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Chris Tannhauser
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"Okay, so a Wizard, a Warrior, an Elf and a sexually-ambiguous Minstrel—"

"That's MANstrel to you."

"—walk into a tavern—stop me if you've heard this one before..."

Talisman is one of those "auto-dungeon master" games where instead of one of your perfectly reasonable friends you get a blind, uncaring set of mechanics to act as DM. This works pretty well, especially if you like your DMs capricious, cruel, and emasculating. And, unlike your reasonable friends, completely uncaring and inflexible.

Every game that uses the auto-DM ends up with, believe it or not, a personality—the cold mechanics tend to give the game a specific feel irrespective of the theme: Arkham Horror's Keeper likes to pile it on and then hand you a flask of whiskey for your troubles; Runebound is probably the sanest and most stable of the bunch.

But what of Talisman? What's that auto-DM like?

He's...

a mean drunk

a bed-wetting twelve-year-old with anger issues

a three-legged dog you'd like to call "Hopalong Cassidy" if only he didn't growl so much and chew up all the things you love and then poop on the rug, right in front of you, looking you dead in the eye while you’re screaming, "No! No! Bad dog!"


No, the Talismangler is none of those things alone—the Talismangler is ALL.

He's Runebound's angry Grandpappy with a touch of dementia and a bad marriage—he never got her to "stump broke" status and so there was no never-ending stream of nookie like all the abstinence literature said—and as if that wasn't enough, he's got a parasitic twin, a gnarled mass of teeth and hair grown over a testicle on his neck, not much more than a sentient mole, really—and the twin knows it, just having discovered girls who have discovered that he's hideous.

And now he's here to take it all out on you.

Assembled for this fool's errand were the wily Wizard Austin (age: 12), the Warrior Garrett (He of the Smoldering Brow—age: 13), and the mincy Minstrel Bards-are-cool-no-really George (age: old enough to know better). The role of the Elf was played by me, your perfect narrator.

US: Oh great Talismangler, what is our quest?

goo [swigging Jack from an old Coors can] You seek the Bad Hat!

US: ???

goo With the Bad Hat you can rain fire down upon your foes, burning the very life from their sweaty bodies until their very marrow turns to gas that escapes all explosively from their bones!

WARRIOR: So we're all trying to be Sauron?

ELF: What if your alignment is Good? Does putting on the Bad Hat make you bad?

goo SILENCE! Roll and die!

US: ?!

goo I mean, roll the die...

So right off the bat the Minstrel minces into the City and visits the Enchantress.

US: [chanting] Toad! Toad! Toad! TOAD!!!

He rolls the die aaand... Toad.

EVERYONE (almost): YAY!!!

The very next turn he hops one space and meets a demon who squishes him. The Minstrel is dead.

WARRIOR: I LOVE this game!

ELF: [swallows] Man, that's mean.

goo Mean has nothing to do with it! It's the SYSTEM.

US: [shudder]

And so the Minstrel becomes George the Prophetess. (Which, in many ways, is just the Minstrel in taffeta. Wait—that’s redundant. Sorry.)

As the noble and world-weary Elf I never got more than a few steps away from home, ranging as far and wide as the nearest Tavern, where, apparently, I liked to drink, gamble and fight with inebriated farmhands.

ELF: But I'm ready for adventure!

goo Shut up! You are getting drunk! Lose one gold!

ELF: But I don't want to get drunk—

goo Lose ANOTHER gold!

ELF: [mumbles] Shutting up.

Meanwhile, the Warrior was having much better luck, pillaging and burning his way through the land, his runesword slaking its unholy thirst from the spouting necks of his many enemies. A path of fresh heads, like stepping stones, spread just before his every stride.

Until, alone in the Desert, Raiders stole all his crap.

WARRIOR: WHAT?! How can they do that? I kill them all!

goo NO! They come upon you in the night and steal all your crap!

WARRIOR: Were they like ninjas? It would be totally sweet if they were like ninjas.

goo NO! They were not totally sweet like ninjas.

WARRIOR: [scratching head] Why did they just drop it all? Can't I just pick it up again?

goo NO! They pawned it for crack!

