Adapting a good board game into an iOS game is hard enough. So what’s a developer to do with Talisman, which might best be described as Chutes and Ladders for fantasy nerds?
Nomad Games has an answer: translate the game as faithfully as possible while stripping it down to a single-player experience. The surprising thing about this answer is that Talisman Prologue’s simplicity highlights what made the original Talisman a classic.
In Talisman, you play a fantasy adventurer fighting his or her way through a magical land. The board depicts three tracks; the spaces on the tracks represent hills, cities, werewolf dens, and other exciting locations. You roll a die and move your character along the track, drawing adventure cards to find out what happens in each space. Some cards give you loot or followers, other cards are traps or monsters.
The game has been a favorite with twelve-year-olds of all ages since 1983, but it is often criticized for lacking choices and strategy. It’s a raucous dice-fest, and you can never be sure what the cards and dice will bring you. Your character might win a fabulous treasure, or he might get turned into a toad. If you don’t like lots of luck in your games, you aren’t going to enjoy Talisman.
What Talisman Prologue HD proves, however, is that you have more control than you think. The game offers 10 characters to play, representing most of the favorites from the original board game. Each character has a set of special abilities and five quests to pursue (a sixth quest is unlocked for each character when you complete all of the characters’ quests). The quests highlight what makes the adventurers different and teach you how to make the most of their abilities.
There are straightforward characters like the Warrior, who rolls an extra die when he fights. Other characters have more unusual tricks, such as the Elf’s woods movement or the Prophetess’s ability to sift through adventure cards looking for the ones she wants. After chasing bandits through the woods and going though 30 adventure cards as quickly as possible, those were tricks we knew how to use.
Each set of quests can take an hour or two to complete, so there’s plenty to do. Mastering a character’s quests earns points in a scoring system and teaches you which parts of the board are the most profitable for that character to hang around in. There is still a lot of luck in the game, but a skilled player can bend the odds in his favor.
Not everything in Talisman Prologue HD lives up to the quest feature. The game is heavy on text in teeny-tiny fonts. There are also a lot of small buttons to tap, and they’re scattered all over the screen. On an iPhone, that’s not likely to be a problem, but iPad users will find that routine commands involve a lot of reaching and uncomfortable hand positions.
The controls don’t stop the fun. This is a crisp, snappy game that does justice to the original Talisman. Nomad Games is planning a full multiplayer version for later in 2013, and this single-player version would be an excellent introduction to that game. Even all by itself, though, Talisman Prologue is a rich and entertaining experience.