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  • Analysis
  • Talisman 4e: The Themed Adventure Decks Project

Talisman 4e: The Themed Adventure Decks Project

W Updated
Talisman Adventure Deck

Game Information

Game Name
There Will Be Games

We have a group that plays big games of Talisman with every expansion a few times a year, and I like to get my own games together from time to time.  Our big games always have all the Adventure Cards mixed together into one giant deck.  I decided for my games I'd rather have a smaller and more coherent decks centered around various themes.

We have a group that plays big games of Talisman with every expansion a few times a year, and I like to get my own games together from time to time.  Our big games always have all the Adventure Cards mixed together into one giant deck.  I decided for my games I'd rather have a smaller and more coherent decks centered around various themes.

One massive Adventure Deck does have some benefits.  There's excitement in never being able to predict what lies ahead.  Players have a chance to see a little bit of everything.  Unique cards will never come up twice.  It has some eccentricities as well; an odd shuffle could mean that there aren't many of a card type such as events or enemies, the Firelands could be important to the game or nonexistent, etc.  Most often the giant Adventure Deck's drawback is that players never really get the full flavor of any particular expansion, setting, or theme in the 600+ cards stacked and ready for play.

Themed Adventure Decks allow for some focus.  Selecting cards with a setting in mind gives Talisman back some specific flavour that gets lost in the big Adventure Deck.  The big drawbacks to themed Adventure Decks are maintenance of building them, maintaining balance, and if mixed together separating them again.


The Approach

This article is going to focus on how I first tried to build themed Adventure Decks, how I failed, and what I ended up with.  It all starts with my initial approach.

I built a spreadsheet of the general card distribution in the base game deck and each expansion deck.  Categories such as Good Event, Neutral Event, and Bad Event were used to categorize Events in each deck, for example, and what determines if an Event is good or neutral or bad is entirely subjective.  Less subjective was the categorization of enemies and objects based on their properties.

I'll be referencing the spreadsheet a lot.  It's located here.

A few things came to light from building the spreadsheet.  Compared to a single massive Adventure Deck the base game Adventure Deck is heavy in Gold and Amour, and light on Craft enemies.  The Reaper brings in more weak Craft enemies (as well as Strength enemies) and generally makes Craft-focused characters more viable.  The Sacred Pool brings in more Craft enemies again, while the other expansions have a more even enemy distribution.  Most of the expansions dial up the percentage of cards that are objects while dialing down the amount of Gold and Armour.  Each expansion with Adventure Cards shifts the balance of the deck in some way, but as they're added to the base deck it starts to appear that FFG was patching and balancing the Adventure Deck as they went along.  The final distribution of a single Adventure Deck with all expansions is reasonably balanced percentage-wise, but the sheer size of it means that balance isn't always seen in play.

With this information in hand the card distribution of a single massive Adventure Deck looked like a good target for themed Adventure Decks.  Looking through the cards and thinking about themes led me to the conclusion that three themed decks would probably work best.  Each deck would have around 200 cards.  A deck of that size may need to be reshuffled in a long game, but that would be unlikely and there would be a fair chance to get a good way through the deck so that the card distribution could be realized in play.

True Themed Decks

The idea behind themed decks was to create decks based on settings, not "enemies deck" or "objects deck".  My initial effort was creating a Frost deck, a Fire deck, and a Haunting deck.  Frostmarch, the Firelands, and the Blood Moon expansions would form the basis for each deck, padded with suitably setting-supporting cards from all the other decks.  Some Frostmarch and Firelands cards ended up in the Haunting Deck, and some Blood Moon cards ended up in the Frost and Fire decks.  Sorting the cards into their decks was based solely on the artwork and feel of the cards with no eye for balance or distributions or percentages.  Settingless cards such as Gold or basic Armor were removed to be split between the decks later.

I only made it about thirty minutes into sorting by this method before I ran into problems.  The first big problem was that my Haunting deck was quickly outgrowing my Frost and Fire decks.  I knew I would have to redistribute a lot of cards to reach my target card distributions, but there weren't a lot of spooky cards I felt fit very well with the Frost and Fire decks.  The Fire deck had a lot of objects and bad events, so it would ultimately have to be padded out with things that weren't very Fire-y.  I also realized I had a maintenance nightmare on my hands; the only way to reconstruct these decks was going to be card lists, and I loathe the idea of creating multiple 200-card lists for a game like Talisman.

I had some really cool concepts floating around in these decks that reinforced the validity of the themed adventure deck idea, but I had to find another approach.

Expansion-based Themed Decks

Armed with trusty spreadsheet I went back to the drawing board.  Maintainability was now a driving force and I started playing with mixing and matching expansions to create themed decks.  The knowledge that this approach wouldn't be as grand as my original concept was very real, but I decided to see what I could work out by only mixing specific expansions together so that decks could be quickly constructed and deconstructed.

