An Emergency Buyer’s Guide to Talisman

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Now that Talisman is going out of print due to Fantasy Flight’s loss of the Games Workshop license, players are already snatching up copies of the fourteen expansions. This makes the choice to put together a buyer’s guide a somewhat strange one, since FFG won’t be offering these titles at all after February 2017. 

But I feel like I need to offer a little guidance here, since I’ve introduced the game to many people, and recommended it to many others. People have actually asked me what expansions are worth getting and whether the base game on its own is worth purchasing. So I wanted to put together this buyer’s guide at the eleventh hour, so that people can know what expansions are really worth the trouble. Such an extensive product line can be imposing in a going-out-of-print environment, so this is a guide for those who are still scrambling to expand their game however they can.

Please note that I can’t vouch for the availability of any of these. Stock in online stores has been pretty spotty, and it’s not going to get better I think. That said, check out Fantasy Flight’s website, and do be sure to check your local game store. They might not have much, but this was such a big product line that they will likely have SOMEthing. I’ve also rated each expansions as being High Priority, Medium Priority, or Low Priority. I like them all, but some are definitely better than others.

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Base Game – This seems kind of obvious, but you need the base game to play everything else on this list. I’ve been asked if the game needs to be expanded, if it’s worth having on its own, and I think it absolutely is. It’s a very direct, simple adventure game, and it is very approachable with non-hobbyists. Note that there are actually two editions out there. One has a black box and was actually published by Black Industries (a GW subsidiary) between 2007 and 2008. That version was eventually handed off to Fantasy Flight, who released a conversion pack that is now impossible to find. They then released their own “revised” version of the 4th edition, which is what most people will find. If you DO find a Black Industries version, note that you will not be able to use any of these expansions without the FFG conversion kit.

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The Reaper – The first expansion for Talisman comes in a small box, and mostly just adds cards and characters. There’s also the first of many NPCs called The Reaper, who wanders the board having games of chance with the players. This is probably the most straightforward of Fantasy Flight’s expansions, and the one most fans will tell you is best. I’m not sure it’s the best so much as the easiest to justify, since its theme fits right in with the base box and all of the cards feel like they could have come in the base game. It makes the adventure deck absurdly huge, so with the base game and this one expansion that’s probably as much Talisman as a casual player would need. Highest Priority

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The Dungeon – This big box expansion is the first of the corner boards, new realms in the world of Talisman that when put together make the game an enormous table hog. The Dungeon is something of a meat-grinder, with more and tougher monsters, and a vicious boss at the end. Of course you could always just destroy the boss and then end up at the Crown of Command, but I’ve never seen that happen. There are more new characters too. One could make an argument that the corner boards lengthen the game (they do), but this is one of the good ones. It’s useful especially when the Adventure Deck has been expanded and diluted, since your odds of finding a monster with which to level up is much better in the Dungeon. It is tough as nails though. A lot of players have lost their characters in there. Highest Priority

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The Frostmarch – Like the Reaper, Frostmarch adds more cards and characters (almost all the expansions do), but its setting is more specific. It focuses more on snow and ice monsters. Since many of the expansions past this point have a specific setting, that setting comes through strongest when using fewer expansions at once, and that’s the case here. This is also the first expansion to utilize alternate endings. A lot of fans (like myself) don’t really care about these, but it’s nice to have the options if the Crown of Command has become a little stale for you. Medium Priority

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The Highland – The second corner board adds a mountain range to Talisman, and has a somewhat lower difficulty curve. It works fine, but to me it has always played as a somewhat weaker version of the Dungeon. You will literally know 95% of the rules just by virtue of knowing the Dungeon, making this one somewhat redundant. The new characters are fun, but this is probably the weakest of the corner board expansions. Lowest Priority

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The Sacred Pool – Another small box, and another pile of “more” for the game. The setting here is less distinct than in The Frostlands, maybe broadly applying to good and evil, but then again maybe not. I’d write it off entirely, but this expansion does add something I love, which is quest reward cards. In longer games we tend to end up with more Warlock quests than we need, and these provide more rewards for them after you already have your Talisman. I really like this addition, though the rest of the expansion is business as usual. Medium Priority

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The Dragon – The Dragon is definitely the red-headed stepchild of Talisman. It adds a completely new way to play, where the Inner Region is replaced and the players are now trying to take the crown from a Dragon King. This involves some extra decks of cards, along with a system of determining who the Dragon King is at any given time. It’s a little overwrought, though in my one playthrough it had the effect of shortening the game a bit. The other problem is that this expansion really doesn’t play well with others. I wouldn’t bother trying to get it to work with other big box expansions especially. In hindsight it was the first Talisman expansion to really try something different, and I think it’s a bit underrated, but that innovation would be done more effectively later on. Lowest Priority

