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Talisman
Fantasy wargame for multiple players which has so far been published in three editions. The first two editions were virtually identical and are the ones discussed here. The third edition was a radical revision which I have not played. The system been criticized for offering too few strategic possibilities, in particular because each turn one has only the choice of traveling either right or left. Sigh, it seems everyone must find an easy put down for at least one game and for many it seems this one is it. But in fact there is often at least one other choice which is to cross the river and move to the next level. But on a less mundane level, the strategy in the game is not to be determined by study of a single move, but to consider what one is attempting on a larger scale. Which spaces are you trying to stay near so as to take advantage of when the time and die roll is right? Which other characters are you attempting to avoid? What are the other players about to do? Etc. The other problem to consider is that like other games such as Cosmic Encounter and Wiz War in which many of the cards "break the normal rules", there can be difficulties in deciding the proper interaction in unusual cases. For this and other problems (in particular the Wand), our playing group created extensive house rules. All of that being said, the game offers a lot of nice things including attractive illustrations with a unique style, characters who are very and believably differentiated, a large number of different lands to experience and the ability to tell a story in non-game terms about what has happened. Despite the caveats noted above, recommended overall. The original characters are Assassin, Druid, Dwarf, Elf, Ghoul, Minstrel, Monk, Priest, Prophetess, Sorceress, Thief, Troll, Warrior and Wizard. [errata] [character ratings] [spell and deck lists] [variant characters]
Talisman Adventure Pack
Second expansion was much like the first except it also included variable ending conditions, at which much criticism has been leveled. It is true that they are rather random, but if one is opposed to chaos, one is free to play without them. And they do make the endgame far more interesting. Additional characters include the Centaur, Ninja, Orc, Samurai, Soldier, Warrior of Chaos, Witch Doctor and Woodsman. Significant other cards include Finger of Death, Reflection, Fool's Gold, Chinese Dragon, Warhorse, Familiar and Man-at-Arms.
Talisman City
Fifth expansion gets back to the roots of the system (after the excesses of Talisman Timescape), adding yet another board however and a deck. New characters are the Minotaur and Valkyrie. The city locations are interesting, although the rules to go with them often problematic as well as troublesome for the theme. The Sheriff job in the city is too powerful without modification, for example. A qualified recommendation.
Talisman Dragon
Sixth and final official expansion so far adds four new characters in the Dragon Priest, Dragonrider, Dragon Slayer and Questing Kight Dragons pervade the new cards added in this one. May be a bit unbalancing for certain types of characters. At least no new board was added.
Talisman Timescape
Fourth expansion adds a new board, deck and the characters Archeologist, Astronaught, Astropath, Chainsaw Warrior, Cyborg, Scientist, Space Marine and Space Pirate. With this expansion things tend get very out of hand. First there was the destruction to the fantasy theme by introduction of characters and settings from Games Workshop's other games. Second, the expansion was unbalancing in that characters could stay in the Timescape area indefinitely with impunity and the game might never come to an end. Overall, too over the top to work well in the system. Not recommended. [Pirate Games]
Talisman the Dungeon
Third expansion adds another board with its own card deck as well as new characters the Conjurer, Dark Elf, Inquisitor, Gypsy, Highlander, Martial Artist, Pirate, Saracen, Scout, Sprite, Spy, Swashbuckler, Swordsman and Zulu. Mostly a useful addition, although requiring more table space. A new, though difficult path to the Crown of Command is mostly a good idea. [Pirate Games]
Talisman the Expansion
First expansion does did what one wants in an expansion, adds more variety without losing the fun of the original. Additional characters include the Amazon, Barbarian, Gladiator, Halfling, Hobgoblin, Knight, Leprechaun, Merchant, Necromancer, Philosopher, Pilgrim, Ranger, Rogue and Satyr. Significant other cards include Earthquake, Berserker, Doppleganger, Stranger, Map, Rod of Ruin and Genie.
