Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Kickin' It - Old School

Like many gamers my age, I went through a period in the late 80's into the early 90's where things got a little dicey. RPGs were pretty much everything back then, CCGs hadn't reared their addictive little heads, wargames were slowly dying as AH was losing market share and GMT Games hadn't really gotten a following yet. My game library consisted pretty much of war and strategy games I'd bought when I was in high school and the early part of college. 

And then I discovered Talisman. 

Today, Talisman is an anachronism, a roll and move game where luck is pretty much everything, the game can take 20 minutes or it can take four hours, and after a while everything starts to feel very much the same. At the time, though, it was a game my wife would occasionally play with me as would one or two of my friends. There were a ton of expansions and characters for the game (I think my set, which included everything but Timescape, which was a shameless tie-in to other GW Games titles, had something like 40 or 50 characters you could play), and even if you were far behind there were a few low-odds backdoor ways you could take a shot at making it to the top of the Crown of Command and pull off a win.

That was second edition, generally considered to be the best of the lot. The components were not the best, being cardboard fold-ups for the characters, character sheets that had separation flashing along the sides, but at the time it was about all there was out there, and I bought into it. The third edition, which featured a 3D board but only a handful of characters, never took off and I'm pretty sure that Games Workshop took a beating financially with it. It went out of print in the mid-90's or so, and I was never tempted to get it as the box was huge (and the play less interesting than second ed).

A fourth edition came out from a small company (whose name escapes me, Black Isle or Black mumble), and it had it's pluses and minuses, but when Fantasy Flight bought the rights to print a revised fourth ed, I figured this was the time. I'd given my copy to my nephew Alex when we moved to Colorado for grad school and I wouldn't have either time or space for it. I know he got a huge amount of use out of it with his middle-school friends, and I've never regretted the gifting. However, I was interested to see the new treatment of the game, with plastic figs for the characters and plastic cones for the stats, plastic gold pieces, and the Fate tokens that can be used to reroll when necessary. There is even a "Reaper" expansion that adds some characters, cards, and the Reaper, who pretty much wacks up the game by giving players a character they can use to attack other characters, although sometimes he can come back to haunt you, snicker. 

I hosted game night Tuesday, and the allergic reaction to Charbonneau continues - I really have no clue why people insist I continue to host when no one attends. But host I do, and Alex and I were the only people here, so we pulled out Talisman to kick it old school. 

Two hours later, despite a noble attempt by me to sneak through into the Crown of Command that ran into a bunch of very pesky pit fiends (they were literally the last space before I had an excellent shot at winning), Alex took me down. During the entire game, I defeated exactly *one*, count 'em, *one* enemy on a card. I was turned into a toad, I kept forgetting to draw my spell card at the start of my turn, I used up my fate early (it lets you reroll, very helpful) and had a lot of trouble getting any back, and in general was ignored by every mystic, monk, and enchantress on the board. If I hadn't gone through a Magic Portal to get to the inner board, I'd never have had a chance. 

Alex, on the other hand, killed pretty much everything he ran into, was generating all sorts of strength and craft, had about 10,000 gold pieces, followers that let him do anything he wanted to, and I don't think he lost more than one life the entire game. Once I died in The Pit, he decided that it was time for him to head for the Crown, and he made it with no problems at all. I was dead four turns later. And about time, too.

Game play is pretty much exactly like it was back in the day, which means that you roll a die to move and then can go in either direction. The board is, as far as I can tell, close enough to identical as to be not worth investigating. There are about 16 or so characters in my expanded set, which is plenty for my 46 year old brain (50 seemed much cooler when I was not yet 30). The components are fine, and the plastic markers for your stats are nice to play with. The game is incredibly random, enough so that I won't every foist this on the regular gamers in my group unless there is a lot of alcohol around, although I can definitely see a place for it with kids of six and up (you can always help them with text, and give them a character that won't take spells for a long time, if ever). 

With my Sage character, I admit that I was starting to take missed die rolls a little personally by the one hour mark, but after a good run at the Crown, I was getting more into the spirit of things. And that's the thing about a game like Talisman - no one claims that this is a game that you'll win because you're a superior player. This is a game that you play because wacky stuff happens *constantly* and the fun is in seeing people getting surprised over and over. Like Cosmic Encounter, another classic that I purchased the latest FFG edition of (and was very pleased with it, despite me owning *two* other editions), it's more about the craziness and the company, not the game itself. Go into it with an attitude that it's nothing more than a ride, and then enjoy said ride, and it's great family fun (although there is ample opportunity for screwage, if said family has competitive members). 

The other game we played was Roll Through The Ages, a dice-based civ-building game that has some good elements but is otherwise pretty wacky. I discourage you from playing with people who have trouble figuring out where to go with what you've rolled quickly, as the game *dies* if there's downtime. Say what you will about Talisman, in a two-player game there is almost no downtime and it plays very quickly. This was Alex's first game of RTtA, and while he took a little while to understand the implications of the sequence of play, he had a good time. I won by ten points at the end, mostly because I had three turns where I rolled five or six goods, and of course that put me in position to get the Empire development, which was worth something like 14 points at the end including the city bonus. 

Yeah, it's a dice fest (literally), and the components are horribly overproduced (did we *really* need wooden boards to keep track of goods?), but I can see a role (ha!) for this game over time. Although I really want to get Through the Ages on the table more often. 

As a bonus for me, I gave Alex my copy of 2nd ed Wizard Kings, the game that doesn't tell you it's collectible until it's too late. Maybe he can burn it for heat while it's still winter. 

Thanks to Alex for coming over and preventing me from having the loneliest game night hours before my birthday ever. But I'm not bitter. No, not me. I'm just *old*.

1 comment:

Matt said...

Now I'm especially sad I couldn't make it (work intervened). Not to play Talisman (played it for the first time a year ago: meh), but to hang with you and Alex and maybe help you feel less bitter. ;) Next time, I hope.