WARRIOR: Then I go to the pawnshop and fight the owner!

goo NO! They didn't pawn it for crack! They traded it for meth to a middle-aged guy on a bicycle—he found he couldn't carry it all on his bike and so he dropped it in random spots as he pedaled through the desert!

ELF: You totally cannot ride a bike in sand, dude.

goo He was tripping balls on meth—so he didn't know he was in sand! He thought it was... pavement!

PROPHETESS: Meth's not a psychoactive hallucinogen—

goo SILENCE! He fell over and baked dry in the merciless sun! Leaving nothing but a desiccated hubris-husk warning all erstwhile adventurers to BEWARE!

WARRIOR: Can I have his bicycle?

goo THERE IS NO BICYCLE! IT'S JUST A METAPHOR!

US: [snickering] A metaphor what?

goo SILENCE! Now someone must become a toad!

US: Awww.

Like the fifth sequel in an action-movie franchise, the adventure continued... with someone getting the Gnome for a follower.

EVERYONE BUT THE GNOME JOCKEY: Ha ha! You got a Gnome!

GNOME JOCKEY: Shut up! He's really cool! He helps me sneak through the Hills and he can pick locks and stuff!

goo NO! The Gnome is eating all your candles and delivering a non-stop stream of biting criticism—"You know that helmet seriously clashes with that dress,” he says.

EVERYONE BUT THE GNOME JOCKEY: Ha ha! Gnome ate your candles!

GNOME JOCKEY: Awww.

At the beginning of the adventure there was a lot hand-wringing over how difficult it was going to be to get one of those eponymous Talisman-thingies—I mean, you needed one to even think about setting foot in the Divot of Suffering or whatever it's called... It turned out all that worry was for naught. There were Talismans laying around pretty much everywhere, like a C-130 loaded with 45,000 pounds of them detonated at 30,000 feet above the land, lodging the cheap trinkets in every visible crevice fit to make that tear roll down that one Indian's cheek.

It seemed everyone you met was trying to fob one off on you—the Warlock was constantly trying to give them away to folks who already had two. The Temple, especially, was overrun with the "Talismen". The trinket adorned their hats, squatted on belt buckles, were worked into fist-sized rings, cod pieces, even (shudder) grillz.

"Fancy a Talisman, mate?" the chavs asked, hideously blinged-out in the triangular "head-slap" motif.

So, yeah, everybody had one, kind of like a Batman logo in 1989. There's just no getting away from it.

The Wizard, after suffering many hilarious setbacks in the middle region, couldn't take anymore and went to bed.

In the meantime, the Prophetess was profiting mightily by picking and choosing her own adventure, the clear out-in-front winner, just two stops from ascending to Glory, quivering hands lifting the heavy crown from its blood-stained pedestal and slipping her consciousness into it, bringing a rain of bile-colored lighting bolts down upon the insignificant heads of the hapless, their minds as delicate, open and obvious as flowers: "I COMMAND YOU to breathe your soup!" "Fall on your pinking shears!" "Rub yourself with meat and wrestle naked with stray dogs!" "Bwahahaha!"

But instead she got devoured by a roiling mass of pit fiends.

So now the Minstrel-Prophetess was the Sorceress, and set about immediately to steal everyone's friends. Including the Gnome.

EVERYONE BUT THE SORCERESS: Ha ha! You got the Gnome!

SORCERESS: Shut up! He's cool!

EVERYONE BUT THE SORCERESS: That's not what you said an hour ago!

The Warrior ended up feeding his Princess-on-a-rope to the Vampire Tower and thereby gained access to the Stairs of Ascension and laid his club-like hands with stumpy fingers upon the CROWN OF COMMAND.

WARRIOR: I so do NOT have club-like hands!

ELF: Yes you do! That’s what happens when you run around beating people all day!

goo SILENCE! Begin the Reign of Terror!

And so the Warrior, mad with power (and one of those four-hour erections the TV commercials are always warning you about) began to blast us with die rolls.

The Sorceress went down first, Gnome notwithstanding, cursing a game that gives no credit for outstanding role-play, actual, real role-playing 'cuz he was like THREE different people, REALLY REALLY different, they were so totally NOT just the same guy with a different name and grey eyes instead of green or something lame like that.

