An Obstinate Undertaking
Table-top games are precarious efforts, habitually offering a precarious balance of strategy, chance, and spirited rivalries. Adapting these analog efforts into digital games presents a whole new set of obstacles. It’s not just about duplicating the rulesets. Respectable adaptations offer an intuitive user interface, artificial intelligence that’s able to simulate human behavior, and tutorials that impart all the essentials of play.
A few development teams have attempted to transform 1983’s Talisman into digital form. Random Games began development of a PC version back in 2000, but sadly a CD-ROM never materialized. In 2007, Capcom announced plans to bring the board game onto PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC. Unfortunately, that iteration never say the light of day either.
Save for a text-based ZX Spectrum effort released during the eighties, only Cheshire-based Nomad Games have successfully adapted the board game into a digital recreation. 2014’s Talisman: Digital Edition offered a capable interpretation of the beloved table-top game for solitary games or even up to six online opponents. Given the popularity of Nintendo’s hardware, the appearance of a Switch port shouldn’t be surprising.
A Straightforward Setup
After the purchase and download of a 1.9GB file, Talisman: Digital Edition permits players to jump into an off- or online game with up to five other participants. Local groups may opt for ‘pass the Switch’ turn-taking if there’s a deficiency of controllers, while online matches require Nintendo’s online membership. Either way, set-up is a breeze, eschewing the table-top set up where cards needing shuffling and stacking and pieces require organization.
Although Talisman provides an interactive tutorial, those who haven’t played a previous iteration might have to wade through the lessons a few times. Although the game isn’t overly complicated, the teachings arrive at a brisk pace. As such, it’s recommended to play against the AI for a few times, studying their decisions before facing online competitors. But that said, Talisman is well-known for its high level of unpredictability, so there’s always the chance that an oblivious newbie can end up on top.
Base Game + Three Expansions
Drawing from the Fourth Revised Edition, Talisman begins with players selecting from one of 17 character cards. Each offers a distinctive persona and play style, with differences found in starting stats, special abilities, starting position, and alignment. Additionally, you can opt to toggle content from The City, The Sacred Pool, and The Frostmarch expansions as well as a multitude of play rules. Although that seems like a friendly gesture, you’ll find that Talisman: Digital Edition can feel like a starter pack when witnessing the amount of content that’s walled off behind premium prices. Yes, there’s over 90 dollars’ worth of DLC out there, so completionists should be warned.
On the upside, character variety endows Talisman with variety. Even with character cards that fall into the same class, like fighters, you’ll find that each plays differently, requiring a slightly different strategy. This also contributes replayability, as it might take you a game or two to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each character.
Vying for the Crown
At the same time, there’s a predetermined game flow, as each play takes turn rolling dice to build up strength, craft (and amalgam of intelligence, wisdom, and magical ability) and their pool of lives. Once you feel your character is sufficiently powered-up, you can venture inward to the Middle Region, if you have a raft or can survive an encounter. Continuing onward to The Crown of Command requires the game’s eponymous relic, and once inside, you can spam attack other players into oblivion.
At least, in theory. Talisman’s worldview is rooted in uncertainty, where reversals of fortune happen with regularity. Exhilaration occurs frequently with players picking up powerful magic items. But then an alignment change can occur, making your formidable Runestone sword unusable. Or you’ll be riding a wave of luck, only to get turned into a lowly toad. This happens quite often, with a players Strength and Craft stats dropped to minimal levels while possessions are dropped for another player to pilfer.
Suffering and Sick Satisfaction
As such, a game of Talisman can feel like a teaching in Buddhism’s Universal Truths. Don’t get too accustomed to items or status, original designer Robert Harris reminds us, as the world will often strip of our earthly possessions. And while you’ll habitually get a perverse thrill when a successful player loses their advantage, irregularly a rival can get so far ahead that nothing will bring them down.
This find of volatility and sporadic imbalance works well in communal settings. I’ve played the Kingdom Hearts version of Talisman and we got into a riotous, but friendly match with Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Mulan all riding the waves of erraticism. The social element was a fundamental reason why everyone had a good time. But Talisman: Digital Edition can’t offer that, muting the experience. Further evidence of the collective nature is the length of games. Two hours is a great period for interacting with friends, but it could be an undertaking with online rivals.
As such, Talisman is best experienced physically, with a group of friends all huddled around a table. Talisman: Digital Edition delivers all of the essentials. It offers a respectable adaptation of the game and three expansions, all playable with an intuitive UI. But there’s no way of capturing the spirited actions of a group of companions. Know these compromises if you’re seeking an affordable and portable adaptation.
Talisman: Digital Edition was played on Switch
with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: Switch, previously on PlayStation 4, PC, and mobile
Developer: Nomad Games
Publisher: Nomad Games
Release date: March 9th, 2020
Price(s): $19.99 via Nintendo eShop