Talisman report: The Firelands

Glen, Richard, Josh and I played a game of Talisman yesterday, the first I’ve played in some time and the first ever for Glen. I’ve just picked up a couple of new expansions, and I wanted to give one of them, The Firelands, a try.

It was one of the most horrible games I’ve ever played of Talisman. I found it grimly amusing; it was either that or pick up the table and overturn it!

I really enjoy what Fantasy Flight have done with this version of Talisman; it’s my favourite edition by a fair way. However, the Firelands stands as a significant misstep. I can see that there will be games of Talisman where it will work well as an expansion, but that was not that game.

Our initial character choices were almost all from the new expansion. I took a leaf from the Prophecy game and dealt out three characters to each player; we chose one and passed the others. With our new three characters, we repeated the process. Finally, with the third choice we took the character we were actually playing. As I recall, I was the Nomad, Rich was the Jinn-Blooded, Glen was the Dwarf and Josh was the Dervish.

We were playing with only the Firelands and the base game, my preferred method of putting a new expansion through its paces. It wasn’t long before we drew the first of the Firelands cards: a flame rift, which burnt the top three cards of the deck and put a fire marker in the space. Burning cards means removing them from the game, but fireproof cards remain – the ones drawn from the deck were shuffled and placed on top. The Fireland Tokens had one specific effect: If you ended your turn in a space with a marker, you lost one life. In the normal course of things, this wouldn’t be so bad.

However, burning cards meant we were getting more of the new cards – and there were quite a few that were placing Fireland Tokens. It wasn’t long before we were landing on the markers every three turns or so, and then every two turns or so. A card that put all the firelands cards in the discard pile back on top of the deck accelerated the process.

I’ve never lost life so fast in a game of Talisman before!

It wasn’t long before my Nomad died. I drew a new character and continued playing; we use the variant that allows the new character to inherit the items of the old, not that the Nomad had much stuff. Rich’s character died. Josh’s character died. My new character died. Glen’s character died.

To make things worse, most of the enemies that were actually being drawn were ifrit; thematic yes, but they were placing even more Fireland Tokens and some of them were gaining Strength or Craft bonuses equal to the number of Firelands tokens on the board. If the number of markers was small, it wouldn’t be a problem. We had over ten markers on the table! Strength/Craft 11? No-one was even close to that. The objects and followers we needed to even compete were being burnt away. Josh had a nice fireproof sword, but most of us had nothing.

Ifrit Nobles also made things harder. It’s a nice idea: encounter cards that affect the entire board until they are defeated, but when combined with all the Fireland Tokens, we didn’t really have a chance.

As I remarked to my friends, it felt a lot more like playing Arkham Horror than Talisman – and, at least in Arkham, you can fight back. There seemed to be no way to combat the spread of fire.

In fact, there were a couple of spells and a couple of encounter cards, but they were too little to counter the spread. Rich had the Wizard as his second character, and even with him casting and drawing new spells, he couldn’t dig down to them fast enough. My Druid (my second character) cast one, but with all the forests on fire, it wasn’t long before he succumbed as well.

Towards the end of the game, even the “safe” locations of the City, Village and Tavern came under attack. Ifrit Invasion event cards reduced them to Ruins that were on fire! A deck of terrain cards which could change the underlying type of the encounter spaces was a really, really good idea. Unfortunately, it was obscured by the fact that we couldn’t do anything.

Eventually, after about 90 minutes of this, we turned on the elimination rule; anyone who died, would stay dead. I think Rich was the last survivor, and he lingered for a bit, but eventually succumbed as well to the latest fire card.

The Firelands looks like it would work a lot better if it were combined with a few more expansions, so that the effects were diluted massively. The basic concept behind the expansion is sound, but played as we did was not an enjoyable experience. I’m hoping that next week we can try Jon New’s print’n’play expansion, the Nether Realm. It seems like it would make for a better game than the Firelands did!

And to think, I’d chosen to use the Battle Royale alternative ending…

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