The Elf burst from the Tavern and into a land savaged by a deepening sky, made his way impossibly through multiple regions—diced with DEATH for cryin' out loud—ran up the steps all super-alacritous like Legolas might—to take on the insane Warrior-thing crouched beneath the enervating purple rays of the CROWN OF COMMAND.

With his spear and magic helmet he set-to against the Beast, a mega-clever monologue on this lips:

ELF: Glurk!

RUNESWORD: [belching] I loves me some elf.

WARRIOR: Man! I LOVE this game!

MINSTREL-PROPHET-SORCERESS: This game SUCKS.

GNOME: [chomping on candle] Well that's good, 'cuz you sure didn't!

goo SILENCE! Put the cards in the right piles! Right side up! RIGHT SIDE UP!!! Get all the plastic thingies off the floor! And next time, don't roll the dice under the bookshelf across the room!

THE TALISMANGLER HAS SPOKEN!!!
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Nelson Stanley
United States
Louisville
Kentucky
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This is why I spend all my time on this site.

I'm sorry to report that this was actually my session report from a game of 4th Edition Talisman Sunday night. Were you peeking in my window? Except instead of an Elf, we had a Troll. A good Troll. Who was too large to fit under any bridge. And a bad-ass Sorceress, who's only agenda was to give as much grief as possible to the Troll, as he hadn't finished his homework and had forgot to tell the Sorceress that she was responsible for making 50 cupcakes the next morning.


Other than that, this is exactly what happened.
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Mark Jackson
United States
Goodlettsville
Tennessee
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Am I a man or am I a muppet? If I'm a muppet then I'm a very manly muppet!
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And if you think the System in Talisman is mean, he's got nothing on the System in DungeonQuest, who's like Talismangler with a Day-Timer.

Monday night, I had three turns before I fell down a Bottomless Pit, never to be seen again. (I had a Ring of Healing, but that presupposes a bottom, I think.)
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Simon Lundström
Sweden
Täby
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*Seriously laughing out loud*

I've rediscovered Talisman with the 4th edition, and tears flowed down my cheeks for this session review. Oh dear, oh dear.

Actually, I find The Talismangler is much more devious than the Dungeon Quest guy. He's just random. He CAN be evil, yes (I have twice experienced getting the ceiling on my head or falling down the bottomless pit on the very first move) but the Talismangler is much more slow, and he's completely whacked.

If games are supposed to be fun only, Talisman gets an 11. Soon I'll have to raise this game to a 10.

Great session review, thumbs up!
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George Rothrock
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San Diego
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That's MAN-strel-Prophetess-Sorceress, to all of you!
Great write up, Hivegod! Thanks!

Cheers,
George
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Tommy Dean
Australia
Earlwood
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For a game that is it self getting "mangled" for a variety of reasons...it is great to hear a session that invokes exactly what this games seems to be...FUN!

Now...if only the "deck of many duties" would dry up so I could actually PLAY this game!.
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J. Green
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OH MY GOSH i'm laughing so hard my cheeks hurt, my sides ache, and tears and snot are mingling in the carpet cause that's where i'm lying in fetal position laughing for about ten minutes...you suck to make me laugh so HARD!!!!!

It's worth a GG for that enjoyable half hour (i savored it...yummm...BWAAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHA)
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W M Shubert
United States
Lexington
Massachusetts
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Honestly, I think sessions like this should be relabelled "reviews."

Let's face it, reading this will tell you more about how a game plays than 90% of the reviews out there!
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Konwacht
Germany
Berlin
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So funny - and really the feeling I had when playing Talisman back in the early 90s.

And really, this works as well as a review

But it really shows me that I´m not alone with the point of view that the talisman is far to easy to get. I never cared about getting one in our games since they are thrown at you on each corner. A bit pity that they didn´t make it a bit harder in the new edition. It feels a bit... lame getting the talisman that easy.
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Thomas Taylor
United States
Castro Valley
California
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Damn funny.

