Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



John Goodenough


No. of Players:
2 - 4

G@mebox Star



GAMES WORKSHOP's classic fantasy boardgame Talisman has fascinated more than one generation of players around the world, and even today the game is regularly seen on playing tables, despite the fact that it is - in essence - a highly luck-dependent game. Talisman has been followed by quite a few clones which were released by other publishers, but many of these products either were simple rip-offs or their rules - in search of unique new mechanisms - lacked the rather straightforward approach which is a trademark of Talisman.

Considering the currently available 4th edition of Talisman, GAMES WORKSHOP and their distribution partners HEIDELBERGER SPIELEVERLAG / FANTASY FLIGHT GAMES so far have been content to release nearly a dozen expansions which have led to a stepwise growth of the world of Talisman, but in fall 2013 they had finally decided to go one step further. With his new game Relic game designer John Goodenough has not simply transferred the background setting from the world of Talisman into the universe of Warhammer 40k, but he has also tried to give the classic Talisman-rules a major overhaul, introducing new elements which are meant to enhance and increase the whole playing experience.

The background-story of Relic can be told rather quickly: Two to four players each assume the role of an Imperial hero from the Warhammer 40k universe, and they have been dispatched by the Imperium to the Antian Sector, a star cluster which is threatened by other galactic forces. By completing missions and defeating enemies, the players compete to gain rewards and experience, and these must be used by the players in order to be the first to defeat whatever evil lies beyond the Warp rift shown in the middle of the gameboard. As you can see, the story is close to the fantasy setting found in Talisman, apart from the fact that all players assume the roles of Imperial heroes, a fact which prevents direct player-to-player combat (however, the rules announce that such combat will be introduced by an upcoming expansion).


Indeed, the structure of the gameboard offers a striking resemblance of the Talisman-board, since it features three regions which are nested into one another. The players still use dice to move and fight the alien creatures which they may encounter on their voyage, and they still will have to reveal Encounter cards whenever they visit a space where the maximum amount of Encounter cards have not yet been revealed. During their travels the players strive to gain an Ancient Artifact card, and only possession of such an artifact will allow them to enter the Inner Sphere of the gameboard where the game can be won.

However, despite all these similarities, the differences between Relic and Talisman already begin with the retrieval of the Ancient Artifact cards, since Relic choses an approach which is supposed to mitigate the sometimes rather annoying influence of luck when it came to finding a Talisman in Talisman. Thus, these artifacts cannot be found by simply drawing a card, but instead a player has to successfully solve three missions in order to claim an artifact. The players always possess one Mission card, and these cards list a great variety of mission objectives which the players may be asked to fulfill (slay a certain kind of enemy, get to a certain location etc.). It is not too time-consuming to fulfill these missions, and there even are some locations where a new Mission card may be drawn if the already held card seems to be too bothersome. Once completed, the active player will receive a small benefit for the mission, and in addition the card will be turned over and held until a set of three completed Mission cards is collected which can be exchanged for an Artifact card. The artifacts will give their owner access to the Inner Sphere, and in addition they will also bring the player another benefit like an increase of an attribute or a very useful special ability. All this is much more coherent and interesting than the claiming of a Talisman which simply gave access to the Inner Region in Talisman, and the requirement to complete three missions to gain an artifact effectively equalizes the chances for all players, since everybody will spend approximately the same time to fulfill their missions.

Another great innovation which can be found in Relic are the Force cards which can be gained by all players. Depending on a character's level, each player is allowed to hold up to a certain number of Force cards, and these cards display both a value ranging from "1" to "6" and a one-use special ability. So, a player may choose to use and discard one of his Force cards in order to apply the special ability of the card, or the card may be discarded for using its value instead of rolling a dice. The cards' value actually can be used to supplant a dice roll on any occasion, which means that in can be used in combat, when testing an ability, when rolling on an event chart or even instead of rolling the dice for movement. To my mind, the introduction of these cards has been a stroke of genius, since the players gain a much higher degree of control over their character's fate by the use of these cards. To be honest, in classic Talisman the options for the players were often quite limited: Should I move clockwise or counter-clockwise? Should I enter the Dungeon or the City? When should I make an attempt to get to the Crown of Command? Here Relic really can score with the introduction of the new Force cards, since the players now have to balance when and how they should use these cards for their best interests. It is especially this feature will appeal to seasoned Talisman-veterans, since - for the first time ever - the players have some interesting options at hand which they must decide upon.


