Talisman (Revised 4th Edition) Review
So, after hearing mixed reviews for a long time, I was finally able to play several games of Talisman: The Magical Quest Game, Revised 4th edition.
In Talisman, each player takes on the role of a generic person of a given type (Sorceress, Thief, Wizard, etc). From here, he must wander around the board fighting monsters and encountering strange phenomena until he is able to strengthen himself enough to go to the Crown of Command and then start killing off all of the other players (in the Crown of Command he gets a magical spell that lets him kill them from where he is without chasing them). On any given turn, the active player will roll a six-sided die and will then have to move that many places around the board in either direction. Once he finishes movement, he will encounter whatever is already there (if anything), or he might draw a new encounter card (or cards) as directed by the game space (or he may even try to fight another player if one is present). Once the encounter is resolved, his turn is over and the next person repeats the process. This continues until one person quests all the way into the Crown of Command (which requires a Talisman (hence the name "Talisman") to get into) and destroys all of his opponents (who are glaring at him for shooting them).
Talisman is a conundrum to me, and so this section about pros and cons may seem a little bit different than normal. For example, here is the first conundrum: Talisman felt like a lightweight game to me, and yet seems to average around an hour per player. By "lightweight", I mean that there are not a lot of stats that have to be kept track of, and combat is really pretty simple (compare your stat plus a six-sided die roll to the opponent's stat plus a six-sided die roll). It is a very quick paced game in which the time between each of your turns is only about a minute or two, even in five player. And yet, with this, the game can still take a long time to play (this is not as much true in two player, but even still the "short version" of the game where you only have to enter the Crown of Command (not kill everyone else) will take about one and a half hours). Because of that, I don't know that I can easily fit it into either the category of lightweight or heavy.
One of the pros for Talisman is that, since it feels lightweight, it allows for social interaction during a game. To me, Talisman is a game that I can play when I am really wanting to hang out with people but I don't really know what I want to do - we can talk and enjoy each other's company, but we can also be throwing dice and playing a game. In this same vein, it is also a game that I could see myself playing on a Saturday afternoon while watching baseball on the TV (yes, I like baseball), and the learning curve of the game is small enough that almost anybody could learn the rules and play it with you (though they might rudely make fun of our hobby, but that's a different discussion). Yet, with the small learning curve, there are still a few random rules that are easy to forget - like how many spells you are able to hold based on your craft; see, it's a conundrum.
The main unique pro that I have for Talisman is the concept of fate tokens. How many times have you made the worst possible roll of the dice at the most critical moment? For me, that seems to be the inevitable time that I will fail any given die roll. That's where fate tokens come into play. Each player starts with some fate tokens (based on their character) and you can use a fate token to re-roll a single die (only one that you have rolled on your turn - not one that was rolled against another player, and not one that was rolled against you). You have to keep the result (even if you're like me and roll the same number again). You can use this to re-roll for movement, battle, or encountering a location. This really helps you to avoid being turned into a Toad.... which can happen. (There are even special cards and figures for Toads - four of them, for in case lots of players are turned into Toads!) I've not seen anything like fate tokens in any other game, and I think that it is a great mechanic.
One thing that is noteworthy about Talisman but I both like and dislike is this: your character can actually die in Talisman. Whereas in games like Runebound, your character is "knocked out" (and you only lose an item or a few turns), in Talisman, if your character dies you get a new character and you have to start over. I thought that this was interesting and forced players to be much more careful about their life total. With that said, however, if someone dies after a few hours of the game, I personally would prefer that they were eliminated; realistically at that point they aren't going to win either way.
My second point of note is that Talisman is built to have player interaction. Whereas you can play Runebound (and many other games) as a race to see who can kill the big bad voodoo monster first, Talisman really pushes you towards fighting each other. There are several spells that affect other players, characters who have abilities that let you steal from other players, and even encounters that will affect the other players - in fact, in order to win, you have to kill everyone else! Many people will love this part of the game (they probably actually did player versus player combat in Runebound!) but some would prefer that this aspect of the game was a bit less emphasized. I just thought you would want to know about it up front.
One thing that I didn't like about Talisman is how the encounters were setup. The entire time you are playing the game, you are drawing from the same pool of encounter cards; the way that challenges become more difficult is that you either experience more of them at once or the board causes their traits to be somewhat higher. This setup does not allow for characters to experience monsters that are the appropriate level for their character - you are just as likely to experience a strength 7 dragon when you just start the game as you are to experience a pool of life that replenishes you or a strength 1 wild boar (which in the middle might get a plus two to be a strength 3 wild boar) when you are getting close to the final boss. What's more, in the base game of Talisman, there are far too many "useful" (or net no-gain) encounters. From the times I've played, it seems like there are twice as many items that you might find than there are monsters to fight. So, you might purposefully go to the locations that force you to encounter several cards, just to see what all you can draw (and hope that you don't run into one of the 2-3 dragons). I wish that there were several decks in the game - one corresponding to each region of the board.
Another thing to note that I don't consider a pro or con is movement. I had heard about the movement of the game for a long time before playing it - how awful rolling the six-sided die was. Whereas, I definitely don't like the movement system as well as I do in Runebound, I did not feel like it detracted from the game. Yes, there were times that I wish I could have rolled differently, but since you are able to have an encounter on every space that you land on (as opposed to only certain ones with encounter markers), the way that the movement works doesn't really help or hinder the overall game play.
Overall, I give Talisman an 8.5/10. I would be willing to play it some more, and I mainly envision playing it while hanging out with good friends and/or watching baseball.