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Talisman is a fantasy adventure themed board game originally released in 1983 by Games Workshop. The game is played by moving one of a variety of archetypal fantasy characters around the board, amassing power and treasure that is used to challenge the increasingly more deadly inner regions until one character claims the "Crown of Command"... killing all other player characters in the process. In the years following its initial run, the game has received numerous revisions and edition changes, some of which have added alternate play-styles, characters, and victory conditions. The fourth and most current edition was released in 2008 by Fantasy Flight Games.
The story of the world of Talisman is as follows: Long ago, a wizard controlled the land, his rule going unchallenged for centuries thanks to the powerful arcane magic and the mighty enslaved spirits at his command. The wizard's reign only came to an end when death inevitably claimed him... however, before meeting his fate the wizard hid his most powerful magical item, the Crown of Command, deep within the Plane of Peril, where it would be forever guarded by the most vicious and powerful of the wizard's former servants. With his last breath, the wizard proclaimed that "only a person with the strength, wisdom, and courage required to take my crown will rule in my stead."
In the many years following the wizard's death, countless adventurers have attempted to claim the crown, and each of them have met a gruesome end at the hands of the crown's guardians and the innumerable deadly creatures that have come to inhabit the region. Though the lands are littered with the bones of those who have failed in their quest, the promise of ultimate power draws ever more to make the attempt... each certain that they will be the one to eventually take the crown of command for themselves and become the supreme ruler of the lands.
In Talisman, the game is played by first selecting one of numerous characters, each possessing unique abilities and varying levels of prowess in both battle and magical power. Players move their characters about the various squares of the board by rolling dice to determine how many squares the character can move in the direction of the player's choice. At the end of the character's movement, the player follows the instructions of the square their character lands on: this most often involves rolling a die to determine a random beneficial or detrimental effect, or drawing from a deck of "adventure cards" that can grant the character items or followers, cause events that apply to a single or multiple characters, or initiate combat with a wide variety of enemy creatures.
Combat is resolved by rolling dice to add to the relevant stat of both the character and enemy, depending on the type of combat that is occurring: Strength for "battle" (physical combat) and Craft for psychic combat. Once the base stat, the value of the die roll, and any relevant bonuses granted by spells or items have been tallied, the scores for each combatant are compared, with the highest score winning. If an enemy creature is defeated in combat, it is most often killed and its card is removed from the game board. If a player character is defeated, they lose one of a limited number of "lives", which can eventually lead to the character's death if their total lives is reduced to zero. Players can choose to initiate combat against other player characters that are in spaces that their own character lands on. In player versus player combat, the winning player may choose to either take a single item or reduce the life total of the opposing character.
The goal of the game is to acquire items, followers, and experience to increase the character's strength and craft scores until they are powerful enough to move into the deeper regions of the board: the middle region offering more dangerous combats and greater rewards than the outer region, and the inner region containing a series of challenges that eventually leads to the character gaining the crown of command at the center. Once a character acquires the crown, the player can use it to attempt to reduce the life total of all opposing player characters each turn. Once all opposing players' life totals are reduced to zero in this way, the player with the crown is declared the winner. Later edition changes and expansions have added a variety of different victory conditions that can allow a player to win the game without claiming the crown of command.
Talisman provides examples of the following tropes:
- All There in the Manual: The entire story of how the Crown of Command got to be where it is and why the world is in its current state is in the manual, and is easily ignorable for players who just want to roll dice and acquire treasure.
- An Axe to Grind: The Axe is a very desirable item in the early stages of the game, because it can be used both as a weapon and to build a raft to the middle level.
- Bag of Holding: The Mule can be used to store an unlimited number of items. Later expansion packs added a literal Bag of Holding.
- Baleful Polymorph: Certain encounters may force you into the form of a frog. You'll get better.
- Beef Gate: The guardians of the middle and inner regions are far more powerful than enemies the players normally face randomly, and can often easily defeat most characters who have not done the requisite amount of Level Grinding.
- Critical Existence Failure: This applies to Talisman, as spells and attacks that outright kill enemies and followers only remove one or two "lives" from a player character's total. True player character death only comes when the last life is removed, save for a rare few "instant death" situations.
- Cursed with Awesome: The Poltergeist curses characters by forcing them to move one space at a time until they can break the curse. Under many circumstances, this can be a great benefit to the character, allowing him to hop back and forth onto beneficial spaces rather than move randomly around the board.
- Easy Evangelism: Several encounters are characters who are so charismatic that they instantly change the heroes' alignment to match their own.
- Good Versus Good: Characters of the "Good" alignment are supposed to fight each other just like everyone else, and in the endgame they HAVE to fight each other.
- Impassable Desert: A character will lose a life (leading to death if they are on their last life) whenever landing in a desert square, unless they have the water bottle, Holy Grail, or Profane Relic objects.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: Talisman has a large number of playable characters for a board game. With all of the expansions released so far, the current edition includes: Elf, Dwarf, Priest, Warrior, Thief, Troll, Ghoul, Monk, Wizard, Sorceress, Minstrel, Druid, Assassin, Prophetess, Highlander, Valkyrie, Cleric, Rogue, Swashbuckler, Vampiress, Knight, Dread Knight, Chivalric Knight, Merchant, Alchemist, Sprite, Warlock, Sage, Philosopher, Gladiator, Magus, Gypsy, Amazon, and Necromancer.
- Luck Manipulation Mechanic:
- Fate tokens, introduced in the revised fourth edition, allow the player possessing them to re-roll any single die at-will, expending the token in the process. Players are given a certain amount of fate tokens at the beginning of the game based on the character they are playing, and have means of gaining (or losing) more tokens throughout the game.
- The Warrior character has this mechanic directly incorporated. During battle, the player controlling the Warrior rolls two dice instead of the standard one, and chooses the result they wish to keep.
- The Misfortune spell allows a player to negatively affect another player's luck, by changing the result of any single die roll to a "1".
- The Prophetess character allows the player controlling it to manipulate the "luck of the draw" by re-drawing cards from the adventure deck if they do not wish to keep their original draw. The Orb of Knowledge object offers a similar mechanic to characters who possess it.
- Massive Multiplayer Crossover: The Timescape expansion tended in this direction, introducing Captain Ersatz versions of Indiana Jones and Judge Dredd, as well as the Chainsaw Warrior (who was from the game of the same name also produced by Games Workshop).
- Our Elves Are Better: Subverted, in that the Elf character's special abilities are fairly underwhelming, especially when two of them can only be used in the Outer Region of the board.
- Private Military Contractors: The Mercenary is a particularly useful follower if you have the gold to burn. He will add 3 to your strength on combat, but only if you pay him a gold. He also costs 3 gold to hire.