In the Talisman board games, each player controls an adventurer, traveling through a fantasy realm and questing for the Crown of Command. Each adventurer works on increasing their Craft and Strength attributes, gathering magic items and followers, and—for many—gaining and casting spells. The adventurer who defeats all the others with the Crown of Command wins the game.
What is Talisman the Board Game Like?
The Talisman board game can last from 90 minutes to several hours and it is completely possible that no one wins or even makes it to the Crown of Command. It is a combination of semi-random moves and card draw. And one bad roll can undo all the work a player accomplishes. This might sound discouraging on its face, but the game is tremendous fun from start to finish!
The land of Talisman is filled with magic and wonder, terror and death… or worse! From unicorns and devils to magic rings and mules, the world is revealed one card at a time. The adventurers work to sabotage and kill each other along the way. So much can happen and fortunes can change on one die roll. It is easy to get lost in the world and the skullduggery between players. If your adventurer gets ahead, everyone may start trying to kill them, or maybe turn them into a slimy, little toad. If you play enough games, rivalries may carry from one game to the next, with everyone keeping a ledger of grudges to work out through play.
The chaos, violence, underhandedness, and schadenfreude is a joy to experience. These themes carry through in every edition of the game and are a cornerstone of the play experience.
Different Versions of Talisman
There have been a few different editions of the Talisman board games over the years.
1st & 2nd Edition
The first edition Talisman board game debuted as a black and white game in 1983 published by Games Workshop. A second edition—identical, but this time in color—followed two years later. Both of those editions used cardboard chits and paper stand ups for the adventurers each player played.
The base game has fourteen adventurers including familiar genre types like warrior, wizard, elf, and dwarf, as well as some unusual options like a ghoul, and a troll. Each adventurer is defined by Strength, Craft, and Lives attributes.
Strength represents a character’s might, stamina, and fighting ability. Craft represents a character’s intelligence, wisdom, and magical ability. And lives represent a character’s durability—you have multiple lives to lose!
Each adventurer has Gold and—once the game gets going— acquires magic objects and followers. Some characters also start with spells. Each adventurer has a starting location on the outer edge of the Talisman board with access to the middle and inner regions coming later in the game. Adventurers also have special abilities. For example, the troll can regenerate and the ghoul can raise up undead minions.
Characters move around the board via a d6 roll and draw cards. They interact with a space by following its instructions, or they may encounter another adventurer. A large deck of Adventure cards contains monsters, magic objects, followers, events, strangers (NPCs), and places. Many cards stay in the game, either being taken by a player or, in the case of strangers and places, staying on the board and replacing a card draw as long as they remain. Each game of Talisman is a unique combination of card draws that build the world as you play.
The goal is to get powerful enough to quest through the inner region which has tough tasks to overcome. To get into the inner region a player characters needs a Talisman—a magical object. They will also need increased Strength and Craft attributes, and other powerful objects to make it all the way to the Crown. A character with the Crown casts a Command spell each round and rolls randomly for the result, trying to drain the other characters of lives to win the game.
The third edition was a departure from the first two in respect to some game mechanics. It also introduced plastic cones in place of cardboard chits, and full miniatures instead of paper stand-ups. The ending changed from “questing for the Crown of Command” to “defeating the Dragon King.”
Talisman (Revised 4th Edition) is my personal favorite edition. The rules and base game mostly went back to matching the first two editions. However, the miniatures and cones were kept, giving the fourth edition of the game a deluxe feel. Also, the owner of the game always gets to go first which is one of my favorite rules of all time!
Black Industries created the fourth edition under license from Games Workshop. Then Fantasy Flight Games picked up that edition and revised it by adding Fate. Fate is a measure of the character’s luck and fortune. Mechanically, it is a way to reroll dice for your adventurer a few times each game. The current version (4th edition, 2nd printing), made by Pegasus Spiele, uses the same rules and a similar box to the one made by Fantasy Flight. A new print run is planned but an exact date has not been announced.
