GAME REVIEW: Talisman Digital Edition

TalismanDEScreen01Whatever your feelings on the topic of Kings, Queens and other issues of sovereignty, a crown on the right head can look pretty darn cool. If it was a crown that granted magical abilities and total dominion over the land without opposition, I would imagine that would look even better, especially if it gave off some kind of eerie glow. Such a crown is the object of desire for the various characters in Talisman Digital Edition.

Talisman Digital Edition is a PC game based on the classic Games Workshop adventure board game of the same name (which happens to be celebrating its 30th anniversary this year). The Crown of Command was used by a powerful wizard to rule the land, but as his long life was coming to an end, he decided to hide the crown in the most protected (read that as dangerous) place he could find. Conveniently enough, that’s right in the very middle of the game board. Players have to make their way through an Outer and a Middle Region and pass through the Valley of Fire before they finally arrive at the location of the crown.

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Each region is basically a circuit around the board, the outer most being the longest, and each getting shorter and harder as you move into the centre. Travel between the Outer and Middle Regions is governed by various means, such as a raft, the result of a random encounter, or a creepy path over a bridge guarded by The Sentinel (a very strong enemy). Progression from the Middle to Inner Region is via the Portal of Power and from there, the player can make a push for the Crown of Command, providing they have a talisman which allows them through the Valley of Fire.

The various regions are very much the path to the crown. Journeying through them allows you to build your character’s attributes such as strength, craft and wealth, through random encounters with the various denizens of the world. This is done by the chance finding of useful items, kind citizens who need help, and combat. Although movement (and pretty much everything else) is decided by a virtual roll of the dice, you can choose which direction to move, and when to try for the more difficult regions. Most spaces that you land on will require you to draw a game card from the virtual pack. These cards are the orchestrators of the random encounters you will face, from bandits and wolves to dragons and shadows. You can also battle the other players, which can be human or AI controlled. This gives a lot of scope for conflict and tense dice-rolls hoping that your total is larger than theirs.

The game itself, although seeming fairly complicated to the uninitiated, makes good use of tutorials to ease you in and tells you what you need to be doing. The artwork is well drawn and the adventure cards that flip into view are always a pleasure to look at, even if they do show some slobbering werewolf that will probably finish your character off. The accompanying music is suitably rustic too, and probably wouldn’t be amiss in some raucous tavern in which the tables are covered with spilled mead and more than a little blood.

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I mainly played the game against 3 AI characters, and they gave a good impression of playing against other people. Be prepared for some long games however, as when not your turn, you still have to sit through the other characters rolling, moving, drawing cards and fighting. So much seems to depend on the luck of the draw with cards that if you want a short game, you will probably be disappointed. You do have the option of playing with a smaller number of opponents though, but playing with just one other player left the board feeling a little empty.

Talisman Digital Edition is currently available as part of the Steam Early Access initiative. This is basically a way for games in an early state of polish or design to be made available for eager customers who would like to support the game whilst in development. As a consequence, games can be very rough around the edges and glitchy, but that is part of the deal. Talisman Digital Edition is thankfully pretty stable, but there were a few issues that affected me. The most irritating was an issue with the sound of the dice-roll looping indefinitely about fifteen minutes into one play-through. I am happy to say that an update was released half way through the writing of this review which has fixed that issue. I also experienced one instance of the AI freezing in indecision causing me to have to back out to the main menu and resume again, but the game kept getting hung up at the same point again so ultimately I had to abandon that game. The game is scheduled for a full release in November 2013 so if you buy it before then, be prepared for a few more issues than is usual with buying a game at release, and be sure to read the Steam Store page carefully to see what you are getting. One little incentive is that buying the Early Access version also gives you Talisman: Prologue (a single player only version of the game with quests) for free.

At first, I found the information/rules about the game a little daunting, but it only really took me one or two games to get firmly in the swing of things. There are more nuances to the game than I can cover without turning this review into a dry info-dump but they are all explained as and when they occur and I never felt myself confused enough to quit and walk off in a huff. I’m not the biggest board-game player in the world, but I find myself repeatedly coming back to Talisman Digital Edition, and that surprises me as I wasn’t really sure how I would feel about it. I think that even though the game is Early Access, it is well worth the purchase price at this moment in time, and is already very enjoyable if you can live with the odd glitch.

Talisman Digital Edition is developed by Nomad Games, and is available to buy from Steam for Windows PCs. The official game website can be found at http://www.talisman-game.com/talismande/

Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Casey Douglass

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