Talisman: The Magical Quest Game Board Game Review (Games Workshop)


This game may never end. I have no evidence to the contrary. Every once in a while I'm forced to play an older game and it's always great, because it never makes any sense. Talisman bills itself as "a journey through magical lands," but it's literally just RPG chutes and ladders, and that's probably what makes it great. In Talisman you roll to move, move up and down the game board, and try to accumulate power in order to be the first to defeat the ancient evil.

Talisman: The Magical Quest Game Details

Players: 2 to 6

Game Time: Infinite, Possibly

Age: 10+

Genre: Roll to Move / Card Drawing

How is Talisman Played?

At the beginning of Talisman, you choose from an obscene amount of heroes, each of which has their own stats. You then roll to move and take the action of the area in which you land. Commonly this means drawing a card (which could be an event, inventory item, monster, or other such thing). You may also go to taverns and do things such as get turned into a toad. Talisman is Chutes and Ladders plus D&D, or maybe some kind of old school MUD. 

You begin by selecting one character out of many (but you draw three and select one).

As you progress, you're building up your stats. You have your strength, your magical power/craft, your lives, and your fate (which lets you reroll). You can also accumulate both items and followers, and each character has a different ability (such as being able to collect gold from certain areas). It was first released in 1983 and is, of course, wildly unbalanced and almost completely random.

A Game of Groundhog's Day

It's easy to die in Talisman, or to otherwise lose all of your progress. You can find yourself losing a challenge until you're back to your starting strength, or getting killed by an event and having to start all the way over again. Talisman's game board is in three circles; players start on the outer circle, and must defeat a challenge to get into the center circle. They must defeat another challenge to get into the third circle, and other harder challenges on the third circle to finish the game.

Through unlucky rolls and useless events, my poor necromancer saw basically no progress for the majority of the game.

There's a storyline to Talisman; you have to get a specific artifact (a talisman) in order to win. It also has some RPG elements: each character has an alignment, which controls what they are able to do. Overall, however, the game is almost completely random, in a way that can easily set you back. Even though it's competitive, players are barely fighting each other; they're mostly fighting the game board itself.

And, of course, it's all about the cones. (Cones are stacked to denote your power, for reasons.)

As a roll-to-move game, you have very limited options. You need to move the exact steps you rolled, and you can only progress on the board forward or back. So you may have a fairly difficult time maneuvering even if you know generally what you want to do. Events don't progressively get harder throughout the game, their difficulty is just completely random. It's easy to pull something that's going to wreck you over and over again.

The Appeal of the Older Games

Older games are appealing precisely because they aren't polished. And it's also because they're arbitrary. Talisman wouldn't get published today for a variety of reasons: they wouldn't want players to be on a set quest, they wouldn't want the game to be so random, they wouldn't want the game board to be linear, and they'd want everything to feel more fair. They also wouldn't want you rolling and performing one action each time, as play moves unsteadily and abruptly around the table.

This is your game board. This will always be your game board. There are many like it, but this one is yours.

But Talisman's like a competitive, multiplayer nethack game; it's unforgiving and random and half the time, the point is dying over and over again. Whether you're successful at this game is almost entirely luck, but the game is also about the experience of playing it.

Even though Talisman's been re-released, it's mostly just been expanded upon. There's a charm to this game that's undeniable, even if it does go on forever.

Talisman Board Game Review
  • PRO: A classic game that mixes whimsical RPG elements with an interestingly random exploration and encounter mechanic.
  • CON: Almost entirely a random experience, though you can begin to control it fairly late in the game.