The innovations continue with some adjustments concerning player interaction and fairness. As indicated earlier, the basic game of Relic gives no room for combat between the players, but instead there exists a good choice of cards which allows the players to interact in a different way. Some cards allow the stealing of equipment, while other cards (like some strong enemies) give the active player an option to call another player from his sphere to his location in order to give assistance in the upcoming combat. If such a combat is won, the active player is not allowed to keep the slain enemy as a trophy, but instead both participating players each will get a special benefit (leveling up, complete a mission etc.). Talking about leveling up, it is also worth mentioning that the characters can level up for a maximum of 12 times. However, each time a level is gained (by turning in trophies), the player cannot simply chose which kind of benefit he wants to gain, but instead the bonus for reaching the new level is shown on the character card. So, some characters will focus on a specific attribute, while others gain more benefits in terms of Influence (money) and Force cards, wheras even other characters may gain completed missions which may allow them to collect not one but several artifacts during the course of the game. Thus, the leveling up of the characters becomes much more individual, and at the same time the prescribed benefits ensure a more even development in terms of game balancing.

The innovations do not stop with these examples, but they can actually be continued with limited charges for powerful Equipment cards, Mutation cards which slowly corrupt the characters or different decks of Encounter cards which contain mostly Tyranid, Orc or Eldar-type cards (the cards are drawn depending on the colors of the seals printed on the spaces of the board). Even the simple rolling of dice in Relic has been taken to a new level, since all dice showing a "6" are considered to explode, meaning that an additional dice is rolled and added to the result. This may result in some rather unexpected situations where weak player characters or enemies can reach a quite surprising result in combat, and this certainly adds to the game's entertainment value.

Even the layout and effect of the locations of the Inner Sphere has been revised, and here it is notable that the way to the final location where the game can be won now is arranged as a single spiral, meaning that the players have to move along a fixed route which leaves them no choice but to move along. On the way to the final location all different attributes of the characters will be tested, and failure in these tests may result in considerable losses of Life points, equipment and other stuff. However, the players will not be delayed and so they may continue to the next space on each following turn, and so a character with good vital stats actually can afford to fail the one or other test along the way. On the other hand, players with lots of trophies, Influence and a high level will receive a benefit when entering the Inner Sphere, because they will be allowed to skip several spaces on their way to the final location.

As might be expected from a joint venture between GAMES WORKSHOP and FFG, even the design of the game and the playing components meets very high standards, and already the unpacking of the gamebox will rise the players' expectations when they get their first glimpse of the huge gameboard with its beautiful illustrations. This great first impression is continued by the detailed and fitting artwork of the character boards and all playing cards, and even the character busts which are used to represent the characters on the gameboard are detailed reproductions of the characters. However, being used to miniatures from all previous editions of Talisman, I must confess that I am a bit disappointed by these busts since I would have preferred full miniatures and not just a torso. I do not know why this kind of pawns was chosen for Relic, but I guess that GAMES WORKSHOP did not want official Warhammer 40k miniatures included in the game. However, apart from this question of style, the busts also have one real flaw. Due to their high degree of details they can be painted quite nicely (I have seen some good pics at BGG), but for playing reasons a stand has to be attached to each bust. This must be done before the beginning of each new game since only four such stands are included, and they must be squeezed quite tightly to fit into a bust. This barely works with the unpainted busts, but I think this would not be a good way to handle them once they are painted. I would have expected the experts of GAMES WORKSHOP to avoid such a faliure!!!

Leaving this fact aside, Relic has turned out to be an excellent adventure game which - I barely dare to say - beats the 4th edition of Talisman on almost any ground. Despite resorting to a classic mechanism of dice-rolling, the game is more controlled, more thrilling and overall it even takes slightly less time than Talisman. To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect when I opened my box of Relic, but already the first game showed the superiority of the adjusted mechanisms to the more traditional gameplay found in Talisman. Of course, players who favor a fantasy theme still will be well served with Talisman, but everyone who is still uncertain which of these two games should be bought really should go for Relic!


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Copyright & copy; 2014 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany