Talisman DLC Buying Guide01 Mar 2018 5
Talisman has been a mainstay of tabletop gaming for decades. Since its original creation in 1983, it has seen itself refashioned in the hands of several publishers across many versions, from the Second Edition's jarring Timescape cross-over into Warhammer sci-fi to the Third Edition's innovation on character experience. Since 2008, the ‘revised’ Fourth Edition expanded apace to become the most dense and prolific version of a now-classic game. The downside to this lineage is Talisman's embarrassment of riches; simply put, assessing the offerings and their relative merits can overwhelm even seasoned players.
For a few years now, the digital version – faithfully and expertely ported by Nomad Games - has lessened the footprint of Talisman’s tabletop sprawl, but the key problem remains: which expansions to buy and use? To that effect, compiled below for your delectation are some briefs on all the expansions in the digital edition Talisman to date, (barring the latest, The Dragon, which was reviewed in depth here) alongside some brief comments on content and their impact on the game as a whole.
The Reaper ($1.99)
What's New: 4 Characters, 90 Adventure Cards, 26 Spell Cards, and 12 Warlock Quest Cards.
The Reaper adds its namesake as a third-party character who stalks the players and, upon encountering them, can grant extra strength or craft as well as instant death. Total death, as opposed to the mundane 'lose one life' is only part of this expansion's charm, rounded out by the usual amount of new spells and adventure cards.
These have dark and often ghoulish themes, though many of them (like Death itself) are not without a certain kind of majesty. I’m looking at you, Black Unicorn. I especially like The Reaper expansion because it gives players who are hapless low rollers something else to do on their turn. From a practical standpoint, it is one of the best-value and most straightforward ways to enrich the game without over-complicating the experience.
The Frostmarch ($1.99)
What's New: 4 Characters, 84 Adventure Cards, 20 Spell Cards, 24 Warlock Quest Cards, and 3 Alternative Endings.
Frostmarch has many of the same benefits as The Sacred Pool, which we’ll talk about below: it is easy to understand and integrates itself into the game without losing a beat. Extra points go to the boreal theme which comes across in several favorites, like the Ice Queen boss, as well as a nice mixture of stat-boosting and enemy de-buffing spells. For example, Toadify lets you polymorph on command. Oh, and there are more Warlock Quests.
A mixed bag which isn't as strong as some of the other card-based expansions, like Reaper or Firelands.
The Dungeon ($1.99)
What's New: 5 Characters, 128 Dungeon Cards, 20 Spell Cards, 10 Adventure Cards, and 10 Treasure Cards
The Dungeon offers well-equipped characters a new region to test their mettle. It epitomizes Talisman's high-risk, high-reward gameplay and dovetails nicely into many midrange strategies. The Troll and other combat-focused types will love to pop into the Dungeon for a spell, increase their Strength or Craft with relative ease (though at considerable risk). They might even brave the Lord of Darkness, who can almost function as a kind of proxy final boss thanks to the contentious and potent Cloak of Feathers, allowing a bypass of the otherwise punitive Inner Region. I like The City's overall impact and atmosphere better, but respect the changes Dungeon brings.
The Highland ($1.99)
What's New: 6 Cards, 142 Highland Cards, 10 Spell Cards, 12 Adventure Cards, 4 Relic Cards, and 3 Alternative Endings.
It’s worth noting at this point that, while the region expansions (including this one) expand the game board and extend the range of exploration, they also increase the fiddliness and average playtime. They offer breadth without depth. The Highlands is a prime example of this; it adds a region that culminates in a rather modest boss, the Eagle King, who drops an artefact when defeated.
The theme never really comes together, and more critically the in-game benefits of the board addition are awkwardly integrated into the overall flow of the game. For a guardian and source of magic, the Eagle King is terminally dull and best avoided.
The Sacred Pool ($1.99)
What's New: 4 Characters, 72 Adventure Characters, 16 Spell Cards, 24 Quest Reward Cards, 12 Stables Cards and 3 Alternative Endings.