The addition of Fate in 4th edition gives just a bit more tactical edge to the game. Not every roll is random but knowing when to spend your Fate tokens—and when to hoard them—is another challenge players must overcome. Fate has been further developed and refined in later supplements like The Woodland Expansion. That supplement divides Fate into dark and light versions. Fate can still be used to make your own roll better but can now also be used to make another player’s roll worse! Fate becomes much more of a struggle and a challenge when using The Woodland Expansion.
There are a variety of ways to experience Talisman. There are board games with expansions, of course, but also an RPG!
Talisman (Revised 4th Edition) is the place to start: the original board game. However, the basic rules of the board game have been licensed to produce other Talisman games using various intellectual properties(IPs). Some notable examples include:
Talisman has also been spun into other, related games like Talisman – Legendary Tales—a cooperative game—and an RPG called Talisman Adventures. The RPG takes a beer and pretzel board game and turns it into dark fantasy with a twisted fairy tale touch using innovative mechanics and game play.
Talisman Board Game Supplements
The base game also has several supplements, large and small alike. In addition to new characters, game boards, and cards, supplements also introduce new rules and alternative endings. These endings replace the ultimate quest for the Crown of Command—defeating the Dragon King instead for example.
The Reaper, Frostmarch, and Sacred Pool sets are small-box expansions that supplement the main game. The Firelands creates a bigger impact using fire to burn cards and the land itself. If you happen to play the Elementalist—from The City expansion—in the Firelands, you are likely to dominate the game with your ability to defeat elemental creatures.
Personally, my two favorite small-box expansions are The Blood Moon and The Harbinger. Blood Moon is all about werewolves and Halloween and has many Event cards to drive the change from Day to Night and back again. The werewolf even has its own miniature and stalks adventurers throughout the land. Harbinger promises the end of the world is coming with a variety of calamities to choose from and is driven by Events, which pairs nicely with Blood Moon.
The City, The Dungeon, The Highland, and The Woodland sets are all big-box expansions that expand one space on the main board into an entire new realm complete with its own board. Each of the four new expansions connects to one corner of the main board offering new ways to get powerful enough to try to claim the Crown of Command. While the Dungeon and the Highland are fairly straightforward, the City offers many shops and items to buy while the Woodland introduces a battle between Light and Dark—with Fate and faeries intertwined.
All four work together, but the Woodland introduces the biggest changes to the base game. Runes are cards in many supplements that allow teleportation to any other Runes space or card. This allows the boards to connect more easily. The Woodland also introduces an adventurer that made it into the RPG—the leywalker—who enjoys teleportation.
The Dragon Expansion and The Cataclysm Expansion change the base game with new rules and win conditions, and even a new core board to replace part or all of the one in the main game. In Dragon, three dragons wage war, trying to conquer the land of Talisman. And in Cataclysm, the rumored end of the world heralded in Harbinger has come to pass, with the land of Talisman in post-apocalyptic ruin just waiting for players to start to rebuild.
A classic game, still going strong
Talisman includes a mix of old school rules that work well, like the importance of alignment and tracking how many Objects your adventurer can carry. Second edition had a sci-fi expansion in Talisman – Timescape (which is amazing and makes that edition well worth playing). Fourth edition has horror as well as post-apocalyptic options.
And if you venture out into other IPs or the RPG, the game really has no bounds!
Talisman is a great game, whether you want to play Talisman (Revised 4th Edition), Talisman Adventures the RPG, or maybe mix the base game with The Blood Moon Expansion and The Harbinger Expansion for a night of Halloween chills and blood-curdling howls. If fantasy isn’t your first love, try being a Batman supervillain instead and wander the streets of Gotham City in Talisman – Batman, Super-Villains Edition.
The Talisman board games offer rich mechanics and a varied world to explore as you attempt to complete your quest!
Written by Charles Dunwoody
Charles discovered a nexus point where various dimensions that break the laws of science can be observed. He built a castle there and writes night and day of the awesome wonders he sees.