Monopoly. Connect 4. Life. Candyland. Battleship. When I was young, I had played all of the Parker Brothers’ games, and if I could find a Parker Sister, I’d play her games, too. When I hit high school, I found myself in a dungeon with some dragons, so I rarely surfaced to play board games (with exceptions for Risk, Diplomacy, and Trivial Pursuit). In early college, I graduated to live action role-playing games (LARPs).
But LARPs typically required travel and a hotel room, while D&D campaigns required a time commitment. I needed something I could play quick and easy, where I could get in, get out, and leave no broken hearts. And that’s when my friend Sherri introduced me to Talisman.
At its most basic, Talisman has three levels, an outer, middle, and inner region, and each is increasingly difficult and dangerous. You spend time in the first region acquiring items, especially the all-important Talisman, to help you survive the later levels. The first person who can reach the Crown of the Command wins. Particularly if you use it to kill the other players.
Talisman was unlike any game I had played at the time: It wasn’t static. Although the board stayed the same, you could play different characters, each with their own abilities and bonuses. So if you played one game as a Sorceress (who can steal followers from other characters), you’d have a different experience if you played a second game as an Assassin (who can only take a life and cannot steal gold or items).
Oh, and if you’re particularly unlucky, you get turned into a toad. Ask me how I know. Ribbit.
Nowadays, there are board games in which the board itself changes (like Settlers of Catan), or the designers encourage you to physically alter it (Risk Legacy, Pandemic Legacy). But back then, non-static gameplay was a eureka, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that smack upside the head. Here is a board game where the mileage may vary … but it would take me farther than any board game before.
Talisman was a craveable game that always made me want more. My friends and I played incessantly, honing our character choices and our strategies. We found a dungeon expansion, and we played the hell out of it, too. Since then, the game has gone through multiple expansions and revisions, adding new regions and characters. They’ve all added to the friendly competitive experience — or in our case, the cutthroat, smack-talking experience — that is Talisman.
Because Talisman was so unique to me, it put me on a quest to find what else is out there, and over the years, others have replaced Talisman as my go-to board game. I’m hoping with its announced fifth edition, it will make its way back into my essentials pile. But if nothing else, Talisman will always be beloved as my gateway drug to into the world of board games.