Mists of Zanaga

Happy Christmas everybody!
Whether you’re celebrating in style, or just enjoying a pleasant Tuesday, I hope you’re all having a fabulous day. While it is Christmas Day for many, it’s also game day here at spalanz.com, and today I thought it would be a great time to take a look at one of the classics – and take the opportunity to finish a series of board game reviews that has been on hiatus for nearly three years! Let’s take a look at the fifth and final big-box expansion for Runebound: Mists of Zanaga.

Runebound Mists of Zanaga

Mists of Zanaga is a jungle-themed expansion for the classic fantasy adventure game from Fantasy Flight, and was released all the way back in 2010. In the same theme as previous big-box expansions, such as its predecessor The Frozen Wastes, we are transported to a new realm within Mennara. The game’s storyline involves the survivors of the Dragon Wars sailing across the ocean and finding the mythical lost realm of Zanaga, populated by the jungle-dwelling makhim, and the singhara of the savannahs, as well as savage orcs and savage barbarians who live in the ruins of a lizardmen empire.

Beneath this land dwells the demon Tarakhe, whose taint has touched the land with pollution. We have met this primal force in the previous expansion Island of Dread, where it was known as Assif Shib-Sa. The makhim have devised a plan to rid their lands of the taint of Tarakhe by awakening one of the other primal gods who created Zanaga, in the hope that the two deities will defeat one another…

Runebound Mists of Zanaga

As with all big-box expansions for Runebound, we get a new gaming board as well as new heroes, new adventure decks, new items to buy, and a couple of new mechanics. The expansion should be noted for having possibly the best ever design for the back of its adventure cards, but anyway!

The new mechanics for this game involve the Rituals – these cards, like the adventure decks, are coloured green through to red. Whenever you draw an encounter, you add a Ritual token to the card – when defeated, the token is placed on a Ritual card with a corresponding icon. When these ritual cards are completed, they are used to determine which ancient god will be awoken to defeat Tarakhe. After the first three Ritual cards have determined the god you will face in the final showdown, that god’s card is flipped to its Omen side, and further completed Rituals will trigger the effects of these Omens until the players can confront the god himself.

Runebound Mists of Zanaga

Moving around the board is pretty much the same as we have come to expect, and we also get survival gear as is common for the big-box expansions. Crucially, there is also a Lost City token that comes into play when certain Rituals are completed – you need to be on the Lost City space in order to confront the ancient deity.

Runebound Mists of Zanaga

While the game is basically Runebound but with different characters and adventures, I find myself completely drawn in to the theme of these expansions, and I rarely find myself feeling like I’m having the same gameplay experience with each one. However, while Frozen Wastes feels cold, and Sands of Al-kalim feels hot, Mists of Zanaga doesn’t really have the same sort of environmental feel to it, as weird as that may be to say about a board game. The closest this one comes to having something global going on is the Roaming Monster track, which effectively replaces the Undefeated Monster track, re-implementing the idea in an interesting way.

Runebound Mists of Zanaga

Each monster encounter card features a terrain symbol on the right-hand side. If you don’t manage to defeat the monster, it goes along the bottom of the board on the Roaming Monster track. In subsequent turns, if you end your movement in a hex that does not feature an encounter or a market, you must check if your terrain matches any of the Roaming Monsters; if it does, then you have to encounter that monster, if not then you draw a new card and add it to the track. It does add an element of danger to the game, in that it does get you thinking about how you’re going to move this turn in the same way that the cold mechanic in Frozen Wastes and day/night mechanic in Sands of Al-kalim makes you think like that. The new survival gear we get in this expansion allows you to re-draw encounters, escape encounters, or change the results of the movement dice in order to make this easier, however, so there is that.

Runebound Mists of Zanaga

All in all, Mists of Zanaga is a solid expansion for the game. It feels somewhat like the least complex of the big-box expansions we have available, though at the same time the Ritual mechanic is perhaps the most intense of all the new things we have seen. I suppose it is this that sets the expansion apart from all the others, as it strives for an Aztec/Mesoamerican flavour to the storyline, which does come through quite well to my Euro-centric way of looking at things. There are some classic fantasy tropes for the jungle setting such as lizardmen and frogmen, and I think jungle-fantasy is not often done so that this expansion gets a definite feel of uniqueness to it.

