- The new 4th Edition -
Being over 25 years old, Talisman is one of GAMES WORKSHOP's oldest boardgames. It was first released at a time when GAMES WORKSHOP was much smaller than it is today, and at that time the company offered a good choice of family and fantasy boardgames, coupled with some miniatures and other RPG products. Over the years, Talisman was published in three editions: it started with a black & white game at the beginning of the 1980s, but that edition was soon replaced by a 2nd edition which then included coloured cards and playing pieces. The second edition also was the most successful version of the game, since a total of six expansion sets was released in the years to follow. These expansions enriched the game by adding new characters and events, but also by giving the players new places which they could visit and explore. In the middle of the 1990's, the sixth and last expansion for the second edition was released - The Dragons. Being available only in very low circulation numbers, this edition showed GAMES WORKSHOP that there was still a huge fan community for the game, and thus they decided to give Talisman a full overhaul and to release a new, revised edition of the game.
However, the release of the third edition was well disputed among Talisman-fans, mainly because of the fully changed graphical design of the game. Board and cards had been adjusted in a way as to reflect the overall design-style of GAMES WORKSHOP products of that time, but many players actually disliked the new design due to the rather martial appearance. Also, the Inner Region of the gameboard had been emptied and was replaced by a few cards, and this also left players with a feeling that they had been robbed of the game's traditional ending. Still, the third edition also had its positive aspects, since the re-design had not stopped with the graphics, but also the contents of the game and the expansions were revised. Thus, some typical rules flaws had been reduced, and especially the expansions were shaped in a way to fit snugly at each of the four corners of the gameboard. If a player succeeded in reaching the final space of an expansion, he made a good step towards winning the game, and most spectacular was the 3-dimensional Dragon's Tower expansion which was placed at the middle of the gameboard and which offered a rather thrilling finish for the game.
Still, after a few years even the third edition vanished from the market, and in the following years the players who wanted to get a taste of the world of Talisman were restricted to internet-auctions were they could purchase the highly sought-after games and expansions for incredibly inflated prices. However, due to the fact that GAMES WORKSHOP's focus had shifted mainly to the production of miniature games, people did not think it would be possible that Talisman would ever return in a new edition. Thus, astonishment was great when GAMES WORKSHOP announced in spring 2007 that a new edition of the game would be released by BLACK INDUSTRIES, a GAMES WORKSHOP subsidy which was founded especially to support the line of older "specialist" games.
The brand-new 4th edition of Talisman was released in October 2007, but shortly after this date GAMES WORKSHOP actually decided to make a move which had been refused for Talisman for all these years: they decided to give a license for the continuous production of the 4th edition basic game and of any possible expansions to FANTASY FLIGHT GAMES. The design crew of FFG has introduced some minor changes in addition to the major overhaul which had been done a year before under the supervision of GAMES WORKSHOP, and so in Fall 2008 a newly enriched version of the 4th edition of Talisman was presented to the public at the SPIEL 08 convention at Essen. With FFG giving out a German sub-license and having its own German distributor, the now available German version of the new Talisman lists no less than four responsible companies on the backside of the gamebox, and it is my impression that the new game indeed has been given much care by the pros of fantasy boardgames: GAMES WORKSHOP, FANTASY FLIGHT GAMES, HEIDELBERGER SPIELE and PEGASUS SPIELE.
When I received the delivery from HEIDELBERGER, I eagerly opened up the parcel containing the game, and already the first look at the new gamebox kindled my hopes that once again a version of Talisman would be available which kept the true spirit of the old 1st and 2nd editions.
My admiration for the game grew upon opening the box and spreading out the components in front of myself. Although all parts once again have been through a full graphical revision, GAMES WORKSHOP once again had reverted to an illustration-style which may be best described as being traditional and modern at the same time. All the warlike appearance and the dozens of skulls which were ever-present in the third edition were gone, and although the coloured hand drawings of earlier editions had not returned either, the new graphical design once again is very fitting since it greatly enhances the playing atmosphere which is so important for a game with a fantasy setting. FFG has given the cards layout some slight changes, but in general the grapical style of the 4th edition basic game from 2007 remains unchanged. Also, the gameboard had been generously enlarged to place the playing cards which are revealed during the game, and as a curtesy of FFG the characters now come as plastic playing figures which had been carefully modeled to match the character illustrations. Thus, after all these years, once again fitting characters are waiting to be painted! Finally, beeing a good novelty already in the 3rd edition, minted plastic coins and a assortment of coloured cones for marking a character's characteristics are included (thus abandoning the somewhat clumsy characteristics markers from the 4th edition of 2007).