Tempus
Martin Wallace effort not published by Warfrog, but accommodating the usual three to five. The setting is an imaginary island with a board constructed via randomly-drawn tiles placed by the players, thus providing a different setting every time. Tiles are demarcated by a hexagonal grid to form several kinds of spaces: plains, fields, hills, mountains and forests. A turn consists of players taking turns choosing actions, one at a time. Choices include Move, Attack, Reproduce (only in the plains), Build City (not in the mountains) and Draw Cards. One never seems to have enough actions so choosing the best one can be devilishly difficult. After these maneuvers, players use cards, numbers of cities and instances of occupation of the currently favored terrain type to determine which is most advanced and thus receive a special ability for the coming turn. After this turn, however, every player automatically catches up. Special abilities include things like being able to move faster, to move more pieces, to reproduce faster, draw more cards, hold more cards, etc. Eventual victory depends chiefly on the points value of cities plus occupied territory. The combat system is kept very simple, being based strictly on numbers plus cards. There are no fleets as such, abstracted as they are into rules for movement over water. Simple combat, city building, reproduction and advantage-conferring progress track – remind you of anything? Yes, it's Civilization-lite or rather, considering the greater emphasis on combat, Advanced Civilization-lite. Unfortunately, unlike the designer's more successful Empires of the Ancient World, this one falls into the kingmaking bog inhabited by so many previous multi-player war games, e.g. Vinci. Normally this can be addressed by playing it as a two-player contest, but no such option is presented here and the reason is clear: it would be far too easy for one player to hem another in so severely that the victim would be unable to reproduce and thus effectively out long before it's over. Production of the English edition by Cafe Games (there is a separate German edition by Pro Ludo) is top notch with wooden disks representing a player's forces, but the dark purple and black pieces are so similar that many of us will import pieces from another game for one of them. The elegance of the action system and the advances track are admirable if not altogether new. By giving cards cards a secondary purpose (tied to various terrains for combat purposes), extra dilemmas are created. A similar situation of tight integration and dilemma is elicited by the need to occupy a different terrain type each turn. There is also a logistical aspect as players must grow and expand and build cities in the most efficient order. And all of this can happen in less than two hours, even faster if there are only three players. All of these are in the pro column, but unfortunately the overall game is rather fragile, depending so very much on reasonable players for otherwise it will often end amid accusations over who should have attacked whom, and when, as the only real catch-up mechanism is the trailing players ganging up on the leader. Play at your own risk then as upon this island this Tempus may trigger a tempest.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5
Martin Wallace
Thing in the Darkness, The
Solitaire programmed adventure published in Fantasy Gamer magazine (issue 3, Dec/Jan 1984) is set in the H.P. Lovecraft world of horror. Player portrays a journalist investigating the disappearance of a college co-ed, each turn choosing from a list of places to investigate and reading a paragraph to see what happens. These may involve dice checks and re-directions to yet other paragraphs. In addition there is a Time Chart – the character must eat and sleep – as this is also a "race against time" in what is actually a three-part adventure with milestones to achieve along the way. Difficult to win, it has been prepared with loving care and nicely realized atmosphere – an excellent example of a solitaire game. Recommendation to players: shift some of the character's skills around (permitted by a rule) so that the more practical, physical ones are emphasized over abilities such as foreign languages. [chart]
Throneworld
Multi-player science fiction wargame. Players represent different races (same "universe" as in the game Time Agent) with differentiated powers contending for a central world. Very much an empire-building game. Are some of the powers unbalanced? Seems to be hampered by the reluctance of players to make the final strike on the throne world, which may or may not be a good idea. The (understandable) probable reason is that all players fear being attacked by everyone and beaten into last place if they do so. If players fall into this mindset, can go on for quite a long time.
Time Agent
Light wargame of battling time agents from a science fiction "universe" (same setting as Throneworld) who try to ensure their version of history. For my taste, too long for a game which can end in stalemate. The possibility that someone can turn over the main time connection link almost immediately is a courageous move by the publisher, but also a peculiar artifact that gives just one player too much influence over the entire game experience.
Titan
An empire-building wargame in a fantasy monster setting. It lasts quite a long time for a game in which players may be knocked out well before it is over. Also, it is possible for players to be dramatically set back or even knocked out by just a few die rolls at the beginning. Luck plays a very large role here. Play this one only if you like violence in games, fantasy monster settings and detailed empire-building.