The mechanic of awakening primal gods has often felt a bit like Arkham Horror to me, probably due to the terminology used rather than anything else. The talk of Omens and Awakening Gods has the definite feel of one of the many games from the Lovecraftian stable of FFG, to my mind! Gameplay-wise, of course, the game is very definitely Runebound.


With no further expansions for Runebound Third Edition since Unbreakable Bonds in July 2017, the future of Runebound itself is a bit shaky.  I don’t really want to see it go away, but I feel to some extent like this type of game has had its day. I talked about the culture of making boardgames more accessible in my Runewars blog earlier this month, and while I do kind of see a place for games like that, I’m not sure about those like Runebound. I suppose there are just more streamlined adventure boardgames out there now, and Runebound just feels a bit like it belongs where it belongs. People do like mass army games, but I think the adventure boardgame needs something more than Runebound can provide. The Witcher was a case in point, where the theme to some extent drives the game. I’m not entirely sure about Runebound, which has been continually lambasted for its vague, generic, bland fantasy setting. Personally, I love it, but that is more to do with my own history with the game. Looking objectively at it now, there is very little to help it stand out from the crowd. It definitely belongs to another time, and I think that could well be why FFG are choosing to look at new ways of implementing the Terrinoth setting, such as the RPG and the new card game, Heroes of Terrinoth.

New Runebound

Happy Tabletop Day, everybody!

I’m very excited today, as I finally got round to playing the new edition of Runebound that was released back in November. Having bought it at the time, I was still unconvinced by the changes from second edition, which remains one of my all-time favourite games. However, the announcement of expansions had gotten me interested, and so in the spirit of the day, I’ve given it a whirl! And it was amazing.

While this new edition of the game is still set in Terrinoth, and follows some old favourite heroes on a very familiar map, the game feels a lot different to the old version, almost to the extent that you’re pretty much playing through a new experience. I was learning the game as I went, so it took me over 2 hours to play through (solo), and I didn’t read any of the lore on the cards as I was making sure I was getting the mechanics right, but I have to say, the experience is really smooth, and you get the gist of it really quickly, thanks in part to the new method of writing rulebooks.

Runebound 3

The game is no longer merely a ‘level-up until you can destroy the bad guy’, but a scenario-driven game that uses a timer somewhat reminiscent of the doom track ideas from the previous iteration. The time track is run through twice, first comes Act One, then Act Two, which interacts with the scenario in some way. Each scenario has a set of ten story cards, which are drawn at set points on this timer track, and most of them have a Quest effect that usually benefits you in some way, though the picture above is a bit of a hindrance as well.

This benefit often takes the form of giving Lore tokens, which have some way to interact with the scenario: I was playing the Ascendance of Margath scenario, and Lore tokens here give you the boon of reducing the big dragon’s health when you eventually fight him.

On your turn, your hero has three actions to choose from among moving, resting, training (gaining skill cards, more on this shortly), adventuring, and shopping. You no longer throw all five dice all the time, but have a speed that denotes how many dice you can throw. Movement is also different insofar as many of the hexes have rivers running along their edges, and you need to expend the water side of a die in order to cross it (rather than choosing to spend, say, a forest side to move into a forest space). This does present some interesting options, though there is also a wild symbol that can be used for any terrain type. There are only four Free Cities on the new board, but a multitude of smaller features, such as strongholds and shrines, which you can often interact with in a manner similar to cities (healing and trading, for instance).

Runebound 3

Skill cards are gained through training, though you do start with a basic hand of them. When you train, you draw three cards, then discard down to your hand size, so this can be a useful way of cycling through unwanted cards. Whenever you test an attribute, rather than rolling a d10, you instead draw a number of cards off the Skills deck and, for every card with a starburst icon on the top-right, you score a success. This means the deck is going to cycle through a few times during a game, especially with more people playing.

The attributes are body, mind and magic, much like second edition, though a major difference here is how you level-up. When you complete adventures, you don’t take the adventure jewel token from the board, but instead you take the card. You then use these cards to essentially “buy” skill cards – the icons along the top of the cards show how many adventure cards you need to discard in order to buy them. I find this really interesting as, not only does it mean you can level up after potentially only completing one adventure, but you actually get useful skills to use in the game, rather than just buffing your stats in a specific category.

