We arrived at game night only to discover that our host’s neighborhood was in the grip of a power outage. There was still daylight left, though, and everyone wanted to forge ahead. Our table was set to play Talisman, which is a fantasy adventure game. It's long out of print, and sells for insane prices on ebay, but there seem to be a lot of folks around who have fond memories of it.
The Talisman table was hosted by Si, who owns a full set of the game with all the expansion boards, and who mainly taught us. I had played a partial game, with only the main set, about a year ago, so it was 90% new to me. Also present were Christopher, who played Talisman a great deal back in the day but hadn't done so in years, and Gary, who was completely new to the game.
The main Talisman board has three levels (concentric circles); you begin in the outermost level, and go around adventuring and becoming more powerful until you are able to penetrate to the increasingly perilous inner levels, and eventually to the center. What happens there is determined by one of half a dozen cards; you may win the game, you may have to combat some really powerful opponent first, you may attain super powers that will probably enable you to win the game shortly by smiting all the other players, or you may be cast into a Horrible Black Void and instantly lose.
The three expansion boards are the Dungeon, which offers an alternate route to the center for those powerful enough to deal with the creatures found there; the Timescape, a strange cosmos full of futuristic adventures; and the City, which replaces a single corner square of the original board with a whole sub-board of activity.
Each player is dealt a choice of characters to begin with, and your character has a number of lives; if you use up all your lives, that character is permanently dead, but (except during the endgame) you may get back into the game with a new character. Si chose to be the Highlander. I can't remember what Chris began as--some knight/warrior kind of dude--but his character soon perished, and he then started over as the Space Marine, who is armed with some really unpleasant weaponry. After much deliberation, Gary decided to be the Dragonrider, who has a variety of nifty powers involving dragons. This seemed pretty handy, because dragons in Talisman are about as common as mosquitoes in a swamp.
I chose to be the Valkyrie, who is decent in strength (the essential variable governing the more common physical combat), and more powerful in craft (the other variable, which governs psychic combat), plus has some good psychic powers. I got a spell to start the game with, an advantage in fighting evil spirits, plus vanquished human enemies would become my followers, and I was able to resurrect any other player's slain followers and make them my own. So naturally I envisioned myself quickly amassing a mighty posse of undead followers. Little did I know how things would really turn out.
After enough rules explanation to give us at least some idea what we were doing, we set out to have adventures. Our hostess had brought us a bunch of candles to combat the fading daylight, plus a small flashlight that could be used for reading the text on a specific space. The power was still out, but we were undaunted. After all, if you have a high level of psychic craft, are prepared to do battle with evil spirits, can pass unscathed through the dangerous Graveyard space, and have a band of undead henchmen, are you going to be afraid of the dark? I don't think so.
So we rampaged about a bit. There are all kinds of spaces where special things happen, but the most common kind has you draw an adventure card, which could turn that space into a new kind of place, or could be some object that you get to keep, or could be some enemy that you have to fight. I encountered a few evil spirits, and had fun using the Valkyrie's crafty powers to grind them into a fine powder. Unfortunately, though, my enemies were spirits, monsters, animals, every kind of thing, but never humans, whom I could have defeated and enslaved as followers. Gary the dragonrider soon enslaved a defeated dragon as his follower, which gave him added strength and extra powers of movement. He and I both visited the Mystic several times; she gave me increased craft power, but repeatedly scorned Gary and his feeble dice rolls.
We opened both the portals to the Dungeon, and Christopher went off to adventure there, grappling with giant worms, animate slime, and other annoying pests. I think that may have been where his first character perished; when he returned as the Space Marine, he came back in the Timescape. The original game was sort of medieval in setting, but one of the later expansions introduced a bunch of futuristic stuff, including the Timescape board, sci-fi characters like the Space Marine, and futuristic objects like the antigravity platform I later acquired.
You can only carry a limited number of objects, unless you have a helpful follower like the Porter who will carry some for you, or unless one of your objects is something like the Mule, who can carry other objects. Most prized among these is the Horse & Cart, which allows you to carry an unlimited number of objects; the Antigravity Platform is essentially a futuristic equivalent of the Horse & Cart. I gradually acquired a bunch of good stuff, including a sword, the antigravity platform, and a dragon-feather shirt, which was not only fashionable and becoming, but saved my life when I was defeated in combat. I also acquired a horse. This horse, though, was no ordinary beast of burden, but the mighty Warhorse, who would probably kick you if you asked him to carry anything, but who enabled me to charge into battle and increase my combat strength by adding my considerable craft strength to it. No more slinking meekly around the board hoping to find enemies minor enough for me to have a chance of defeating them. With the Warhorse, I was ready to rumble.