The card-only expansions are quite worthwhile in their own respect, enriching and supporting the base game without asking for extra attention to new rules or mechanics. More of the same isn't cut-and-dry, because by increasing the card pool, new interactions and possibilities emerge. The Sacred Pool includes quite a few cards focused on alignment, even the hitherto neglected neutral alignment, as well as Judgement Day, an alternative ending card that makes the impossible (shared wins), possible. In short, not every expansion needs to be a monumental paradigm shift; the Sacred Pool is great for players who crave an expanded but easily accessible run.
The City ($1.99)
What's New: 6 Characters, 82 City Cards, 12 Armoury Cards, 12 Pet Cards, 16 Magic Emporium Cards, 16 Potion Cards, 8 Stables Cards, 18 Wanted Poster Cards, 4 Neutral Alignment Cards and 3 Alternative Endings.
As another one of the regional expansions, The City adds a L-shaped portion to the board and rectifies one of the base game's weaknesses. Gold is perhaps the most limited and conditionally useful of the possible character attributes, but in the eponymous City region, players can spend surplus dosh for a variety of effects. The Soothsayer sells Fate, the Menagerie unique and cute pets, the Apothecary potent portables and the Sorcerer spells. Even the Wharf allows easy transportation to the Middle Region.
The Bounties are comparatively less popular, since Trophies are almost always better spent improving Attributes. In short, The City expansion lives up to its name by making the game's economy a little more varied and balanced, greatly expanding the number of useful items and effects for sale.
The Nether Realm ($0.99)
What's New: 36 Nether Cards, 3 Alternate Endings
The Nether Realm is hard to evaluate. Its deck represents a nightmare-difficulty version of the ordinary adventure deck, and some of these baddies are not just difficulty variants, they're interesting departures from the norm. Unfortunately, these miscreants are only rarely called to the fore so the novelty of the new Nether cards rarely makes itself known. The Pandora's Box ending sees the player controlling the Crown of Command doling out these enhanced misfortunes to kill the other players, and remains one of my favorite endings. Twisted and deadly, the unusual elements of this expansion are so rarely relevant that it is best purchased later, or cheaply, to round out a collection.
The Blood Moon ($1.99)
What's New: 3 Characters, 111 Adventure Cards, 10 new Spell Cards, 1 Time Card, 6 Lycanthrope Cards, and 3 Alternate Endings.
Blood Moon has all the merits of the Reaper expansion and then some. It adds a Werewolf which the players sic on each other, occasionally rending and remaking the characters as lycanthropes. The diurnal event system alternatively strengthens and weaken monsters, making the see-saw balance even more swingy and excitable. Finally, it adds not one but two incredible endings which radically upset the whole arc of the game. Lightbearers turns the game on its head by making it a cooperative win scenario hinging on a race against time, where players must pool resources to propel anyone towards the Crown of Command. Horrible Black Void, on the other hand, destroys utterly the first one to reach the final space and serves as a nasty, disgusting, unforgettable hidden ending. This one is, quite unequivocally, a must-have.
The Firelands ($1.99)
What's New: 4 Characters, 81 Adventure cards, 19 Spell cards, 19 Terrain cards, 3 Alternative Endings.
The Firelands introduces two fresh mechanics which push back ever-so-slightly against the game's inherent helter-skelter nature. Burning Adventure Cards voids them entirely, nullifying their effects and removing them permanently, while Terrain Cards overwrite spaces of a player's choosing. Beyond the vaguely Arabian theme, this expansion is all about creative destruction and radical changes. For those craving an extra dose of danger, there are also Fireland Tokens which simply damage anyone landing on the space. Much of the chaos wrought by this expansion is directed by the player, making it a welcome change of pace and invaluable addition to the fold.
The above list of expansions easily represents enough variety and content for hundreds of hours of gameplay. For those fiends perpetually on the prowl for novelty, more is on the horizon. The three most recent expansions (Blood Moon, Firelands, and Dragon) have been particularly rich and fulfilling entries.
Some of the remaining unadapted expansions, like The Woodland with it’s dualistic Fate system, will continue to gild the lily. The game has weathered the decades gracefully, and by every indication will continue to improve with age. So long as Nomad is at the helm of the digital ports, mobile gamers are certain to also benefit from the game’s continued success.