Runebound 3

Adventures come in three types: combat (orange), social (purple) and exploration (green). These three decks have all types of cards within each but, as a rule, the green deck will have more quests – requiring you to interact with a specific hex on the board to gain benefits – while the social deck will have more events – cards where you can essentially choose what happens – and the orange deck obviously has more enemies. Rather than going through progressively more difficult colours of enemies, the orange deck will have enemies of all levels for you to face.

Runebound 3

Combat is where the biggest (to my mind) change comes, and one of the most controversial changes, at that: combat tokens. Instead of d10s, each hero starts with three combat tokens specific to that hero, and has the option of buying items at market in order to gain more tokens to add to the pool. Enemy cards always start with five combat tokens, and when Act 2 hits, a sixth token is added. Final boss monsters also add a seventh token to the mix specific to that monster.

These tokens have various symbols on them, such as shields for defending wounds, axes for hero damage, skulls for monster damage, the lightning-bolt icon (“surge” for you Descent fans) to trigger a character ability, etc. There’s also a double-up icon, that one roughly in the centre in the above photo, which allows you to place another token on top of it in order to double the effect, and a feather-icon that allows you to flip one of your tokens after casting if you don’t like the result (the smaller circle on each token tells you what’s on the reverse). Lastly, there’s a kind of splatter-type of symbol that represents magical damage specifically.

During a combat round, you take your token pool and “randomize” them, before casting them either like dice, or flipping them like coins. I treated mine essentially like dice, though tried to do a bit of a flourish as if I were casting runes or something! Simple things. Some icons are golden on the tokens – the person with the most gold icons has initiative and goes first. In the case of a tie, the monster goes first.

The rules state that another player takes control of the monster when you fight, and decides the order of battle etc, but I was playing solo in order to get to grips with the rules, so just cast them all at once, and always chose the most beneficial act for the monster. It wasn’t as complicated as it might seem, and I actually got knocked out a couple of times as a result of dealing double damage to myself… At any rate, Runebound 3 appears to be a pretty decent solo experience, much like the second edition.

I actually really enjoyed the combat tokens aspect of the game, which surprised me because it was the aspect I was most unsure about. The fact the dice are blank plastic cubes that you put stickers on kinda put me off, but the tokens felt like the worst part to me. The fact that FFG have actually released duplicate tokens struck me as a lack of faith in their durability, however the cardboard is the usual FFG stock, and I’m usually real careful with my games, so I hope they’ll be okay for a long while yet.

Runebound 3

The scenario I was playing, Ascendance of Margath, was a lot of fun. Once Act 1 ends, Margath is spawned on the board by means of a token, six or seven hexes outside of Tamalir. Once Act 2 is over, at the end of each round you roll all five dice and move him one hex for every wild space rolled – if he gets to Tamalir, it’s game over. The first couple of times, I either rolled none or 1 wild side, so felt a little cocky and tried to keep going in my adventure, which I’m glad I did because it allowed me to gain one final skill before the final battle on the outskirts of the city!

I was playing as Elder Mok, who has this really useful “surge” ability that allows you to test your Magic attribute +1, and deal magical damage equal to the number of successes you draw. When doing attribute tests like this, there’s a useful rule that lets you “exert” by discarding an unused skill card to draw another – as it turned out, this was exactly what I needed to do enough damage (plus those Lore tokens!) to destroy the big dragon and win freedom for Terrinoth!

Runebound 3rd Edition

I really enjoyed this game. I think I surprised myself just how much I enjoyed it, seeing as how I like the second edition so much that I was not entirely convinced this would be a good successor. Sure, when it was first announced, I was pumped, but once I got it in my hot little hands, I felt a little sad about things like the dice and the tokens. However, now that it’s spent some time on the table, I have to say, I’m sold. The game is re-implemented so well, I’m really looking forward to a long future with this side-by-side with the second edition.

Games Night!

Hey everybody!
It’s Tuesday, so it’s game day here on spalanz.com – and today is a very exciting game day blog indeed, because I got to play an awesome game at the weekend, and really can’t wait to talk about it! Let’s get going!

After something of a hiatus, my longtime gaming buddy Tony came round at the weekend and we basically had a day of gaming, trying out a couple of new games he has bought. I haven’t been buying all that many games lately – indeed, I’ve actually been downsizing my collection in the wake of all the plastic I’ve been investing in! – but in the couple of months since we last played anything, he’s gotten quite a few new ones.