About halfway through the game, Si managed to take a short cut to the center of the board, giving him a chance to win the game. Instead, however, he was cast into the Horrible Black Void. This eliminated him completely from the game, but instead of going off to mix with one of the other tables (which he could easily have found his way to, as the power had come back on by now), he was kind enough to hang around, watching the rest of the game and providing further rules explanation as needed.
Otherwise, though, we all had really good fortune, as we got through the whole game without anyone experiencing the worst disaster that can befall you in Talisman--being turned into a toad. When this happens, you drop all your stuff and spend a few turns helplessly hopping around, a magnet for other players to come beat you up and take your lunch money.
Somewhere around this time, Gary had gone off to the city. If you're strong enough to arm-wrestle the guard at the city gate, the city can be a terrific place. It's like the shopping mall of Talisman. There's a stable where you can buy pack animals, a blacksmith where you can buy weapons and armor, an apothecary where you can buy magic potions, and all kinds of other excitement. You've got to have money, though. It is actually a crime to walk the streets of the city without gold in your pocket. If a patrol catches you, you can be clapped into the dungeon. Gary, however, prospered in the city, becoming the sheriff.
There are a few special characters that aren't available at the start of the game, but can be obtained later; you actually trade in your old character to become one of them. That's how Gary became the Sheriff; he had considered, but passed over, another possibility, the High Mage. I thought it would be pretty nifty to become the High Mage, and that's why I made the insane mistake of venturing into the city. I was penniless, and things went badly for me from the start. If a patrol tries to arrest you, you can try to fight them and escape, and I successfully did so at least once. But then you have to draw another City card, and if it's more law enforcement, they will arrest you for the crime of brawling in the streets. It's not easy to be poor in the city.
Another feature of the city is that you can't take your horse into the shops. You can leave a horse outside in the street while you step into a building, but someone else may come along and steal it. You can avoid this danger by boarding your horse at the city stables, but that of course costs gold. Not having any gold, and not having really appreciated and thought through these perils, I went into a shop--and that rat Gary dashed over and made off with my trusty Warhorse! Without the Warhorse, I was much reduced in strength, and most of my plans were ruined. I was also still broke.
The experienced players, Christopher and Si, assured us afterwards that this was a really anomalous game for the general shortage of gold. It wasn't just me; most of us were pretty strapped for cash most of the game. It was just chance; turns out there was lots of gold further down in the deck. But I wandered around the city unable to get hold of any, and eventually got flung into prison. There you have three choices: you can bribe the guards to let you go (obviously not an option in my case), you can try to escape, or you can be judged. Depending on the luck of the dice, your trial can lead to anything from fines and lengthy imprisonment to being set free with a nice settlement for false arrest. I, however, was never brought to justice, because with one lucky roll, I escaped from the dungeon. Mwahahahaha!
It wasn't all beer and skittles being on the lam, though. There was a warrant out against me, which meant that any law officer I encountered would try to arrest me and send me back to the dungeon. The danger was greatest in the city, but even back on the main board, there were occasional County Patrol cards that would arrest anyone with a warrant on them. I skulked around the city for a while, though, occasionally visiting the temple there, where mostly good things happen to you for free. I even succeeded in becoming the High Mage.
I forgot to mention at the start that every character has an ethical orientation; Christopher and Si had started out as Neutral, and Gary and I had begun with Good characters. There are various spaces on the board where things happen to, or can be done by, only characters of a particular orientation. There are also a few spaces that may change a character's orientation.
The High Mage is a Neutral character, so in assuming that role, I changed orientation; I also surrendered all the special powers of the Valkyrie. I didn't mind that too much, since my legions of undead followers had never quite materialized. The other players had had followers, especially Gary, but the followers got lost, discarded, disappeared, dematerialized--you name it, everything and anything happened to them except actual death, which would have allowed me to resurrect them as my own follower. And I tried, believe me. Every time someone lost a follower, I tried to put in a claim, but it was always the same story from the other players: "Well, no, he's not technically dead, blah blah blah..." Grrr.