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The Blood Moon – We are back to small box expansions that play to a specific setting, this time a more gothic horror flavor. Again, that means that it works better when its effects are more concentrated, so judicious expansion usage is recommended. This one also adds a new NPC, the Werewolf, and a day and night cycle which affects the toughness of monsters. Both of these don’t really play as strongly as they could, and the day-night cycle is kind of a pain to deal with. But the setting is much stronger than it has been in previous expansions, and I really like that aspect. Medium Priority

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The City – I love The City. It’s probably my favorite of the corner board expansions, just by virtue of the fact that it functions as a giant shopping mall. If players don’t like how long it can take to get gear and beef up their character, The City is the way to go. It also is a lot lighter on enemies, though they can appear, so it’s kind of an oasis in that sense. The downside is that it adds a lot of extra card decks to deal with,  which is kind of a hassle to me. Also I believe it has become rather difficult to find, so grab it if you can. Highest Priority

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The Nether Realm – This is the first of two print-on-demand expansions, both designed at least in part by Jon New, the guy who runs the great site Talisman Island. Truth be told I have not yet had a chance to play this one, though it’s sitting in my enormous box o’ Talisman as we speak. That said, the POD expansions have become unusually skittish to buy, since FFG apparently ceased publication immediately. But then more copies have shown up, so I don’t know how rare it actually will be. My opinion on this one could shift with actual play, but for now I’m glad I have a copy. This is not a big one, but it might end up being rare someday, so you might grab it if you see it. Medium Priority

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The Firelands – Between The City and The Firelands, FFG designer John Goodenough left the company, and Talisman was handed over to Sam Bailey, who would design all of the remaining expansions. While Goodenough favored expansions that didn’t mess much with the original game, Bailey took the game to some strange new places, with some generally positive results. His first foray is an “Arabian Nights” kind of set. That includes lots of appropriate cards, and a lot of “Fireland” tokens that begin to litter the board and take away people’s life. The setting is really fun, though the overall feeling is pretty brutal as well. Medium Priority

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The Woodland – The final corner board is probably the most unusual region in Talisman. Upon entering the players are given a “path” to complete, basically a goal they must fulfill before reaching the end of the board. This is in lieu of a giant boss fight at the end, and I really enjoy that aspect. There is also a new mechanic of light and dark fate, finally utilizing the double-sided fate tokens. This latter aspect is a bit of a hassle, as it forces players to manage something they’ve never really cared about before. There’s an emphasis on faeries, so the game feels a bit more chaotic with The Woodland in play. I like that a lot, though your mileage may vary. Medium Priority

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The Deep Realms – The second print-on-demand expansion provides a secret link between the Dungeon and the City, so it requires both of those expansions to use it. Also like the Nether Realm, I’ve not yet found myself in the specific situation required to make it work, so I’ve not played it yet. This one does appear to be the more rare of the two POD expansions though, possibly because it has been available for a shorter amount of time. It might therefore be something of a collector’s item one day, but its usage is still pretty specific. Medium Priority

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The Harbinger – The last two expansions for Talisman set up a kind of one-two punch, and it definitely sends the game out with a bang. The Harbinger has a great apocalyptic tone, as players see omens drop one by one, signalling the eventual end of the world. The Harbinger NPC is also really fun, forcing players to draw from a new deck when he appears, and hastening the inevitable destruction of everything. There’s actually now a possibility that the game will just end with no one winning, which is a nice bit of pressure to make players rush to the Inner Region. The trade-off is some extra rules weight and yet another expansion that works best without a huge mix of expansions, but it has one of the strongest and more evocative settings Talisman would ever get. Highest Priority

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The Cataclysm – Here we arrive at the end, in more ways than one. The Cataclysm assumes that the world ended with The Harbinger, and has a new main board representing the world of Talisman after the fall. There are now relics from past ages littered around the board for the players to pick up. The NPCs that used to be tied to specific spots (like the Mystic or the Enchantress) are now considered Denizens, and they can appear anywhere and even travel the board. The new Inner Region is also more deadly, making sure things a virtual impossibility even for experienced players. It also makes the whole franchise feel completed, like the final season of a good TV show. All of this is great, but the nicest thing about the Cataclysm is that it is by far one of the most flexible expansions. It can be used with any of the other expansions, and it handles them all pretty well. Combine that with the fact that it has only been available since Spring of 2016, and you might have a recipe for rarity. Highest Priority

So there you have it, a full run-down of the fourteen expansions for Talisman. I’ll dearly miss this game, as it’s been rather formative for me. No doubt Games Workshop will release their own fifth edition eventually, but it will be hard pressed to compare to the extensive world Fantasy Flight created with this version.

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