The Hobbit deck-building game

We started out with The Hobbit deck-building game from Cryptozoic. This follows the same basic premise of all the other Cerberus-engine games from them, such as DC and Street Fighter, and the only real difference that I could see came in the form of the One Ring card. The “super villains” this time are three arch-enemy cards that form a stack, each separated by loot cards – powerful artifacts such as Glamdring and Sting, as well as “manoeuvres” that act much like superpowers. When you defeat an arch-enemy, you take a treasure card then everyone suffers an attack, discarding cards. There’s the One Ring card that can also be found in this manner, and is initially placed to the side of the line-up – cards such as Bilbo and Gollum will let players take control of this card, which functions as a sort of ongoing-effect. It’s actually really nice, especially if you happen to have a Bilbo card to take it, then your opponent takes it back with a Gollum card (screaming “My precious!” is mandatory in this instance).

I lost this one, 86 to 96.

But let’s move on to the main event!

The Witcher adventure game

Released late last year, Tony has been eagerly awaiting this game for what feels like ever, as he’s a big fan of both the video game and the novels. He’s often talked to me about them, and they do sound intriguing, but I can’t say I’ve ever shared his enthusiasm for it. Until now, of course!

This game is just awesome. You play one of four (presumably) iconic heroes from the world, and you go about the board trying to complete quests in order to score victory points, and the winner is the person with the most who has completed three quests.

The Witcher adventure game

I have recently come to realise just how much I love games like this. The sort of games that take up at least two tables, that feature massive boards, and allow you to truly immerse yourself in the world as you go through. Even knowing nothing about the lore, I felt like I was able to track a story of my own here, which is a mark of just how successful the game works I suppose. This in itself is a new experience for me, as I usually have some idea of what I’m doing in thematic games like this! So that’s definitely in its favour!

The quest cards are really cool, as they have your main objective, as well as two side quests you can complete for additional VPs, and a support quest that another player can complete for you, both of you then scoring. This adds a degree of co-op to the game that I thought was really interesting – it’s still a race, but you’re not trying to outright screw each other over, as you might want to complete a quest for them, or get them to complete one of yours. We were only playing two player of course, but I can see how this support mechanic could lead to forming brief alliances as you try to get ahead of other players.

The Witcher adventure game

On your turn, you can take two actions from a small menu of such things – move, investigate, develop, prepare, and rest. While you can never actually die in the game, taking wounds reduces what you can actually do during your turn, and can force you to rest to heal up. Developing yourself allows you to draw cards from a small deck of personalized skills, customizing your hero for what you want to do. Preparing then allows you to potentially buff those skills, or at least make them playable in future rounds.

I really love the investigation action, though, because of its variety. When you move, you travel along the dotted line between locations, and pick one ‘lead’ token of a colour available at that location – red, blue or purple. These can be traded in later for tokens that will allow you to complete your main quest, and each hero has a different ratio of leads to quest tokens, so some might have an easier time converting blue tokens, for instance. Investigation will sometimes give you even more leads, but can also provide tasks that provide greater benefits when you accomplish them, or setbacks, such as combat or just delaying you.

As I said before, it’s super thematic and even with no prior knowledge of the game, I had a great time playing as I began to spin this tale of my character travelling through the land for whatever reasons…

At the end of your turn, you have the obstacle part. Each location of the board is part of one of six regions, each colour-coded. There’s a track down the side of the board where you can amass both enemy tokens and skull tokens – at the end of your turn, you must then face whatever is in that part of the track. The skulls are Foul Fate tokens that cause you to draw from that deck, and usually awful things will happen. Enemies (the token in the bottom-right of the above picture) have two attributes, swords and shields. To defeat them, you must roll the three battle dice as well as your hero dice, and equal or exceed both stats – to symbolize both defeating the monster and escaping unharmed. If you fail on the swords, the monster remains in the region, and you suffer any penalties listed on the token. If you defeat it, but fail to equal the shields, you can still claim the successful combat but you may find yourself wounded or something. It’s a really interesting way of dealing with combat, making it more than just outright defeat of something.

The Foul Fate mechanic – while awful – is also really interesting, as you can take these tokens onto your hero sheet as well, causing you to draw a card if you wish to take the action you placed the token on. It really adds a lot of depth to the game, so that you aren’t just running around killing stuff and completing quests to win!

Like I said, I really enjoyed this one – I even won! – and hopefully we’ll get to play it some more over the coming weeks and months.

