Say what you will about the 80s, the Me generation had board games on lock. Aside from undisputed heavyweights of the era like Axis and Allies and Pictionary, a slew of great turn-based proto-RPGs riding the Dungeons and Dragons wave captured the imaginations of hardcore gamers as never before. Gaming in general has changed much since then, but the appeal of these oldies doesn’t seem lost: over thirty years later, many are being dusted off and lovingly ported to mobile. I’ve already reviewed Dark Quest, an exemplar conversion of the late-80s dungeon-crawler HeroQuest, but now there’s a new (old) kid in town. Talisman, the turn-based adventure board game from Games Workshop, is now available for Android in the form of Talisman Prologue HD.
To be clear, this isn’t quite the original board game per se, but rather a single player adaptation making use of the original rules and board. Only 10 of the Talisman’s 14 playable characters are included, and the rules altered such that you never actually go after the game’s namesake talisman. Instead, each of the game’s characters is given five unique quests a piece, with a scoring system to extend the gameplay. Scoring is dependent on how few turns it takes complete the quest’s objectives and is expressed in the three star rating system typical of puzzle games. Quests range from killing certain enemies to landing on such and such a space. The switch to questing might sound like sacrilege to hardcore fans of the original, but have no fear: a multiplayer version of Talisman is on the horizon, set to be released sometime this summer.
Talisman Prologue HD’s core mechanics are true to its predecessor, however. The board is still the same, a rectangular high fantasy world split into three concentric regions, progressively more dangerous as you travel inward. You start somewhere on the outermost region and getting to the inner regions is a task itself, requiring some lucky die rolls or a face off with the sentinel. The beginning of every turn begins with a single die roll to determine which space you’ll land on, with your only choice being which direction to tread. The majority of spaces call for an encounter card to be drawn, which could bring you anything from magic sword to a dragon to fight. While there is a semblance of agency in your decisions (e.g. the choice between two spaces, and the option to use up your ‘fate’ attribute to get one reroll) most will be calculated gambles. Some squares forego the encounter card have you rolling to determine an outcome, which can lead to anything from a stat boost to being turned into a frog for a few turns.
Certainly, randomness is a huge part of Talisman and anyone expecting to eke out a straightforward formula for success will be sorely underwhelmed. Much time will be spent bouncing around trying to find things to build up your stats while avoiding hazards, but it all depends on your particular hero’s attributes and quest. Combat is carried out via a comparative die roll, with the strength or craft attributes (depending on the enemy) added to the final roll. On this dimension, there’s some clear imbalances between the power of the characters: the assassin, for instance, denies his enemies a roll and only has to beat their strength, while the elf has the lame option of evading the fight, but only when on a forest square.
So the gameplay hasn’t changed much, but how does it play on Android? Like a dream, I have to say. Not one bug to report, and the interface is polished and easy as pie to navigate. Graphically, Talisman does everything to keep the look of the board game, going so far as to render the miniatures and dice. The nostalgic art style is particularly endearing; straight up sword and sorcery may be a well-worn trope, but Talisman retains the earnestness and enthusiasm characteristic of the genre in its heyday. The sound too is surprisingly robust for a board game, with every encounter card having an appropriate sound effect and each playable character his or her own musical theme.
All in all, this is a fantastic title that managed to pull off the rare feat of working exactly as advertised. Sure, the randomness can be frustrating, especially when you’re playing for a high score, but it also adds the sort of drama that makes for great gaming moments. Stressing over a die roll never felt so good.