By Alec Meer on February 25th, 2010 at 12:10 am.
I own a lot of very geeky things. A glance around the bedroom that I laughably like to call an office when I need to pretend I’m a real person says many things about me. The ancient pile of six IDE hard drives. The troublingly large Optimus Prime toy lurking atop my bookcase. The expensive Pro-Ject turntable I really couldn’t afford, and which looks in need of yet another dusting. The battered collection of 1980s comic trade paperbacks. The tiny wax candle in the shape of Stalin’s head. The iPhone. The cat. The other cat. Yet the one thing that truly gleams like a beacon of undying manchildishness is the venerable boardgame known as Talisman. It’s a fascinatingly, unashamedly uncool thing, forever existing in a halfway house of awe and contempt. It’s proto-MMO fantasy grind, requiring a simultaneous dedication to the twin social no-nos of statistics and pretending to be an elf. It’s wonderful. It’s monstrous. Why isn’t it a PC game?
This is all a little tenuous, I realise, but I’m increasingly conscious that there’s a gulf between self-contained, story-driven RPGs and the cyclic short-term personal goal-chasing of an MMO that isn’t really being addressed. And I know what you’re thinking, but frankly Diablo isn’t filling it. Clicklclickclick, sleep, clickclickclick. Talisman is about caring a little too deeply about your personal progression on a largely statistical level, in that hungry, lizard-brain way that MMOs take great advantage of, but also being geared towards an absolute conclusion – defeating all the other players. Granted, the Crown of Command was always so flabby a conclusion that I’m amazed the newer versions haven’t replaced it wholesale, but at least it was an eventual end-stop. In an average RPG, your personal progression is compelling, but a little aimless – it’s rarely clear exactly what you’re building towards, what the final conflict will be. In an MMO -or at least an MMO in the WoW vein – the final conflict is never final, and only a means to the strange end of continuing to progress your guy in order to then better deal with another non-final final conflict. That’s possibly the least coherent sentence I’ve ever written, but never mind.
This is why I adore Talisman, despite how embarrassing it can be in the wrong company. It’s a game which is largely hung around its players levelling up in assorted ways (strength, will and/or various weapon and armour boosts), before racing to orchestrate an ultimate doom for everyone else. Doesn’t hurt that its combination of chance (dice rolls) and choice (“this is how I intend to win”) means you’re pretty much following your own path rather than any kind of prescribed one. It’s a short-term, PvP RPG with a very definite endgame – no infinite grind, but endless replay potential. Also, you can get turned into a toad and have a big sulk for several turns. It’s the joy of the random, something which very much underpins Talisman. There’s a lot of ways to be entertainingly screwed over, and also to spectacularly come back from being screwed over. I’m amazed that’s not something which has crossed over to PC gaming in any serious way. I’m doubly amazed there isn’t a slick online version of Talisman. (There is a free-ish MMO called Talisman Online, but that’s about as closely related to the boardgame as soya milkshakes are to cows).
There was going to be, back in 2007. Capcom had tasked new studio Big Rooster with making a PC/XBLA 4-player version, which sadly fell apart for still-mysterious reasons in 2008, after an abortive attempt to move to another developer. Here’s what it would have looked like:
There’s some nice stuff there, certainly, but the wish-dream in my head is to background the more obviously boardgamey elements in favour of each player seeing a first/third-person view of where they are and what situation they find themselves in each turn. Play up the RPG/adventure! element, essentially. I’d still have been all over this, mind.
The rights for a videogame adaptation have since reverted once again to sometime Talisman owners Games Workshop. Who knows what their plans for it are, given they’ve already got Dawn of War 2, Warhammer Online, Space Marine and the 40K MMO on their plate? One thing’s for sure – they’re not likely to let any fan-made version see the light of day. The Space Hulk/Alien Assault mishap proves that. As does 2008’s unofficial fan project, which was early-days but en route to really pulling it off. Games Workshop had no mercy. I’ve tried and failed to find somewhere still hosting it. I’d love to give it a quiet try if I ever do stumble across a site that somehow hasn’t been slapped by GW.
It’s all such a terrible shame. Hopefully, someone, somewhere’s giving Talisman: The Videogame another go. There’s multiplayer RPG gold in them thar hills – a perfect system for a couple of hours of online giggling/warring with mates, and a balance of chance and tactics that creates sustained, dependable, all-inclusive fun. Make it! Give it to me!
Alternatively, just give me this ridiculous, beautiful labour of love: