Howdy. I’ve played a lot of Talisman. Hundreds of games with the Games Workshop 2nd edition and maybe a tenth of that with Fantasy Flight’s version. They came out with more expansions than the number of times I get to play in a year for a bit there, but now that FF and GW have ended their long, fruitful relationship, Talisman will again be in limbo and eventually prices will start to rise and things will become scarce. Here is a list to help you spend your ducats.
The following list and thoughts are not for collectors, but may help you determine what may be sought after by players. For the completionist, just buy everything. If you didn’t get the print on demand stuff– ouch! I would AVOID Deep Realms unless you are the most ardent collector. However, the Nether realm Expansion is fantastic.
For players, if you are new to the game or new to this version of the game (from 2nd or 3rd editions), here is what you really need to buy, what you sorta need to buy, and what you shouldn’t buy.
Make sure you are getting the Fantasy Flight version of the game and not the Black Industries version. The FF box is ‘less black’ than the Black Industries version (see above). If you do end up with the Black Industries version, you will need to purchase/find the upgrade kit with the fate points and stuff in it. These will likely be SCARCE. Obviously, you need the core set, but in my opinion it’s not enough for the full experience of Talisman. The base set doesn’t have enough characters, nor spell cards and the adventure deck is too small.
The following are what I feel are the absolutely essential expansions to Talisman. There are very few of these that you actually need to have to get a good experience forever with the game. This will likely run you about 100$ retail.
#1 The Reaper expansion
This is stuff that really could have all been in the core game. While you can leave the actual Reaper and his rules in the box, the cards and characters in this expansion flesh out the base game enough for me to say, “yes, you are really playing Talisman.” By far, this is the most important expansion to the game, with the absolutely essential adventure, spell and characters as well as the Warlock Quests. If you get only one expansion, Reaper is it.
Frostmarch is the first of the “more stuff” expansions that fits very well with the core game, Reaper and Highlands for a base set to play with forever. It has few new rules (unlike Firelands or Harbinger), just cards and spells and a few more characters. Because this is just ‘more stuff,’ one could argue that it’s not essential, but if you are going to expand your Talisman and have Reaper, this is the next one that you will want to get, especially if you are going to play without the Board expansions and keep your Talisman SANE.
MauriceBastard: Meh, I can’t think of anything great about it, I bet there are some good items in the pack but I don’t associate them with it, I most likely just assume the good items in this pack come from The Reaper.
Highlands is an ‘extra board’ expansion that has a lot going for it. Why this instead of Dungeon? First, it does not offer a pathway to the Crown of Command, so players will still need to go up the normal method. What happens when you have a lot of boards in a Talisman game, and especially if you include Dungeon, is that players scatter all over the place and have no interaction with each other at any time during the game. Sure they may cast spells up against each other late game, but the concept of landing on another player is totally moot if there are four separate boards (and deep realms) in play. Characters like the Thief and Sorceress become fairly useless in these situations and once someone gets rolling and chooses to chase down the other characters to destroy them, it’s a lot more difficult with all the boards. You have to decide on whether or not you have the table space and also want to have your players all over the place by picking up the board expansions. If you are going to get one, Highlands is the one to get first. It has few special rules that effect the base game, critical characters to the game (Valkyrie and Alchemist for example) and does not have that egress to the Crown that Dungeon has, while still giving brutally strong magic items if you win the board.
MauriceBastard: Makes the outer region of the main board almost completely useless as this area is good for starting characters.
With the core set and the essential expansions, you have 28 characters. Fantasy Flight, compared to GW, were REAL stingy with the characters they put out in each expansion (compare 8 in 2E’s Talisman: Adventure to FF’s expansions at on average 4 each), probably because they came with miniatures instead of having them sold separate, so this is not a massive list. However it covers the basics: varied strength attackers, shitty trick characters (elf/dwarf), and the all important craft attackers (ghoul, wizard) and lastly, spellcasters.
NON-ESSENTIAL, BUT GOOD TO GET
#4 Sacred Pool
This, like Frostmarch, is another ‘more stuff’ expansion with more Adventure, Spell and characters to include in the game. Because it has rules that do not mess with the core gameplay, I place this as one of the best expansions to get. What’s more, if you are trying to stick with just the main board, this is a good one to get after Reaper and Frostmarch. I like all of the characters that came with this one.
MariceBastard: Ya again the items that are worth it in this pack I attribute to The Reaper.
The 4E Talisman Dungeon expansion is far and away better than the 2nd edition one, with awesome monsters, great magic items, good characters and a means to get to the Crown of Command to boot, circumventing the entire randomness of the middle region with a straight up combat instead. Many players B-line it to the dungeon as soon as they feel strong enough to farm it for goodies and strength/craft. Unlike the Highlands, the Dungeon is not an easy board to make it through, and many characters will die if they go in before they are ready (usually after 2-3 stat upgrades). That said, Dungeon is not an essential expansion because it’s a new board section and while some people may like it, the fact that you can circumvent the inner region’s perils and get the the crown of command changes the game drastically, adding to the sad fact that more boards = less player interaction.
