Review: Talisman (Board Game)

Snakes and Ladders for Tolkien fans.

Designer: Robert Harris
Publisher: Fantasy Flight
Number of Players: 2-6
Playtime: 2-5 hours (depending on number of players)
Release Date: Available Now


This is the fourth edition of Talisman, a game that celebrates its 30th birthday this year, and it shows. The rules are clunky and outdated, there is no sense of pacing or escalation and it can last for almost a dozen hours. At its core, Talisman is a bad game.

It’s also a hilarious game, one simple and familiar enough to attract gamers whose only previous experience of the medium is Monopoly for several (and I mean several) hours of pure and simple mucking about. As long as you don’t mind never finishing a game, Talisman will pass an afternoon (or long evening) very pleasantly indeed.


The game takes place in the familiar environment of a generic fantasy world, with each player taking on the role of a specific archetype with minor powers that we need not get into here. The object of the game is to be the last man or woman standing by travelling across each of the three regions the board is divided into and reaching the Crown of Command- a McGuffin which allows you to wipe out all other players on the board. But reaching the Crown of Command is no easy task, and players must build up their stats, equipment and followers (which bestow certain bonuses) by circling the safer outlying regions, taking on quests and fighting monsters.

Every turn players roll a dice, move that number of spaces in either direction and draw cards from the Adventure Deck that tell them what happens on that square. These can be one-time events like a curse or treasure, or more long term augmentations to the board, like a shop where they can buy gear or a swamp that will cause weak players to miss a turn if they land on it. Players may also attack other players if they land on the same square, but such antisocial behavior would only prolong an already achingly drawn out experience.

As the game progresses, the board will become increasingly personalized to your game with players gradually leveling up enough to tackle the challenges of the more central regions. Whilst the adventure cards you draw are always of the same level, these inner regions come with penalties attached to each square that will whittle down your hard earned upgrades and even teleport you back to an outlying location three moves away from winning the game – much to everyone’s frustration.

The game is supposed to be competitive but with a rule-set as punishing as this – featuring such outdated mechanics as player elimination, random movement, progress destroying events and adventure cards that do not vary in scale from the first move to the last- it ends up being a player’s vs. the board affair with everyone willing someone (anyone!) to build a character that can survive the ordeal of the middle regions.

It’s this shared struggle that makes the game fun, creating a good humored camaraderie that makes the game’s attempts at creating conflict seem all the more out of place. Everybody cheers when someone ventures towards the Crown of Command and boos when their progress is reset back to zero – leaving that player with at least another half an hour before they could even consider going back for another round.

It’s a lazy pantomime of a game, undemanding fun that looks nice enough and requires only as much tactical thought as whether you should move clockwise or anticlockwise around the board- but it’s funny when misfortunes befall your fellow adventurers, and when it happens to you… well, there wasn’t really anything you could have done about it anyway.

Players build a unique world.
High production values.
Sometimes you get turned into a toad.
No escalation.
No room for strategy.
Random punishments mean games take forever.

If you play Talisman to win, you’re gonna have a bad time. If you buy four bottles of wine before playing, you’ll have the time of your life.

Review copy provided by Esdevium Games Ltd.
Official Game Site

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  1. MTaylo050

    I played this game so much as a kid/teenager. It has a very soft spot in my heart. It is a little shallow, but I still think its fun.

  2. eu

    This is by far the Failest review i have ever readen abou a game.
    Games arent for to win are for to live. The way you think is the way of loser spirits, because first of all, Talisman HAS strategy. But it is not evident for closed minds.

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