TALISMAN – How much is too much?

This past weekend we played a long 4 player game of talisman in real life. One of the players, let’s call him Matt to protect the guilty, was new, and being a 4 person game, it took a long time. During and after the game, there was remarking about how much of a monster Talisman 4th edition has become and while 2nd edition became ‘fixed’ in about 1993 with the final Dragons Expansion, the Fantasy Flight version keeps going and going and going. This is a good thing but the question out of last night’s game was how many Talisman expansions are too much, not to own or to exist, but in actual PLAY during a single session?  There’s nothing wrong with having and Fantasy Flight creating tons of expansions, but like Cosmic Encounter, we don’t play with all of them all the time and over time, with about 75 games of Cosmic under my belt, I can tailor the playset to what group of players I have*.

First, let’s talk about the boards. The boards are big and beautiful and take up ALL your table space. You cannot physically reach across the boards to move your character without being Kareem Abdul Jabar, and most tables can’t even fit the entire five-part board upon them. In terms of gameplay, the worry that I had with the release of the Highlands expansion; that players would be all over the place and not interact or attack each other, has come to pass in spades with both the City and the Woods boards added to the Dungeon and Highlands. The main board simply does not get much attention except in the beginning of the game or when someone is going for the win the standard way. What’s more, since the means of getting to the middle can be so crippling the normal way with the Vampire on one side and Dice with Death on the other, players nearly always opt to go through the dungeon board which means you can get to the middle WITHOUT a Talisman!

Due to the size of the world, spell casters (Wizard for example), with their ability to reach out and touch someone, have really gotten a boost because it’s easier for them to hit and not get hit back since the strength characters have to give chase all over the regions. One of the main strategies to win is to try to kill off players that may be a threat (like the Wizard, Prophetess, Alchemist as some examples) as an early high-strength character (like the Warrior or the Troll), but when players can run to all sorts of different boards from the outset, some of which are more balanced to the character’s power levels than the main board is, it’s tough to bring a character to ground without the correct items in hand.

Comparing this to 2nd Edition where there is a main board, a dungeon board, a city board and the Timescape board all off to the side and not connected to the main board (physically at least) a lot of the action still occurred on the main board. The city had brutal cards in it so was a get in and get out sort of place, and the Dungeon was so stringent with what you can take in there (no horses, horse and cart, horse FOLLOWERS and the like) that it was usually only used for escape. Timescape is very difficult to get into early game since there is only one way in via the enchantress in the city. Once the adventure cards start dropping, there are typically gates all over the place.

What I want to do is look at the most basic Talisman needed for fun play and see what can reasonably be added to that to make a fun game and not a huge chore to play.  The only required sets are the base set and the Reaper expansion (whether or not you actually use the reaper in play is irrelevant, the cards that come with this expansion are essential), everything else I consider non-essential, not that I would ever play with just the reaper expansion and the base set!  I’ll do a series of posts in the next month or so on what expansions add and which detract and dilute.

*(with some n00bs at the table, I use 4 planets per player, all the aliens and Hazard cards and that’s it, with experienced players we go 5 planets, throw in tech, satellites and everything else).