bitparade: Talisman (PC)

Now I must admit, I used to see virtual versions of popular board games on the PC and on consoles way back when I was a teenager and think that they were all pretty pointless, I couldn’t really understand who would buy them, anyone I knew who would play Monopoly, for example, would do so by just buying a physical copy of the game and wait until they had friends or family available to sucker into sitting around the dining table for hours on end. It never really occured to me that someone would enjoy such a game enough to want to play it a little more regularly than once a year at Christmas time when everyone else feels they have to be polite. That was unitl I experienced Carcassone for the first time, it was when the XBox 360 version was released and not only did I find myself playing it during quieter spells on XBox Live but also when there was no one else available to play with me thanks to the AI opponents. I later bought a physical copy, something I actually kind of treasure, but I’m yet to actually play it such is the convenience of booting it up on the XBox 360 and playing it that way.

This brings me onto Talisman, not being much of a follower of Games Workshop or anything remotely like that during my youth, its a game I’d never heard of, reading around a little suggests its really rather popular and is one of the board game cornerstones. This can sometimes mean that a game can be a little daunting to play, especially against those who have experience of it, so a computer based version (which is available via either digital distribution platforms such as Steam or as an actual physical release on a disc) seems an ideal entry point. That last point is sort of true, Indie developer Nomad Games, who are responsible for converting Talisman to this form have put alot of effort into trying to make the game accessible to newcomers whilst still being entertaining to old hands. The game is absolutely chock full of tutorial tips that appear any time you’re doing something for the first time. There’s also a box at the bottom of the screen thats explaining what is required of you at any given time, what actions can be performed on a particular tile on the board or what cards you can use. It also does alot of the hard work for you, theres not alot of need to figure out in-depth statistics and the like, you’re given a Strength stat, a Craft stats and you’re lives, there’s also the opportunity to obtain gold in order to acquire items that you can use in battle at certain points, and everything is controlled via the roll of a dice.

The ultimate aim of the game is to reach the centre of the board and use the “Crown of Command” to rid the board of the other players. There are three regions on the board, the outer, middle and inner with you beginning in the outer-most area, working your way around until you either amass enough strenth to overcome the Sentinel that guards the many entrances to the middle-region of the board, whilst you’ll also need to find a talisman via collecting Adventure Cards (obtained by landing on tiles that state you need to draw a card) before you can enter the inner-most region. The core concept of the game itself is fairly simple, however its the varying types of cards that can be drawn from the Adventure deck, ranging from enemies to slay, items to help you in battle or location cards that can act as distractions to anyone that lands on the tile that the card has been drawn to. Admittedly this does leave alot of the game up to chance which can, at times, feel like the game is against you.

With all of this going on, things could easily get all the more confusing if the UI wasn’t clear. Thankfully then it is, with each of the four players stats, cards items occupying a corner of the screen each. All the icons are fairly sizeable and everything has its own little pop-up tool-tip to explain what its for. There are a few problems though, the game board can feel like its zoomed in a little too far when you are deciding on where to move next and the way the board spins and swishes around depending upon who’s turn it is can make you feel a little lost at times. This also brings up one particular bug that seems to be apparent in the game, there’s a slider in the options for you to choose the speed at what the AI plays the game, I turned this right down so I could pay attention and, being new to Talisman, could learn a little more as I played, whilst speaking to others who have a little more experience of the game, they turned it up. However, all parties, myself included, could see no difference in the overall speed of the game. There was one occassion where an AI Druid that I was playing against took forever to take its move, ultimately it never did and I’m of the opinion that something within the game failed, I was roughly two hours into that particular session and could not advance as there is no on-screen button that allows you to forward through the AI’s actions as you see fit. And whilst you can drop in and out of a single player game at any time, with the game auto-saving after each move for you, the same can’t be said for multiplayer mode. There’s no save game option at all, meaning once you’ve started you have to see it through to the very end, which with something as potentially time consuming as Talisman can be very difficult. Ideally there really should be an asynchronous multi-player option in there, giving you the chance to play a “by post” style of game that is accessible to someone with even the shortest amount of disposable time.

Lastly, a mention for the games planned DLC, there’s rather alot of it, not surprising considering the games heritage, but there are icons both in the setup screens and on the main board that aren’t useable if you have the basic version of the game. Rather than add them as you upgrade, the game feels like its holding back certain things because of these icons which gives you the sense that you’re not getting the full experience.

Admittedly, these are all fairly minor niggles, I actually enjoy having Talisman running along whilst I’m busy doing a variety of things during the day. The lack of timer in single player games forcing you to take a move is a nice touch which allows you to drop in and drop out of the game as you see fit, whilst the core elements of a rather addictive multiplayer game are there or there abouts.

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