We rounded out our game day with six games of Magic, which I haven’t played for about five or six months, so unsurprisingly didn’t do very well. Managed to get him to 1 health in two games, and still lost, but did win two of the games. My Jeskai deck did a lot better than I thought it would with three colours involved – I even triggered Narset’s ultimate! – but my Rakdos deck was just appalling, so I need to sort out the mana in that one. Shame, because there are some really fun cards in that one. Magic is still a fun game, when I can get to play it, so I’ll no doubt feature more of that in upcoming blogs…

Anyhow, this blog post has trundled on for quite enough time now, so I’ll leave it there! Suffice it to say, though, that Witcher boardgame is amazing!

The Frozen Wastes

Hey everybody!
Game day takes inspiration from the recent cold snap we’ve been having, as we take a look at another big-box expansion for the second edition of Runebound!

Runebound Frozen Wastes

I still haven’t gotten round to trying out the third edition yet, but I really have too much fun with the second edition game anyway, so let’s stick with that for now!

Frozen Wastes was released in 2009 as the fourth big-box expansion for Runebound second edition. Much like the previous expansion, Sands of Al-kalim, the theme of this expansion is strongly influenced by weather as well as story – in this case, cold (obviously!) There is so much going on with this expansion, so let’s jump in!

Runebound Frozen Wastes

As with all big-box expansions, there’s a new board, which shows the frozen land of Isheim. The board itself is actually quite interesting, because of the victory mechanic that I’ll get to shortly. Rather than having towns spread out across the board, they are mainly clumped around the bottom-half, most of which being possible to get to in one roll of the dice. The terrain spaces consist of fjords, snowdrifts, and tundra, and the towns are divided into two types – Weik cities (trading posts) and Onoit villages (healing centres).

Runebound Frozen Wastes

The story of the game is actually really interesting. Arshan is searching for his beloved Princess, whose spacecraft crashed somewhere in Isheim with her in a stasis chamber. Arshan released armies of robots across the land to try to find her, but centuries of waiting have driven him mad. It’s up to the heroes to either find the Princess and bring her to Arshan, or else defeat him in single combat, and end his rule of tyranny. The fantasy theme of the base game of Runebound is still there, but there’s also a kind of steampunk vibe from the mechanical stuff. It’s a nice blend of tropes that, I feel, really works here.

Runebound Frozen Wastes

The enemies consist of the usual dragons and whatnot, but also Arshan’s robotic drones. As you go through and defeat these enemies, you have at least two rewards, sometimes three – along with the usual money, you also get the chance to draw either a rumour token or a Princess card. Both show a specific terrain type, and can provide really useful bonuses. Rumour tokens can be traded in for Legendary items, while Princess cards are used to find the Princess.

Legendary items are the same as usual market cards, except they form a separate deck. Each card has a coloured icon with a number on it – on your movement step, if you are on a space with the same coloured jewel, and have enough rumour tokens that match both the terrain you are on and the number of surrounding spaces, you can claim the card. They are usually pretty good, though a little specific perhaps. At any rate, you get rumour tokens more often than Princess cards, so you have a pretty good chance to get essentially free stuff.

Princess cards work in pretty much the same way – if you have the cards that match all of the surrounding terrain, as well as the space you’re on, you can find the Princess and claim her token. So long as you remain alive as you trek across the frozen wastes to Green Vale, you can win! However, if you get knocked out on the way, the Princess is once again lost in the tundra.

However, this is where the “possibly three” rewards comes in – forage. Some of the green and yellow adventure cards also function as forage items – usually animals that could be skinned, or whatever – which allow you to usually avoid the cold or else change dice symbols to something you want, making it potentially easier to get across the wastes.

What’s this about cold?

Runebound Frozen Wastes

Well, as I said at the beginning, there is a strong theme of weather coming out of this game. Throughout the game, there are a few event cards sprinkled among the coloured adventure decks that have pervasive effects, replenish adventure jewels, but also change the severity of the weather. The long strips of cardboard with terrain symbols and numbers on them in the above picture show how much cold you suffer (the snowflake tokens) if you end your move on that terrain. It’s also not just your hero who suffers the cold, but all of your allies. Whenever you enter any town space, you clear your cold counters. However, if you suffer more cold than your life total, you then start succumbing to the White Death. If you take as many White Death tokens as your life total, then you die. In addition, you can only heal yourself of White Death in the Onoit villages.

