Review: Talisman: The Blood Moon28 Sep 2016 1
Review: Talisman: The Blood Moon
Released 24 Aug 2016
The Blood Moon first rose over the world of Talisman in 2012 when it was released as the seventh expansion for the tabletop game Talisman Fourth Edition. Nomad has ported it to Talisman: Digital Edition as the eighth proper expansion (excluding character packs), skipping The Dragon expansion (2011) for now and letting The City and The Nether Realm expansions (2013, 2014) cut in line. As a “small box” expansion, Blood Moon provides additional cards and characters tied to a common theme. This time that theme is the evergreen setting of Gothic Horror. Was Magic: The Gathering’s return to Innistrad the high point of your summer? Are you still upset about Penny Dreadful’s cancellation? If so, I’ve got excellent news.
The two signature mechanisms of this expansion that serve as vehicles for the theme are the day/night cycle and the eponymous Blood Moon Werewolf. Many of the 111 new event cards are Lunar Events, which when revealed can trigger daybreak or nightfall and then stay in play as modifiers until the next cycle. If a card that would trigger, say, daybreak comes out during the day it’s just added to the stack of modifiers and a streak of similarly-timed cards can result in some wild turns. The day/night cycle itself also tags enemy encounters with a +1 or -1 respectively, so I was very happy to let the app do the bookkeeping. All the payoff, none of the math!
Blood Moon also takes advantage of the abstracted passage of time to provide a new alternative ending, Lightbringers, which is fully cooperative. One player must access the center space of the board before a set number of days have passed. Depending on how the cards come out, this scenario can feel pretty leisurely paced, but I really appreciated the added sense of immediacy to the AI-driven gameplay. While Talisman expansions usually find ways to up the inter-player cruelty, cooperative games are becoming ever more popular, and I think this ending will be a selling point for co-op fans.
Much like the original Reaper expansion, Blood Moon adds a player-controlled figure in the form of the Blood Moon Werewolf. When any player rolls a one for movement, they’ll get to take a turn for the werewolf, which involves rolling for movement and hopefully having an opportunity to ambush one of your opponents. That’s obviously the idea of this element, but in practice you often welcome a visit from the Werewolf. The worst roll you can get on the werewolf chart results in lycanthropy, which in the game, as in real life, is frikkin’ sweet. You get boosts to combat at night, better rolls on the werewolf chart and… oh yeah, instant death if you draw the Peasant Mob card. I guess it can’t be all werewolf dance parties under the pale moonlight.
If you’ve purchased many of the existing expansions your character selection screen already has more choices than Marvel vs. Capcom, but Blood Moon diligently offers three new choices, all of which have interesting interactions with the encounter deck, either accelerating (Doomsayer, Vampire Hunter) or decelerating (Grave Robber) your draw rate. If you’re playing the Lightbringers scenario or depend on Lunar Events this provides a real push-your-luck feel. Thematically, the Vampire Hunter is the most on-the-nose of the new characters, but there are many others you might want to bring in for their suitability, or interactions with the now Spirit-heavy encounter deck, like the Vampiress or Exorcist. You’ll also want to play through as a spellcaster to sample some of the new spells. There are only ten added to the deck, but they display a variety of effects, from raising enemies as single-use zombies to straight up cursing another player with lycanthropy. Besides, any additional spells are welcome as the base game’s selection is pretty thin and only situationally useful.
Lightbringers is the stand-out alternative ending card, but even though it’s unique in the way it flips the Talisman script it might not even be the most game-changing. I’ll save that honor for Horrible Black Void. If you play with hidden endings and own only Blood Moon in addition to the base game you have three possibilities when you ascend the steps in the center of the board, you grab the Crown of Power and engage in base Talisman’s ungainly endgame, you reveal the other new alternative ending which starts a battle between humans and lycanthropes or you instantly lose the game. I’m not comfortable with a 33% chance of something cool happening so I’ve only played a few games with hidden endings and never got to see the Blood Moon Werewolf ending play out.
Of course, whether you succeed or not, Talisman is a game of moments. Any additional content must be judged on the basis of whether or not it increases the frequency of memorable turns. Talisman’s world is so generic I spent five minutes googling “what is the setting of Talisman” before realizing it’s called Talisman. Fantasy is too ubiquitous to be highly evocative and while Gothic Horror may well be on its way to a similar ubiquity, it feels like a huge improvement over the base game when it comes to narrative.
I’ve played Talisman on the table, I’ve played the app from back in its Prologue days, but it took The Blood Moon expansion for me to fall in love with the system. Now that I’ve seen the potential for the minimalist gameplay to tell an interesting story, my copy of Talisman will no longer be moldering away in iCloud. I’d recommend The Blood Moon as a first expansion for others that are similarly on the fence about Talisman’s gameplay, because it’s great as a stand-alone addition. It doesn’t necessarily play well with others as the Lunar Event cards could become too infrequent to have much effect on gameplay, and the world building would become muddled when combined with other event decks. This is in tension, however, with the alternative ending cards which certainly want to be part of a larger pool. If you don’t need convincing, I’d recommend The Reaper expansion instead. It has more long-term value; when you start playing with additional expansions you’ll see The Reaper as an extension of the core set that never leaves circulation.