It became pretty obvious pretty quickly that I wasn't going to be able to use the Frostmarch and Firelands expansions as a basis for their own decks.  The distribution of each is just a bit too odd to be balanced by just mixing in another expansion.  The Haunting deck looked like it could still be viable, but even so I had to come up with some different ideas for settings.

The process became one of mixing and matching expansions until the card count and distribution came close to what a single all-in Adventure Deck would provide, then evaluating the places the distributions were out of line vs combinations that made for interesting settings.  It wasn't a particularly exciting exercise.  It was solving a system of equations: Talisman edition.


The Themed Decks

Here's what I came up with:

The Basic Deck

This deck is just the base game deck with the Reaper expansion mixed in.  It's still a bit light on Craft enemies and is very light on good events, while being slightly heavy with Followers.  It's a pretty balanced deck though, typically within a percentage point or two of my distribution target.  It's a no-frills deck without a lot to keep track of that should provide a real solid Talisman experience for new players.  It also provides the most vanilla fantasy land Talisman experience of the three decks listed here.

The Witchery Deck

This deck consists of only the Blood Moon and Sacred Pool expansions, and is where things start getting a bit more hairy for the players.  This deck is heavy on Places, Strangers, and Followers.  It's got a slight abundance of Craft enemies and slightly fewer Strength enemies.  It has all the spooky and mystical cards and effects of these two expansion decks and is a really solid proxy for my original Haunting deck concept.  Definitely use the Werewolf with this deck; there are a few cards that can interact with Lycanthropes.  One unintended consequence of this deck is that while the overall percentage of event cards matches my target, the event distribution is definitely skewed towards good events.  So bring on the Harbinger and let's talk spooky end times.

The Heavy Metal Deck

This deck is made up of the Cataclysm, Frostmarch, and Firelands expansion cards.  It is a world in peril.  Play this one on the Cataclysm board and be prepared for a lot of Terrain Cards, Firelands tokens, and the world of Talisman shattering into glaciers and deserts.  You'll end up with Ifrits and Firelands tokens sharing spaces with Frost Giants and other lost creatures.  The general distribution of this deck is mostly within one percentage point of the goal, with a caveat or two.  There are more bad events than neutral or good.  There's an abundance of objects but not many Followers.  There are slightly more events in total than the goal, so let's bring in the Harbinger again and talk real end times.


Deck Adjustments

I made a few more changes than the simple decks outlined above.

Corner Board Cards

The corner boards come with a few cards that would be mixed into the Adventure Deck that do things such as provide alternate entrances to the boards or bring some board effects to the main board.  I divided these cards into 3 mini-decks and shuffled each mini-deck into one of the themed decks.  The card lists I used for these are in my spreadsheet, but really these cards can be used to taste.

Rune Gates and Talismans

I removed all the Rune Gate and Talisman cards from all the Adventure decks except for one card.  There's a special Talisman in the Firelands expansion that I left in because it can't be burnt from Firelands cards, and having it is a ray of hope in an apocalyptic time.

Rune Gates and Talismans can be shuffled into any one of the decks above to provide a quicker game.  Separating the Rune Gates into the three decks really wastes their utility, so go all or none with them.

The Gold Adjustment

This is completely optional as well, but easy to do and helps brings the distributions of two of the themed decks in line with the target.  Pull four 1 Gold cards out of the base game cards and all 2 Gold cards out of the Reaper expansion cards.  Add them all to the Witchery deck.



Three themed decks, easily sorted or unsorted, with about 200 cards and a good distribution each.  Not quite as cool as some of my initial ideas, but so much more maintainable and still each with their own character.

There Will Be Games
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Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #236299 17 Oct 2016 09:52
Wade---posts like these are excellent but don't always get a lot of comments (I don't have much to say about it besides awesome content)! But trust me, when people start to think about a particular game they often come back to these. I remember how much heat Skeletor's how to play Runebound stuff got over years and years.
SuperflyPete's Avatar
SuperflyPete replied the topic: #236305 17 Oct 2016 10:28
I loved the post.

My "GO TO" is Dungeon + Reaper + Frostmarch. I always use the Ice Queen ending where you're triyng to kill her, but with a twist. For the game to END, both the boss at the end of the Dungeon AND the Ice Queen has to be killed.

I treat it like a co-op in some ways.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #236315 17 Oct 2016 11:04
Nice article. I only have Talisman digitally, but it's still cool to read.
mutagen's Avatar
mutagen replied the topic: #236335 17 Oct 2016 13:57
Great post Wade. This is exactly what I was looking for after I bought myself a bunch of Talisman.