MauriceBastard: Fine. Allows a end round run to the center for overpowered heroes which is a needed mechanic late game.
#6 Nether Realm
The Nether Realm expansion is one of those funky print on demand ones and when it came out, I thought that was the end of support from FF for Talisman (i.e.: no new expansions). The components were very good quality and this expansion is fantastic. In the new victory condition, instead of a Talisman, the players must kill a certain number of Nether Realm creatures and get to the Crown of Command. The creatures are represented by a Nether deck that has some of the nastiest stuff I’ve ever seen in the game! This win condition also promises a shorter, tighter game, so I like it a lot. This expansion also adds back in the Pandora’s Box card for the inner region, using the NetherRealm cards in place of Adventure cards! Once out of print, this one will be very expensive, but if you can get it no for 15$, it’s great.
MauriceBastard: Great shit, excellent way to change up the center region for extra challenge, make sure to exclude The Dungeon so you can’t end run the mosh pit of the center.
#7 Blood Moon
Like the Reaper expansion, the Blood Moon expansion has a guy that goes around and does stuff to people independent of the characters. This is less optional if you are going to play with everything from this expansion than the Reaper is. We’ve played with both the Reaper and the Werewolf and that was a clear mistake that slowed the game to a crawl. This has some interesting characters and most importantly, it has the HORRIBLE BLACK VOID card which makes the first trip to the Inner region even more dangerous than before. We play that once the void is drawn, it goes away for the game and at that point no other characters can be drawn. This gives both players going through the dungeon or up the inner region method a bit of pause about hitting the Crown of command space.
In addition to the Werewolf mechanic, Blood Moon introduces the Day/Night cycle to the game with +1 and -1 vs monsters during this time. This is one of my most hated mechanics that has been added to Talisman. Don’t bother with it.
MauriceBastard: We’ve entered the arena of where expansions stop working when you are playing completionist, while there are some good cards here the day night and werewolf shit becomes too much to keep track of if you play with reaper as well.
#8 Talisman City
There are a lot of options that open up in the City, and a lot of strange new cards. I like the pets and I like the fact that with the City expansion GOLD actually starts to have value again where normally it was pretty useless mid to late game. You can pay to win using the City, with very powerful cards on sale. We’ve enjoyed this expansion but you have to make a choice: do you go the standard Highlands/Dungeon configuration or do you remove one of those, or do you make the game board MASSIVE and play with all three. Frankly I would probably play with Highlands/City at this point and leave the Dungeon out.
MauriceBastard: Overpowered shit galore the Alchemist will gape you.
While this has some interesting cards and characters, because it fundamentally changes some of the rules of the game with the firelands tokens, and does not mix well with everything else (if you play with EVERYTHING, the firelands cards won’t do much in the game), you do not need to get this expansion. “Destroying spaces” is a mechanic we started to see a lot more of in nearly all the later expansions.
MauriceBastard: Great expansion that needs to be played without other shit to help keep shit manageable, extra punishing late game.
We have only played with Woodlands 2-3 times. It is another big board to add, so you have to decide which to play with and which to leave behind. Most of the time I would choose to leave the Woodlands in the box except that it’s new and we need to find out what the designers were trying to do here! The board comes with a new mechanic where players draw Fate cards, which are quite cool, but it’s yet another mini game– and since Talisman tends to be beer and pretzels, some players are not keen on it’s complexity. If you use Woodlands, I would use it alone with just the main board for a few games and see how you like it. There are some really interesting and cool characters in this set like the Leywalker and Spider Queen. The art in this expansion is superb.
MauriceBastard: Shite, feels completely shite / haven’t played it enough because there tons of great content already so who wants to bother with Woodland.
This is really new, and I’ve only gotten one game with it so far. What I like about it is that it’s Fantasy Flight’s artists going to town on the main Talisman Board. They inherited the main 4E board from Black Industries and the art on it, while OK, was not up to the normal Fantasy Flight standards. Just compare the older main board with all the art on the other boards and you can see the difference.
Cataclysm fundamentally changes the game in that none of the spaces you are used to going to are going to be on the board at first, nor will they end up in the spaces that you normally get to them. Depending on the card draw, there may not be any place to heal, there may not be any place to get FATE points back or buy stuff. I think the best way to play this is to play without the city, with the Dungeon and possibly the woodlands/highlands. Since this is an expansion late in the development of the game, it will be very hard to divorce the content enough from player’s sets to see how it stands on it’s own. Overall I would say this is probably a good buy to get, event though the characters in it are a bit trash; much like Harbinger, there’s nothing that great except for the Barbarian and maybe the Scavenger. The Arcane Scion is powerful, but I hate the art on that card.
