As we near the end of September, the release of the new, fourth edition of Talisman is just a few days away, and thus I’ve decided to take the opportunity to return to an old series of articles that I’ve written on adventure games, and compare how the old relates to the new.
A Brief History of Talisman
First, a brief history of Talisman. Although it was by no means the earliest adventure game — that accolade probably going to TSR’s Dungeon! (1975) — it was the first adventure game that was really, greatly successful.
Talisman’s first edition was released by Games Workshop in 1983. It was followed a short time later by a better quality, but otherwise similar second edition. These games had the same core ideas: you played a unique character who you could improve by gaining Strength, Craft, and items. You tried to get enough power to make your way to the center of the board, then kill all the other players through the magical Crown of Command.
This is a reprint of an article written in April, 2007 for first publication in the September, 2007 issue of the now-defunct Knucklebones magazine. Because of its origins, this article is more introductory and (hopefully) more polished than many of my online writings. Despite the original source of this article, this blog is in no way associated with Jones Publishing or Knucklebones Magazine.
Previously to the publication of this article, I’d written a three-part series on adventure game design for this blog proper. I invite you to take a look at them for more on the topic: I. Fantasy Flight & That Old-Time Roleplaying; II. In the Cards; III. Dungeon Delving (and to see some of my thoughts that led up to this more comprehensive article).
Character, setting, and plot. They’re the basis of literature of any sort, from a top television drama to the newest Harry Potter book. And — sometimes — they form the basis of board games too. Not all games, granted, and very few games have all of these elements. But there’s no doubt that Klaus Teuber’s The Settlers of Catan has a vague setting, while Reiner Knizia’s Beowulf definitely has a plot. Enough people feel a connection to whether they play the Scottie dog or the race car in Monopoly that you could argue that even that old classic has character.
In 1974 Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson published the first ever roleplaying game,Dungeons & Dragons. It grew naturally out of the wargaming industry — where in 1972’s second edition of the Chainmail miniatures game Gary Gygax had introduced all sorts of fantasy critters, including wizards, heroes, hobbits, dwarves, balrogs, and ents, to the world of medieval wargaming. Dungeons & Dragons was just the next step. It gave players the opportunity to take the individual roles of some of those heroes in smaller-scale skirmishes.
I use the word “skirmish” purposefully because that’s what the earliest Dungeons & Dragons games really were. A look at the earliest D&D supplements reveals that they were little more than tactical exercises, where players moved from one room to the next in a dungeon, cavern, or other carefully keyed location — and fought whatever they found within.
Roleplaying games matured slowly. There were a few village adventures early on, which offered some ability to interact with people other than at the tip of a sword, but they were scattered and far between. It was at least 1984, and the release of TSR’s Dragonlance, before people started to realize that roleplaying adventures could tell stories too.
Which is all to say that it’s an entirely modern bias.
Last month I posted an article about Fantasy Flight Games and their recent emphasis on adventure games. However, the adventure gaming genre is a lot bigger than just Fantasy Flight. As I mentioned in that article, the genre has been around for a while, with classics like Milton Bradley’s HeroQuest and GW’s Talisman. I missed out on Candamir, but it’s clearly a German entrant to the genre.
And, the adventure gaming genre is a lot bigger than just board games too. There have been a ton of card games that meet some or all of the criteria of the adventure game genre. This week I’m going to concentrate on a lot of also-rans, or not-quite-adventure card games, that nonetheless meet a lot of the criteria of the genre. Then in a couple of weeks I’m going to return with a third article in this series, covering a card game that’s just as much an adventure game as Runebound or Arkham Horror, and that’s Atlas Games’ Dungeoneer.
Last month I chanced into a game of World of Warcraft: The Board Game. It’s really not the sort of thing I usually play with my various board game groups — if for no other reason, game length — but it’s the exact sort of game my roleplaying group likes to play if we’re not roleplaying on a particular day. We’ve actually played a number of Fantasy Flight games in that group. Besides World of Warcraft there’s also been Runebound and Arkham Horror.
On my first game of World of Warcraft I was struck not only by its similarities to the other two Fantasy Flight Games we’d recently played, but also its differences. At first I thought that FFG might just be retreading these same ideas, but then I realized that something different was going on … Fantasy Flight is actually creating a whole new subgenre of board games: adventure games. Granted, we’ve had these adventure games around for a while. Arkham Horror was originally published in 1984, and it shortly followed on the heels of another adventure game classic, Talisman (1983). The same era would later see Milton Bradley’s HeroQuest (1989). However, with one publisher now putting out so many games, there’s an opportunity for something new.