Titan: the Arena
Reiner Knizia's further thoughts on his card game Grand National Derby about English horse racing. Avalon Hill converted the horses to a fantasy monster setting and gave each of them special powers, polluting an otherwise elegant system, but at least players can ignore the special powers, as they seem to make little difference, even if other players are using them. A worse crime was the writing of the English rules which are so unbelievably egregious for such a simple game that they make it unplayable. If you can get to a better version of the rules however, is interesting and well worth your time. By the way, check out this BBC report on the 2001 running of the Grand National Derby, perhaps the most amazing ever.
Tito
One of the most apparently unpopular of all SPI titles was about partisan combat in Yugoslavia in World War II. As a testament to its unpopularity, I even know today in the year 2000 of a store which still has on its shelves a copy of this game from the early '80's in original shrinkwrap! It also appeared in magazine format by the way. But in reality the game is not really so bad. I think the unusual map is what put wargamers off. Of course, Empires of the Ancient World had a weird map too – that must have been a weird map year for graphic designer Redmond Simonsen – but it didn't dare to get into the sights of that hairy-chested bunch known as World War II wargamers. Actually, Tito looks and plays a lot like modern German-style games. Perhaps it should should even be considered a precursor. Much of the strategy for the Tito player revolves around where his partisans should be. If they hide in the mountains, they are fairly safe, but only if they emerge do they have a decent chance of building more recruits. Then once there are more partisans they can go about trying to do some real damage.
Trojan War, The
Two-player wargame presenting eleven different conflicts from the Homeric legend plus a campaign. The board is a virtually terrainless hex map while counters represent heroes and their retinues. These small unit conflicts are realized via a die and combat differential table. Most counters receive multiple attacks, but the rules leave ambiguous whether these may be interleaved between counters or must be taken consecutively. The former would be interesting, even advantageous, but maddening to remember. Even more annoying is the fact that the number of combat result markers is quite a bit short of what is needed. Combat itself seems rather strange as it is always one-to-one and tends to be fought as if it were in quicksand. This is a result of a "wounding system" in which one must in one blow equal the amount of damage a unit has already taken in order to inflict more damage. While it is fairly easy to get a second single hit, getting a double hit can be quite difficult and quadruple hit nearly impossible. On the other hand, it is rather easy to damage the attacker in defense. Thus the map tends to become clogged with units unable to do much of anything. There are other unrealistic developments as well such as both parties taking a panic result in a combat both attacker and defender simultaneously retreat, apparently afraid of their own shadows. And there are more rules ambiguities. There are errors in some of the counters and the archer counters are generally too difficult to distinguish. Replacement leaders look rather too much like level II leaders and some heroic leaders are miscolored. A problem in all games of this type are how to handle the gods. From the epic they are clearly quite powerful, but they are also extremely inexplicable. They never seem to fight one another much, but do come in from time to time, usually when it is too late and mostly in a vengeful way. At the same time, they did have major effects so one really should include them. It would be nice if someone were to write a story giving a scientific rationale for the gods which could be then incorporated into a game. This is not the case here, of course, but what was done is quite good randomly-drawn and hidden option chits that a player can utilize as the occasion arises. Strategically, the combat systems seem to favor a policy of as many attacks as possible. Overall there can be too much luck in a few major die rolls to be very satisfying. Note also that the average playing time is three to four hours.
Twilight Imperium
Multi-player science fiction wargame. The board is composed of a number of tiles placed by the players at the outset. This can be unfair as the sixth player often has no choice in his placement, may not be able to help his own cause and might even be forced to help someone else's. The game is akin to the earlier Throneworld – in both the players try to conquer a central system and thus gain enough points to win the game. It is similar too in that each player represents a different race with unique special powers. Both games include a technology race and empire-building. There is also the problem here that no player may wish to dare seizing the center which can cause the game to go on for a very long time. In addition to all of this there is also a political system with voting on laws, in particular, what the victory conditions are. This lengthens even further, not only due to moving the goalposts, but simply the time needed to vote in the first place. Completely unclear is why warring different races would vote together on anything in the first place. Finally, there is an extensive card deck through which players may occasionally search, a process that can take ten minutes or more during which everyone else does nothing, unless of course one has been lucky enough to be already knocked out of the game. There are some good design ideas here, but considerably more development work is needed. Rules contain some serious ambiguities as well.