I regret that I only have one thumb to give to my fellow geek.
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Daniel Karp
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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Developin' Developin' Developin'
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100 geekgold for OverText, and all I got was this stupid sentence.
wmshub wrote:
Honestly, I think sessions like this should be relabelled "reviews."

Let's face it, reading this will tell you more about how a game plays than 90% of the reviews out there!


I was about to say exactly the same thing. This is the closest I've seen to a board game review in the style of New Game Journalism, best exemplified by this story here. But the Talismangler piece is funnier.
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Chris Tannhauser
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San Diego
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Wow--thanks for the kind words, everyone!

To Daniel's point: As I've said elsewhere, it's my belief that session reports should do their best to transmit the emotional content of that particular session; they should be a kind of emotive touchstone that gives the reader a sliver of what it felt like to be there playing that game at that moment with those people. Full Gonzo. I would say it's less of a review of the game in general and more of a review of the game of that moment. A one-shot deal. It other circumstances, with other people, it may have sucked.

In the end I'm just lucky to play with such crazy-smart people who inspire me to screed so.

PS. Don't forget to bring the fun. You did bring some fun, didn't you?
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Chris Tannhauser
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It turns out, we found in our second game, that if you DON'T let the Gnome eat all your candles he shows up at the campfire one night with a WHOLE BEEHIVE that he proceeds to crack open and feed on. Everyone knows bees won't sting Gnomes, even when enraged, but they WILL sting Warriors. Almost to death.
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Jim Patching
United Kingdom
Newport
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Awesome
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Get up, get up, get up, get down, fall over.
United Kingdom
Bolton
Lancashire
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http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/22017

Just leave the gnome alone, that is all I am saying.

Great report though.
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Daniel Kearns
United States
Bloomington
Indiana
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Silence is golden.
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Encore! Encore!
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Jon M
United Kingdom
Hitchin
Herts
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Konwacht wrote:
But it really shows me that I´m not alone with the point of view that the talisman is far to easy to get. I never cared about getting one in our games since they are thrown at you on each corner. A bit pity that they didn´t make it a bit harder in the new edition. It feels a bit... lame getting the talisman that easy.


Play deathwish Talisman. Only allow one Talisman. If any others turn up remove them and don't allow extras to be had from any of the board spaces.
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Alain MOYA
France
EVRY
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Bah ! The TALISMANGLER is an lovable Santa Claus compared to the dreaded Barbarian Prince's auto-DM ! You should try HIM sometime...
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Joe Lott
United States
Baltimore
Maryland
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TheGreatGonzo wrote:
Bah ! The TALISMANGLER is an lovable Santa Claus compared to the dreaded Barbarian Prince's auto-DM ! You should try HIM sometime...



You all don't even know jack. Try fighting the GM of Magic Realm, that thing is pure psycho.

"You run into a beast you can neither kill, nor escape from, sorry, please play again."
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Rod Batten
Canada
St. John's
Newfoundland
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Death and the dice level all distinctions.
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And so it goes...
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LOL! This session report reminds me so much of a PbEM game of Talisman in which we all submitted a story entry to preface our move for the turn. Great stuff! Talisman may not be the most complex game in the world but it sure does bring out the fun and silliness in the right crowd of players.
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Vernon Evenhuis
United States
Illinois
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I think I just laughed my ass clean off...no seriously, it's lying on the floor and I'm looking at it!

This is so true! Last game I played with my daughter the Talismangler only wanted to mangle me, it was quite generous and kind to my daughter:

Daughter: Wow! I found a bag of gold just lying on the ground!
Dad: Hoo boy, a dragon. Ouch!
Daughter: Oh cool, I found a suit of armor just lying on the ground!
Dad: Hmmm...a demon.
Daughter: Another bag of gold!
Dad: Get drunk and get in a fight with a farmer? No sweat. Dang, that was a big farmer. One more wound and I'm toast!
Daughter: Ooooo! A Runesword!

You get the idea...
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Henning Karlsson
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Ljungby
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Sorry for bringing up such an old thread, but it seriously needs to be up with the new ones. But I'm primarily doing it to tell you that you are a genius. This is one of the few things, be it text, television, audio, that actually makes me laugh every time I read it. You should seriously consider a career in writing comedy. "Roll and die"...
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