarifications to combat, in particular the strict adherence to the terms Battle and Psychic Combat. The characters in 4th edition are more powerful than previously which generally leads to a short play time, but also makes the characters more flavoursome. For example, I had a lot of fun playing as the thief, intentionally landing on other players and stealing their stuff (and then suffering their wrath) In 3rd edition the theft ability for the thief (bonus White Dwarf Character) was almost not worth using because you had to land on the character and then pass a test. Meaning if you failed you’d wasted your turn. In the new edition you can automatically steal and still encounter the space!
I also enjoy the fact that the number of options on the board spaces have increased. The temple for example now has 8 or 9 different effects. The City and the Village offer 3 different encounters for players landing there. The inner region was a rather big change for me and judging the stats you need to succeed is a little difficult for a player of previous editions.
Although I have refrained from using the proper ending, I think that in some games it would have been quite rewarding. I certainly look forward to using the Alternate Endings in the expansions. All that said I do have some problems with the game. For a start it needs an expansion. With most games, this is optional, but for this one it is not. In our 5 player games we burnt through the entire adventure deck, bar the last four cards or so. If you want to keep this game fresh you probably want a stack of Adventure Cards in excess of 300, meaning players can’t count on getting a particular card, thus reducing the amount of metagaming going on at the table. Also, having played 3rd ed with all the regions available, playing the game confined to the basic board feels constrained to me, like I know there is more adventure to be had.
Finally, I wish that the mini’s were better, I think they look better painted than not but you do need some serious talent to get the best out of them. Other than that, this is a great game if not taken seriously.
Players who are looking for D&D lite will not be satisfied with this one. There are no skills, no way to really “build” a character, no opportunities to roleplay and your options will always be limited. Likewise players who are looking for a story game are looking in the wrong place. Talisman is not Tales of the Arabian Nights, your quest will not feel like an epic tale spun by J.R.R or Mr. Eddings.
But if you are looking for an hour to two hours of fun with your mates, where you generally only need to be able to add up to ten then I think this is your game. Talisman is a great gateway into heavier Fantasy/Dungeon Crawl games like Runebound or Descent, you have two stats and no complicated dice and everything you need to know is printed on the cards.
There are currently 14 expansions available for this edition of the game. The small box expansions are a great way to bolster this game.
The Sacred Pool
The Blood Moon
These expansions add close to a hundred cards to the adventure deck for that much needed variety. They also add twenty or so cards to the spell decks, again increasing replayability through variety. They also introduce various alternate rules, such as The Grim Reaper, Alternate Endings and Warlock Quests as well as 4 new Characters. The best thing about these expansions is that they are cheap.
There are also several big box expansions including the Realms, the Dragon and the base game refresh Cataclysm.
Each of these adds a beautiful (absolutely gorgeous) new board, much much bigger than I thought. Around 150 new adventure cards, as well as 6 new characters, a load of new spells, Alternate Endings and lots more.
Sorry that took so long…