But this made me even more anxious: what would the rules be like? Of course, the first page of the rulebook told the ever-present story of the great wizard which once ruled the land with the power of his fabled Crown of Command. Being dead for a long time, it is the players who have taken the role of adventurers on a quest to find the Crown and become ruler of the land. Reading on, I could discover that the following rules did not vary greatly from all previous editions of the game. Basically, the players still roll a dice and move for their character on the gameboard according to their diceroll. After movement, they have follow the instructions given on the space they have reached, which is in most cases the order to draw one or more Adventure cards which show events, beings and places which may be either beneficial or detrimental for the player(s). If a combat arises with a monster, the player rolls a dice for himself and one for the monster, and he adds either his Strength or Craft rating to the diceroll (depending on the kind of the monster). If the player's result is higher, he receives the monster as a trophy whereas a lower result means that the player looses a Lifepoint. Collected monster-trophies may be cashed in for additional Strength or Craft, and together with weapons and other artefacts which a player may find his character gets stronger and more experienced during the course of the game.
In order to win the game, a player first will have to find a Talisman which he may gather either by drawing it from the deck of Adventure cards or by performing a deed for a Warlock who is located on one space of the gameboard. If a Talisman has been found, the player may decide to move his character towards the center of the gameboard where he has to pass a number of either Strength or Craft based trials before he may finally enter the center space which contains the fabled Crown of Command. Once reached, the player then will try a spell against all the other characters on the gameboard during each of his turns. If successful (a roll of the dice decides), all other players will lose a Lifepoint, and thus the game slowly comes to its conclusion with one player trying to knock out all the others whereas the remaining players desperately try to arrive at the Crown of Command space to challenge the owner of the Crown to a direct combat.
However, what seasoned fans of Talisman will find even more interesting is the fact that - despite the change of the graphical design - the rules of the game have remained true to the old second edition of the game. As a matter of fact, the well-organised rulebook had been changed only very slightly:
Overall, the rules now have become a booklet of 24 pages, and all eventualities have been described rather concise and with lots of fitting examples. Many questions and uncertainties which were not addressed in former editions of the game have been solved, so that there is much less need for house rulings as there used to be.
Spreading the news of the arrival of the new Talisman, I called together a group of seasoned Talismaniacs and we once again embarked on the quest for the Crown of Command. Due to the familiar rules, the game progressed smoothly as ever, and during the game we also had time to give the characters, Adventure cards and gameboard some closer scrutiny. The characters are nearly unchanged in comparison to the second edition, and this also is true for most of the Adventure cards. Only the wording of a few Adventure cards had been amended in a way to avoid some common misinterpretations, but otherwise no major changes had been introduced so that the new game really IS a revised version of the 2nd edition basic game. Also, even the one and only flaw which I could discover about the 4th edition for 2007 has been addressed in the 2008 version, since the hardly readable tokens (or "gems") for recording Strength, Craft and Lifepoints now once again were replaced by coloured cones. The new graphics and the splendid miniatures made the game enjoyable as ever. And astonishingly enough, it was also a great experience to play once again a "pure" game of Talisman without any expansions, since this allowed for a much shorter playing duration and more interaction between the players because the characters met more often on the spaces of the gameboard.
Seasoned players might ask the question whether the fact that GAMES WORKSHOP and FFG only have changed some minor rules in comparison to all previous editions actually might be seen as a missed opportunity to improve the game even more. Over the years, there have been uncountable discussions in the Internet on how the game could be improved, the luck factor reduced, the playing time shortened and other suggestions. However, while it is true that the luck-based playing engine in Talisman might be seen as a flaw by players who like tactical games, there exist many players who like Talisman exactly for being a lightly going, entertaining beer-and-prezels game where tactical planning is not the prevailing element but the game's pace is kept by a roll of the dice. Likewise, I would consider it close to impossible to find advisable or desirable rules changes when hundreds of house-rules exist on websites all over the world. To my mind, the designers did exactly the right thing when they decided to keep the main body of rules intact and just make a few minor twists and tweaks to avoid uncertainty. Seen together with the new Fate markers, these changes give the players a feeling to have slightly more control over their character's fate than they used to have, but even more important the new rules make the game stable and easy-going. And at the same time the players keep the freedom to create their own house rules just like people did with their older editions of the game.
To sum it up, with Talisman one of the aged Grandfathers of fantasy-boardgames has been re-fashioned with a fitting, modern design which gives the game new attractiveness. Most important, the game now is accessible for players who have not been able to purchase a copy of Talisman due to the high-priced collector's market, and it is really delighting to see that these people now have their chance to get a copy of this great gaming classic. Having a look at the future, FFG is well-known for releasing quite a lot of expansion modules for their games, and this should give rise to hopes that actually some new expansion packs will appear...
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Copyright © 2009 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany