By Alec Meer on October 16th, 2012 at 10:00 pm.
Odd that the Talisman demo should arrive on the very same day that I write about Card Hunter, which does a similar thing in reverse. I blame, I dunno, Belgium for this freaky coincidence. While Card Hunter is a videogame designed to evoke a boardgame, Talisman is a boardgame redesigned into a videogame. Specifically, a boardgame whose rights are owned by Games Workshop even though a further company, Fantasy Flight, makes the current edition of Talisman.
If you don’t know Talisman, it’s a sort of stripped down, sped-up competitive D&D with miniatures roaming around a fixed board. There are stats, there is loot and there are randomly-drawn beasts to best. It’s trashy as all hell and it’s hilariously unbalanced – which is exactly why it’s a great boardgame for a beer’n'pizza gathering. I love it to bits, even though I could spend days listing its many flaws. An Xbox Live adaptation was due a few years back, but ended up spiralling into development hades, but now new UK studio Nomad Games, who spun out of the sadly closed THQ Warrington, have taken a crack at bringing it to PC at long last. They’ve got the official license, they’ve got pre-orders with instant beta access open and they’ve newly got a demo showing off their approach to this long-lived game of boards.
It’s a slightly odd one, in that 1) it’s singleplayer only, whereas the boardgame is a backstabbing romp for several players 2) you’re restricted to just one class, the Warrior and 3) it’s quest-based, albeit in a tutorial objectives vein. There are quests in the boardgame, but not until the late game and even then they’re entirely optional. #2 of those is specific to the demo, while the others apply to full first version of the game – which is why it’s called Talisman: Prologue rather than straight-up Talisman. A second, separate multiplayer game is due further down the line. INFIDEL ALERT: The Talisman videogames are also planned for tablet, which excites me in a ‘playing games with mates in the pub’ sort of way. Maybe I should get one of those Microsoft Surface Pro thingies when they’re out so I can technically be playing on PC even so.
While the full edition of Talisman Prologue is apparently not too far off, this demo is there as a proof of concept and a tutorial for what is, on the first encounter, going to be a vaguely confusing affair for the uninitiated. It’s a sort of a turn-based RPG, but card-based and levelling-free: easy and uncomplicated once you know how, but furrowed brows while you learn – so the tutorial here is also handy if you know some mates with the game but have shied away for fear of complexity. Aside from the aforementioned structural changes into a singleplayer game, it’s very much faithful to the boardgame rather than being a new exploration of its concepts.
The mechanics are the same, the board look and layout is the same, the card roster and art is the same, and the character models are even made from photos of the 4th edition game’s miniatures (and sadly not the more playful, Games Workshop-made earlier editions). If you’re a Talisman vet you’ll know exactly where you are, though I think the the photo-art for the character models might look a wee bit odd to Talisman virgins.
It works rather well, with a neat set of wooshy, zoomy effects that don’t disrupt the boardgame look, while not having to keep a running tally of your Strength, Craft and Life boosts is handy. There are a few UI aspects I’m not sure about though – for isntance, hovering the cursor over a board squad badly needs a tooltip saying what happens when you land on it (currently, you have to click on it then return after you’ve found out, which is more time consuming that such an oft-done action should be).
The lack of any camera control is a bit of a drag too – it may be aiming for faithfulness but I’m not sure that necessitates being essentially a flat, fixed picture of the board. It’d be lovely to rotate or zoom in at will, and maybe even have a few animations in there. Also, if Prologue is to be a singleplayer game, they don’t really need the Miss A Turn cards out, as when you play solo there is no-one else to exploit your temporary stasis.
Anyway, quibbles, quibbles. Talisman Prologue may not be especially fancy-pants (at least compared to Big Huge Games’ excellent XBLA version of Catan, which is something of a benchmark for such adaptations and I dearly wish it would come out on PC), but it is Talisman on a computer and that’s something I’ve wanted for a long time. Looking forward to the full game, and given how hard I find it to arrange boardgame evenings of late, once the multiplayer is available I will be all over it like a faintly aroused rash.
Grab the 91MB demo from here, and find out more about the game here. You can also pre-order the game for $6 right now, which will grant you immediate access to a beta version. I’ll hopefully be looking at that soon myself.