Talisman: Legendary Tales
Updated: Oct 24, 2020
With the recent release of Talisman: Batman (USAopoly), it is clear that Games Workshop and Fantasy Flight Games are looking to get more out of their Talisman brand and so Talisman: Legendary Tales comes as no great surprise; other than the surprise that it's published not by FFG but by Pegasus Spiele. Despite the Talisman name, Talisman: Legendary Tales eschews the classic rote competitive play of the original Talisman game. Instead, Michael Palm and Lukas Zach's Talisman: Legendary Tales takes a co-operative approach, adding a pleasant family story time vibe over five two-part scenarios. The game can be played both solitaire and with up to 6 players, although the player count does affect the dynamics of how the game plays.
While the complexity of Talisman: Legendary Tales is low and preparing each scenario is simple, the initial set-up from the box is a more complicated task for which it would be worth a grown-up setting aside some time to complete and become familiar with the rules, without an eager young'un begging to 'just get started'. The art, by Zapf, and production are excellent, with the bags, tokens and chunky cardboard all very pleasing. Zapf's art, in particular, plays a critical role in the scenarios in a clever and understated way. The overarching campaign objective is to recover five Talismans (Talismen?) which you track with probably the weakest part of the production, the insert: it takes up too much space and the trophies are liable to come loose.
The scenarios each utilise all the tiles of the modular board, custom sets of encounter tokens and a play 'scroll' to unfold the narrative as well as introduce scenario-specific rules. Both parts must be completed before a timer maxes out - its movement determined by the die and tokens that are drawn from each bag - and a speedy conclusion to Part 1 means more time to achieve the goals of Part 2.
The classic generic fantasy characters are still present, each with their own stats and power, and the dreaded roll & move remains, but one more contemporary mechanic is added into the mix and is well executed to boot: bag-building. Each character has a mix of tokens representing their skill with sword and spell which are used to defeat encountered monsters. These pools of tokens are enhanced by magic items, which are rewards for defeating said monsters: by the end of each scenario, there is a definite feeling of having upgraded one's skills, although this isn't a Legacy game; they'll be reset for the next adventure.
A player's turn is simple: roll the die to move; encounter any monsters in your end space; combat and gain rewards for defeated monsters. When a token would be drawn from a bag - either the active player's or that of another party member - all previously used tokens may be returned to the bag. This is the game's primary decision-point: deciding whether the mix in the bag would be improved or worsened by the return of those tokens. The drawing of tokens is the game's main excitement: it's no Quacks of Quedlinburg (Schmidt Spiele), but pulling that 1 in 5 chance out of the bag can raise quite a cheer.
If I had to quibble, I found there was some lack of clarity in the rules about fighting monsters in your start space (you can ignore them it seems); and the boss monsters' extra hearts appear to be in addition to the one that is the token itself, although this isn't immediately obvious. The player count can influence game play considerably: at two, the bags quickly fill up with magic tokens, which are then often drawn; with more players, those magic items are spread thinly and there are more hourglasses to find, which means that, as well as downtime, higher player counts could be mechanically less satisfying. A final downside is one common to games with 'story': despite the good work done to randomise plot elements, if you've played it once, you'll know where some things will pop up and can position yourself advantageously.
When judging difficulty and level of fun, it's hard for an experienced gamer to be truly objective: while I found the 'best choice' to be somewhat obvious, neither my son nor my father did; and while I would always feel I should play on the hardest difficulty setting (least time to complete the scenario), drawing or rolling those hourglasses can end the game very quickly. That said, all three experienced gamers who also played the game also enjoyed it, despite not being the prime target audience.
So, in conclusion, I would say that, if you're looking for a family-friendly co-operative game with a dash of story-telling immersion and a peppering of well-judged mechanics, you can't go far wrong with Talisman: Legendary Tales.
(Review by David Fox)
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