The High Mage had a few powers of his own, of which the most exciting was that he always got to have a minimum of two spells. If I cast a spell and was down to one, I'd immediately get to draw another Spell card. So of course I envisioned myself burning through the Spell deck and finding all kinds of fun-filled magical ways to put the hurt on anyone who crossed me--for instance, that low-down, corrupt, horse-rustling Sheriff. (Did I mention that he had also stolen my antigravity platform and half my stuff?) But once again, things did not go as planned. I kept drawing defensive spells, which I never had occasion to use, but which kept me from being able to draw other, better spells.
I hung around the city for a while; it was actually pretty comic, because Gary was also in the city, nervously dodging my wrath. Every time he rolled, he'd calculate the move that put him furthest away from me, so that he wouldn't have to face my vengeance. Not that, in my weakened condition, I could have accomplished much in the way of vengeance. I was planning my own moves mostly to avoid taking City cards that might turn out to be the law, since I was still a fugitive from justice. And I never could get hold of any gold. I finally got so fed up with my poverty that I decided I didn't have much to lose, and would go rob the City bank. But alas, the dice were against me; I found no opportunity to commit the robbery.
I finally left the City in disgust, and before long, so did Gary. With his special powers and ill-gotten gains, he was ready to take on the Dragon King. Some time back we had drawn the card that established a portal from the outermost level of the main board to the center; one who landed on that space would first have to have the strength to force open the portal, and then would get to go mano à mano with the Dragon King, one of the six game-ending alternatives. So we now entered the desperate last phase of the game. Gary was ready to go for it, and Christopher and I were relatively helpless to stop him. Christopher pursued the most sensible strategy, which was to go once again into the Dungeon, and try to use that short cut to beat Gary to the center and steal the victory. Before he left, he had the nerve to smite me with the Rod of Ruin, which diminished my craft by two levels. I cast a spell and threw a fireball at him, but to no avail; he just brushed it off. So I wandered around the main board, experiencing various adventures and misfortunes, and even spending one turn passed out drunk in the corner of the tavern.
My greatest satisfaction came when I hit one of the spaces that changes your orientation, and became Evil. If a character changes from their original orientation, there are special cards that you attach to them to indicate what they are currently. So at this point, I was walking around the board wearing a big sign that said "I am EVIL." How awesome is that?!? I wanted to keep it for everyday use, but when we put the game away, Si made me give it back. ;-(
Ultimately our efforts were in vain. Christopher was still trying to make his way through the dungeon, hampered by his tendency to repeatedly land on the one space there that causes you to go backwards. I had ascended to the second level, which is considerably more perilous than the first, and was dodging about mostly just trying to stay alive, as I was down to one life. On the main Talisman board, you can travel in either direction, so you roll first and then look at your alternatives and decide which way to go. In my time on the second level, one of the alternatives usually involved my certain death, so I just chose the other one. Back on the first level, Gary finally made his way to the portal, forced it open, and was locked in mortal combat with the Dragon King, who has five lives and is a formidable opponent. But Gary was pretty pumped up from his corrupt career in the city, and in the last round, he managed to defeat the Dragon King and win the game.
This was a great game; I'm glad I finally got to try it, and look forward to playing again. If you prefer games in which luck is not a factor, you should of course avoid it. But if you're up for a good fantasy escapade, with fresh adventures around every corner, and plenty of smiting, look no further. Also, we spent the whole evening on it, but I'm not sure what normal playing time is. I think our game was longer because we were playing with all the expansions, and also because Gary and I slowed things down a lot by being unfamiliar with everything. On most turns, there are at least two moves you can make, and each one may result in several possible outcomes. So for a new player, it just takes a bit of time to review all the alternatives before deciding what to do.
I have two pieces of advice for anyone else playing for the first time: (1) When choosing a character, don't just think about how good a character's special powers are, but try to also consider the likelihood of running into situations in which you'll actually get to use those powers. And (2) take the advice of an escaped convict, and whatever you do, don't set foot in the city without gold in your pocket. I never did get my Warhorse back.
Re: An evening of mesmerizing adventure with my trusty Warho
That was a very interesting game. We were all (except for Gary) poor as snot, as no gold was being drawn from the Adventure Deck. That is why I meandered into the deep dark Dungeon hoping to bring back enough loot to upgrade my equipment. But I adventured too eagerly and met my fate.
P.S. - This was on a 2nd Edition Talisman set a few months back.
- Last edited Tue Sep 25, 2007 7:42 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Tue Sep 25, 2007 7:41 am
Once in a while, you come across a session report that really brings back good memories and fires up an urge to replay a game. This is one of those reports. Well done.
Si should not have been sucked out of the game since you were playing with Timescape that is where he should have been sucked to. Check the timescape rules.