As the weather gets colder, this becomes super important, as you find yourself returning to the towns to warm up again. It’s also why you really need to work through those green and yellow cards, rather than rushing straight for the higher colours, to get some kind of forage to ensure you survive the trek. It’s a really cool mechanic, and I feel this is one of the most thematic expansions to any game, ever!

Runebound Frozen Wastes

The heroes are all pretty interesting, with some really nice sculpts (though the recent Hero & Monster collections for Descent have started to update some of these, notably Shiver from the right, there).

This was the first big-box expansion for Runebound that I played, and I remember being incredibly impressed by the whole implementation of the cold theme, and the novel layout of the map. It’s an expansion that I always return to over the winter, for obvious reasons. The different victory conditions really add some variety, not just to the game itself, but to Runebound as a whole – you’re no longer just trying to level up to defeat a bad guy, you also have the option to play the rescue mission.

I am a huge sucker for any kind of fantasy setting that involves a snow-covered land, so this game scratches a very special itch for me. I’m hoping that the new, third edition of Runebound will bring us an expansion with this sort of theme to it, though I feel that will be unlikely as FFG seek to move away into something different and new.

At any rate, it’s a really great expansion to a truly great game, and if you can still find both it and the second edition base game, I can highly recommend it!

Runebound Frozen Wastes

Check out my other Runebound blogs:
Runebound
The Island of Dread
Midnight
Sands of Al-kalim

Feel the Wrath…

Hey everybody,
It’s time for another game day blog! Today’s will be a little short, but nevertheless awesome, as we delve once more into the dungeon, and face the Wrath of Ashardalon!

Wrath of Ashardalon

The second of the D&D Adventure System games, the rules are basically the same as those for Legend of Drizzt, which featured on my blog during my D&D week earlier in the year. You play an adventure as outlined in the adventure book, laying tiles as you explore the dungeon, and overcoming the fearsome enemies that live there. And my goodness, there are enemies!

Wrath of Ashardalon

This is perhaps my favourite box of the three games, simply because it has some wonderful miniatures for you to battle – least of all, the Beholder! Classic D&D monster. Ashardalon himself is also an impressive miniature there, and there are some truly horrible things like the formless Gibbering Mouthers, or the tentacled Grell. Wonderful stuff!

Wrath of Ashardalon

The dungeon itself feels more like an actual building this time, rather than the caverns of the Underdark, and instead of mushroom clusters to place the monsters, we have scorch marks. Fitting, given there’s a massive dragon down there! There are also doors on some tiles, as shown on the Vault above for instance, which need to be opened to continue the adventure.

Wrath of Ashardalon

Something more unique to this box, however, are the Chamber tiles, which are laid down all at once when instructed by the adventure. So you’ll draw the entrance tile, which has a black arrow as shown above so you’re having an Encounter there as well as facing a fairly closely-placed monster, then you set out the remaining tiles of the chamber to create a fairly wide space. Which is usually then filled with monsters. Yay.

Wrath of Ashardalon

The game is one of my all-time favourites, and was actually the first Adventure System game I bought. There’s not a lot to say beyond what has already been said for Legend of Drizzt, if I’m honest, but this is a truly great experience, and for me as a non-D&D RPG player (sigh), it feels generic enough that you can break it out whenever you like, rather than the more focused Drizzt or Ravenloft (still haven’t got Elemental Evil yet!)

At any rate, it’s highly recommended!

Talisman

Morning everyone!
It;s the first game day of 2015! I’d hoped to get this out before Christmas, but in the event life took over, so instead, I’m presenting to you all now: Talisman!

Talisman

It’s the classic fantasy adventure board game, as the box itself tells us all – it’s been around for decades now, of course, and the current iteration is the revised 4th edition of the thing. Having only played this edition, I’m not in a position to comment on the others, but wanted to share some thoughts with you all today all the same!

Talisman

Players choose from one of fourteen classic hero archetypes, such as wizards and assassins, and travel around the board building up this character before they can take on the central challenge – the Crown of Command! The board is divided into three regions – outer, middle and inner – with travel between them only possible when you’re at the appropriate level. While travelling around the board, you will most likely draw an adventure card that will often offer a challenge that, when defeated, becomes a trophy:

Talisman

Combat is determined by rolling a die and adding the strength value (or the craft value if engaged in psychic combat) of the two participants to the result – whoever has the higher score is the winner, with draws resulting in a stand-off. If the hero wins, the creature is killed and can be claimed as a trophy – the dragon above is worth 2 trophy points, as signified by the number in the bottom-right. If the creature wins, the hero loses one of his lives. Talisman can be quite brutal, and heroes can simply die, depositing all of their possessions on the space for another character to come along and collect.