While cool and a bit of a must have since it’s the last blast we’ll ever see of FF’s Talisman, it’s not essential.
Mauricebastard: A last gasp at keeping Talisman fresh, a honest attempt to switch some shit up a lot, played once and it seems FINE.
I do not own this expansion, but probably will someday. The brilliance of the 2nd Edition Dragons expansion is that it was just a set of cards that went into the main deck which shifted the way the game played without fundamentally restructuring the entire experience. You knew there were dragon problems in the 2E game because dragon cards kept coming up and destroying you and stuff on the board.
FF went full bore on the Dragon’s expansion and it’s a totally different game, one which I would not play with any of the other expansions, including none of the other game boards. There is a lot of book-work between turns and Dragons will be a slow slow game compared to normal Talisman. This one is almost in the Don’t Buy section, but not quite. It does make for an interesting game if you are prepared for it.
MauriceBastard: FUCKING BROKEN EXCEPT WHEN PLAYED BY ITSELF WITH THE BASE, a way to switch shit up if you are playing weekly, a attempt to spice shit up that fails in a completionist “play with all expansions” game.
Mouth: My dragons is still sealed, and I think I may have only ever played it once, and maybe just the heros [sic], which were Meh at best.
PROBABLY DON’T BUY THESE
Only two on this list.
Totally forgettable. The characters in it are pretty dumb and I just don’t even want to integrate the adventure cards from this, let alone the added mechanics. I may comb this for adventure cards to add to my CORE SET+, but probably won’t play with the rest. Collectors only.
MauriceBastard: Unsure what this one is, I own it and have played it once I think, fucking can’t remember what it is, expansion fatigue has set in fully, old man who plays once or twice a year.
Collectors only. It’s just a total mess in play physically– it just doesn’t work well with another board between boards. We tried it once and it’s been in the box ever since. I’m not even sure I would recommend ever playing with the boards you need all together to make this work.
MauriceBastard: Shitcakes with a side of diarrhea.
The End papers
There wasn’t and there will never be a Talisman Timescape expansion for 4th Edition. Instead FF decided to make Relic which, yeah, no interest at all. We will never have the Astronaut, Space Pirate, Cyborg or essential ASTROPATH to round out the what used to be the top three characters in the game (from 2E :Prophetess, Monk, Astropath).
I also make this post with some emotional feeling that FF’s run is over despite at the same time thinking: THANK the GODS since there was just too much coming out for the game for awhile there (right around Firelands I was overwhelmed). I’m proud of what Fantasy Flight and John Goodenough did with Talisman. They did right by the license, for the players and obviously it was lucrative to some extent! I was happy to support them by buying (nearly) every single expansion the day it was released.
With the end of the Games Workshop relationship we are absolutely at the end of an era with Fantasy Flight (though that could be said when they were sold to Asmodee too). They will be putting out some great individual games for sure (like the new Game of Thrones: Iron Throne), but their Golden Age is over as they will never have a license so rich with possibilities and an amazing board game back catalog as the Games Workshop one: not Star Wars, not Warcraft, not anything. Lament though we might, what we need to do is pick up the GW licensed stuff that we want right quick!
Talisman has become a pick and choose your expansions game, different from v2 of Talisman which played WONDERFUL when you used everything. Version 4b can’t be played in total, or perhaps it can if you are 16-24 years old and don’t have true responsibilities and can focus fully on playing epic turn maintenance cluster fuckery. Now some people want Talisman v4 to be like v2, to have a “complete” version. A version that includes the best expansions that play well together. A version that you keep “shuffled” together and play over and over, ignoring the expansions that add too many new rules or to much turn maintenance bullshit. Fucking just play v2 if you want complete. Perhaps my picks for a complete V4 would be:
The Sacred Pool
For the small boxes… The reaper, is essential. Frost March and Sacred Pool are also good… More endings and the warlock quests were good additions. The blood moon is a little Meh and managing the whole day/night mechanic is tedious. Firelands is cool, but the flame shit and destruction of everything is again tedious, but can prove both beneficial and Terrible all at the same time… I think it’s a keeper. I have no experience with the harbringer.
For the big boxes… Dungeon and Highlands are both great, borderline essential. City is better than the original and makes gold worth having, but not essential.
Other… The neither realms is cool, and brutal… It’s good. No knowledge of the deep realms.
Also, I purchased the conversion kit for the original black library release of talisman. This gives you a complete second set of cards for the base game so it matched the ff version. I selectively added duplicates of the adventure deck cards to the base game. Basically adding all of the monsters and events… And I think some of the bad cards like the poltergeist and hag. I did not duplicate any of the magic items or bags of gold… But I would have to check to be sure. This was necessary when 4ed come out, as the base set was not balanced enough for a good play through, deck cycling was too frequent, and monsters scarce because people were holding them for trophies. I think it was also good for the first few expansions… At this point I could probably take all of the duplicate cards out since the adventure deck is massive with only half of the expansions in use.