I recently introduced this to the family with just the base and reaper, and it went over really well. Even though we did level-ups at five instead of seven, the game still took longer than I remember, but back in the day I never played sober, so that probably accounts for it. Also, the wife and youngest were just happy puttering around the outer realm buffing their characters, so that probably slowed things down as well.

I just told the family that the first to the crown was the victor, because I really didn't want to end the game with me mercilessly beating the snot out of my family, and let's face it, that is exactly the way it would play out, because that's the way I do. Even though she was way underpowered, when I made my run on the crown, my eldest snuck in ahead of me, made some lucky rolls, and got the victory. While I'm totally happy with the way the game played out, I think in the future I will steal Superfly's idea of adding a boss monster to the end, so nobody gets the idea of going for the cheap victory 15 minutes in.
Egg Shen's Avatar
Egg Shen replied the topic: #236346 17 Oct 2016 14:28
Great article Wade. I hope these bastards love Talisman because after this Halloween I'm going full bore into a buyer's guide. It's gonna be all Talisman all the time.
Columbob's Avatar
Columbob replied the topic: #236396 18 Oct 2016 11:24
General question for everybody: approximately how many actual piles of cards are formed on the table from that massive deck? I've only played with a few expansions at a time, but the deck is still split up in more than one pile and we don't care from which you draw.
wadenels's Avatar
wadenels replied the topic: #236439 18 Oct 2016 21:07

Columbob wrote: General question for everybody: approximately how many actual piles of cards are formed on the table from that massive deck? I've only played with a few expansions at a time, but the deck is still split up in more than one pile and we don't care from which you draw.

When we do the BIG deck it's two tall stacks side-by-side with a third stack on top across the two. It's a little Adventure Card mountain in the middle of the board.
Columbob's Avatar
Columbob replied the topic: #236470 19 Oct 2016 10:02
Adding a little Villa Paletti to the game, that's always fun.
SuperflyPete's Avatar
SuperflyPete replied the topic: #236549 20 Oct 2016 12:19
I refuse to play the vanilla "get the crown then kill the rest" version. It overstays its welcome far too long, so when the crown is gained, that's the win condition. This shaves an hour or so off. It also changes the game dynamic because instead of "getting buffed enough to get it and KEEP it", players only need to be buffed enough to GET it. That's a big change, but a welcome one.

It's like Runebound....these games are essentially RPG "races", but people tend to forget the "race" part and just keep Munchkining.
wadenels's Avatar
wadenels replied the topic: #236583 20 Oct 2016 20:03

SuperflyTNT wrote: It's like Runebound....these games are essentially RPG "races", but people tend to forget the "race" part and just keep Munchkining.

That's a common problem with Talisman. People play it too safely. I always just do the thing that seems exciting at the time. Last game I got killed and my second character was having kind of a tough time. I went for the crown with almost no items and only a Strength and Craft of 4 each. I did it because I saw another player getting "strong enough" to go for it. I got there damnit. Playing the Cataclysm board I had to roll four or less on 3 dice in the Inner Region. I rolled 1-1-3. I Fated that 3 and rolled a 2. Four, baby.

I only held onto the ending card for a few turns before he got up there and clobbered me, but if I hadn't done it at all it might have been another hour before anyone even tried.
Egg Shen's Avatar
Egg Shen replied the topic: #236614 21 Oct 2016 08:24
Yeah a big problem with most of these games is that people don't know the game well enough to figure out when to make the push towards victory. Vanilla rules Talisman can be won with a character that has reached 9 or 10 strength or craft (sometimes even less depending on character, items and luck of the Dice Gods). You might need a few lucky rolls but it's possible. I also think part of the fun in these games is the adventuring and level up of their character. So instead of winning they power level their characters so that they can have a "guaranteed" victory...or whatever.

Runebound 3rd Edition easily side steps this problem with the built in timer of each scenario. It applies pressure, but I find some people don't like it because they feel like they don't have enough time to level up. Well, duh! A motherfuckin' dragon is about to turn the world to ash and don't have time to gain one more level or save up to buy that really awesome "savage crystal blade of +1 badassery."
SGT Dave's Avatar
SGT Dave replied the topic: #239452 30 Nov 2016 13:59
I've homebrewed Talisman so much, I don't even know the real rules anymore. I took out all the Talismans (Talismen?) from the adventure deck because I like the idea of having to earn them -- sometimes we earn them by fulfilling Warlock Quests, sometimes we say you have to complete the Highland or Dungeon map. We used just mix all the cards together, but it was just a mess. So we've been playing with the base and one expansion mixed. I've never thought of thematically creating adventure decks though, and it sounds like a great idea. Because it's so much work, though, I think I'll make 3-4 decks of increasing difficulty and try out playing a 3-4 session campaign.