We were two people short again for D&D, so Rick, Steve the Blonde and I looked for something else to try to scratch the fantasy itch. Steve jumped at the chance to bust out Talisman again. I will say, my last experience with setting up Descent did not have me leaping for it, as it can be a little overwhelming now that I have oodles of expansions.
Talisman was Steve the Blonde and my game of choice back in the day, on days when we didn’t feel like or couldn’t get a group together to play AD&D. That’s Second Edition, mind you. We had fun during setup, reminiscing about the old days, and we continually hunted for the elusive mis-printed “Bag of Glod” card. I’m beginning to think now that this may just have been something we imagined, as no one pulled it this time round. Still, it’s an inside joke now.
We dealt out three characters each as we went through brief rules explanation, but none of us was overly psyched with our choices… So we discarded the initial draw and dealt out three more. Steve took the Wizard. Typical. I didn’t even need to look at the other characters once I saw the Assassin. Rich discarded the Pirate and the Conjurer to take the Minotaur. I always thought of that character as an also-ran, but the initial high strength is quite appealing, I will say. Before we began the first turn, we decided to take the City out of play, as it adds too much complication for what we were in the mood for, and Steve wasn’t in the mood to go for High Mage, just as I wasn’t feeling the Sheriff this time round.
The game was one of the slowest, and definitely one of the more boring endeavors that we’ve undergone in a while. I could tell that Rick was getting antsy and fed up, but he stuck it out. Steve somehow, as always, ended up with oodles of items, followers, and high scores, despite some initial set-backs. Rick struggled with some initial combats, including a pesky Ghast that popped up with a Serpent on the two-fer space in the Outer Region early on. I believe that was originally drawn by Steve. I kept looking for things to fight and kill, and I was able to topple assassinate a dragon and kill a goblin. The chapel was noteworthy for becoming the residence of both a Ghost and a swarm of Vampire Bats. Also, next door was parked the Holy Graille on one side, and the Holy Lance on the other. All of us having Evil characters, these did us no good. Rick was able to pick up the Cross, and he used that and the Staff of Mastery to exorcise the Chapel, which was nice. He had an early foray into the Middle Region, as well, but eventually came back to the Outer Region. He did have the fortune to have several Talismans at various points in the game, but he wasn’t quite powerful enough to attempt the Inner Region.
I decided to go for a hail Mary victory, inspired by Jon-boy’s initial underdog win with the game last year. I went into the Dungeon. Of course, Steve then followed me, eventually overtaking me inside. He had recently lost all of his items to Raiders, and I think he finally realized that both Rick and I just wanted the game to end already. I taunted Steve that to spite him, I would simply admit defeat if he got to the Crown of Command, ending the game before he would have a chance to take my one and only remaining Life Token. (I am well-aware of the reverse-logic here.) He hit the Treasure Vault a turn before me, but rolled poorly and ended up in the Middle Region.
I was up. It was down to a single die roll. I rolled…
Crown of Command, here I come! (Yes, I was quite glad we didn’t play with the random endings, though it may have been fun to just get sucked into the Horrible Black Void at that point.) Steve and Rick quickly admitted DEFEAT, and I claimed victory. And not a moment too soon.
I won. More importantly, I beat Steve the Blonde. I’m sure I must have beaten him at one point during our many many plays of this game in high school, but the vast majority of my memories of this game are of his munchkinned out High Mage turning me in to a Toad while obtaining every item and follower in the land then destroying me utterly upon reaching the Crown of Command. But not this time. I will not let him live this down in the near future… say, 20 years ought to do it. It’s also fun that I won in the same slim-to-none way that Jon-Boy did during his first play. I know that that gave him a positive view of the game during that session.
While I did enjoy this game a ton the last time we broke it out, this time was definitely a “you can never go home again” kind of experience. I do love the nostalgia of the game, the art, the theme, and even the simple play. But this game is a relic of a bygone era, when we didn’t care so much (if at all) about rules errors, balance, or anything else that has evolved in hobby gaming over the past 20-30 years. I was saddened that Rick seemed to have as terrible a time as he did, as there is definitely potential for great fun and story-telling in this game. But even Steve noted that this was a very boring session. I still insist that there is little to no real strategy in this game, or rather, there are not many real choices to make. Your optimal move is always to gain more strength, life, items, followers, and there are seldom more than one way to do that in a given turn or series of turns. It was quite fun knowing and remembering all of the cards in the deck, knowing how things play together… There is something to be said for playing a game for over 20 years, even with some huge gaps in between. There’s a comfort food factor that even our Chinese Food dinner couldn’t match.
Despite its flaws, I will be happy to break this one out again, and I will hope for a better session. I do contemplate culling the decks for more balance, but ultimately, I think that’s more work than this simple but classic game is worth.