Enemies aren’t the only type of adventure card you can draw, however –

Talisman

The talisman is of vital importance to the game, as without it, a hero cannot enter the central area to stand a chance of winning. Characters can also gain spells through encounters, which can aid them in combat as much as weapons or other items.

TalismanTalismanOther spaces on the board can be encountered with special effects, such as the city:

Talisman

These corner spaces sometimes allow players to buy items or heal, etc. All characters have an alignment, and some spaces have specific effects based on whether your hero is good or evil:

Talisman

Indeed, it’s not just spaces – some objects can only be used by good or evil characters, and some events have specific effects, such as the Devil pictured above. The game comes with double-sided alignment cards, as heroes can also change their alignment throughout the game.

As I said before, the object of the game is to make it to the central space of the board. First, players must cross into the middle region by defeating the Sentinel in combat:

Talisman

After this, the inner region is entered via the Portal of Power:

Talisman

You either try to pick the lock or force the door, with a failure resulting in a loss of 1 from either Craft or Strength. If you make it through, however, the inner region awaits!

Talisman

Heroes move through the inner region one space at a time, and can only access the Crown of Command space from the Valley of Fire, so there are at least four spaces to go through beforehand. Each space has a different effect, usually brutal, so you’ll want to make sure your hero is strong enough to survive! Finally, to enter the Valley of Fire, a character must have a Talisman, otherwise he is forced to turn back.

Talisman

The object of this game is essentially to be the last man standing. When on the Crown of Command space, a hero then casts the Command Spell, rolling a die. If the result is 4, 5 or 6, every other character loses one life, until everyone is eliminated. However, if another hero catches up to you, you must fight them on the space – yes, Talisman also has player vs player combat rules! Another way to fight and gain your opponents’ stuff!

Perhaps the most hilarious aspect of this game – for me, at least – is the opportunity for players to be turned into toads. Yes, people, you read that right!

Talisman

There are certain effects, such as an encounter with the Witch, which will turn your hero into a toad, a condition that will last for three turns. You take a replacement hero card, as shown above, as well as the miniature, and move just one space, encountering the board with your diminished, amphibian stats. When those three turns are over, you resume your hero, minus anything lost while you were in your amphibious state. Delightful!

Talisman

I love Talisman, I have to say! Unfortunately, the game can go on for quite a while. In fact, it can go on for hours on end… the box suggests an hour and a half, but my first game was virtually double that. Left unchecked, you can just keep going around the board, adventuring and the like, without heading for the real goal. Sometimes, I like games like that, as all-too-often I find myself a little cheated by adventure games that have a built-in timer that prevents me from really, well, adventuring. However, there has to be a limit, and in Talisman you’re largely reliant on other players directing the flow, as you race to be the first to level up, in order to be the first to the Crown. If you’re playing with folks who are more leisurely, then it can be a bit of a problem. Personally, my usual gaming buddy likes to attack other people, and has no interest in being first to the Crown. It’s not a problem, per se, it’s just a bit of an irritant.

But that aside, the game is nevertheless an awesome adventure. Originally a product of Games Workshop, Talisman was taken over in its fourth edition by a different company, with Fantasy Flight Games taking over in 2008 and revising that into the version we have today. Being FFG, there are of course expansions aplenty, including big-box expansions that add a new, smaller board to each corner (and the Dragon expansion, which has a new board overlay for the inner region), and smaller, card expansions that bring a new theme to the game. All of these come with new heroes, meaning there is a plethora to choose from if you pool them together. Whether anyone would pool all of the expansions seems a bit silly, as the game would be huge… (I’m sure some enterprising people have a table – or floor – big enough, of course…)

At the time of writing this, I have all but the latest (Woodland) expansion, though I’m sure that’ll be in my collection soon enough. As the year wears on, you can bet each of these expansions will be making an appearance on my site, anyway!

As far as fantasy games go, it’s pretty damn great. It’s not a Runebound, of course, which is still my absolute favourite of the genre, but it’s a game that you can enjoy with friends as you trundle around the board, fighting dragons and gaining strength before trying to kill everyone else on the adventure. It’s simple, straightforward fun!

Talisman