Twilight Struggle
Two-player game of the US-USSR Cold War from the end of World War II to 1989. From a war game point of view this is a card-driven game taking off from We the People, Hannibal, etc., but without the combat. From the society game point of view, it's a war game informed by some German game ideas. Basically players take turns playing a single card, either for its action points value or as an event card. An innovation is that if the event belongs to the opposing player only, then the event occurs anyway, making a player's decisions very trick at times as usually only two cards can be saved. Generally players are trying to affect the level of influence they have in various nations around the world, which becomes particularly acute as regional scoring cards appear. There is a space race to worry about as well plus a DefCon track which could end the game early, i.e. in all-out nuclear war. Presentation is typical for a GMT game, solid if unspectacular. There are an annoying number of small chits to cut out while hanging in the air are questions of whether fewer could have done the job, whether they could have been of higher quality, or even if cubes might have served. The communication design is quite good with only the occasional lapse, e.g. the turn track doesn't remind that the hand size goes to nine on turn four. In this regard, be sure to get the second edition rather than the first as two-colored control markers make it much easier to discern a region's status at a glance. For the military game player, all of the pertinent historical events one could think of (as obscure as the Latin American Debt Crisis or "Duck and Cover") are covered in the three era deck. (By the way it was fun to discover in this game several similarities to my own independently-imagined game, Founding Fathers. Both employ a three era deck, feature many historical events, use "to-hit" rolls to accomplish more difficult feats and use what I call a "see-saw track" in which 0 is in the middle.) For the society game player, all of these events are on the other hand, a problem. What's in that deck, anyway? asks the new player. What are the dependencies? It doesn't seem right or fair to launch into a game without this information and it's data which isn't easily gained, even by examining the cards. It really has to be played to be grasped – only trouble is, some will dislike this so much that this will be the first and last playing. Too, there might be too many details in the various country numbers and too much luck from dice rolling. Modern German games, and especially long ones like this that can go on for three hours, rather than depending on dice rolling, ought to be built more on the idea of "to do something in one place is not to do something else elsewhere". Actually this type of choice is amply available as well and perhaps the availability of various strategic approaches can save this for some society game players. This brings up a point, though: are some victories too easily earned? For example, it's possible for one side to be leading in both Europe and Asia and yet still lose the game by having fallen too far behind in Africa and the Americas. This doesn't feel quite right somehow. Another quibble is that the era's prevailing Domino Theory is actually enforced by the rules. The problem? That theory was no more valid than the one that Saddam had WMDs. Perhaps we will try omitting these rules in some future playing. There's also the strange rule that requires a certain amount of military activity each turn. This feels like a fudge. It would be preferable if the system motivated such activity by subtler means than these iron maiden rules. And how come we still have to track number of turns and number of card plays? Why not just end the turn when each is down to one card and end the game when the third deck runs out? when will this old-style fiddliness finally disappear? But if this game were an ICBM, it would have made a direct hit on the player who enjoys both society and military games and who is usually forced to settle for one or the other. How far its "collateral damage" spreads from this point is unclear. But for those of us at ground zero, hurrah for the game makers – may you make many more!
Update: The above is based on several years of playing multiple times a year, but nevertheless somehow never reaching the game's third era. Finally achieving that revealed a couple of serious disappointments. One is that in that late deck there is at least one card that is so overpowered that it alone can confer the victory. This type of imbalance is especially inappropriate in a match that can last as long as three hours. The second is that by the late era there so many scoring cards that it is not difficult to draw four or more to one's hand in a single turn – don't scoff; it happened – again, very imbalancing. Both of these problems are quite easy to fix – for example, you could have a separate subdeck of scoring cards mixed equally with other types of cards and let players just draw one or two from this deck to refill their hands – but despite the many subsequent editions, nothing has been done. [Frequently Played]
Strategy: High; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
Jason Matthews & Ananda Gupta; GMT-2005; 2; 180
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