Talisman: The Horus Heresy

As you may be aware, I recently had the opportunity to take a look at Talisman: The Horus Heresy from Nomad Games. As you may also be aware, I was impressed at how faithful it was to the source material, with the artwork, names and general feel. Well now the full game has been released and, now that I’ve had a chance to properly get to grips with it, this is the review. I’ve been looking forward to writing this.


As I said in my preview, I had never played Talisman at all. I had it in my Steam library and I had a quick go at it in preparation for this, but really I’m very new at this. Surprisingly, I found it very easy to pick up, maybe due to my short attempts at the previous game, maybe due to my love of the setting. I’m always eager to learn new board games and the tutorial screens were very informative. Also, all the relevant information is visible at all times so I knew exactly what was happening.

If, like me, you’ve never played Talisman the aim of the game is to reach the centre of the board – here represented by Warmaster Horus’s flagship the Vengeful Spirit – where you will engage in the final battle to decide the fate of humanity. To get there, however, you need to do two main things – you need to build your character’s stats and, more importantly, you need to find a Talisman which will enable you to gain entry to the Vengeful Spirit.

There are many characters to choose from, each with their own abilities.
There are many characters to choose from, each with their own abilities.

I said previously that I was impressed with the artwork and detail that had gone into this game. Looking deeper at the character options available I am even more impressed. As well some of the Primarchs there are also a range of other important people from the Horus Heresy book series. For example Garviel Loken, one of Horus’s captains who refused to join him when he betrayed the Emperor. Loken plays an important role in the first few books of the series and I’m happy to see he’s made an appearance here. There are others who have a long and rich backstory too deep to go into here but each character has (or had) an important part in the story.

Also worthy of note are the locations on the board. Again these are all familiar names to devotees of the Horus Heresy story. There’s Isstvan V, infamous for being the place where the heresy kicked off for real and where six entire Space Marine legions fought each other, leaving more than half of them dead. There’s Nikaea where the Emperor brought his generals together to decide whether or not psychic warriors would be allowed to use their gifts to fight in the wars. The Eye of Terror, the Maelstrom, both realms of Chaos, Mars, Luna, even Terra itself represented by the inner ring on the board, every square has relevance to the story. A lot of research and planning has gone into this and it shows.

Dark Angels on the side of Chaos? Maybe Nomad Games knows something we don't!
Dark Angels on the side of Chaos? Maybe Nomad Games knows something we don’t!

The various events and encounters are true to the setting as well. As a player you will be either on the side of the Loyalists or the side of the Traitors. As such different locations will have different effects. A card (or dataslate) drawn on a location may present you with a battle to win or allies to support you depending on your allegiance. Some of the planets will either grant bonuses or inflict penalties, again depending on who you fight for.

Each player character has a number of allies and army units they can draw and encounter. Each one represents either a unit of Space Marines or a hulking Titan or even a daemon of Chaos. Again the artwork is superb and really makes you feel like you are there. Items and equipment again are true to the setting – for example Power Armour may save you after losing a fight or a servo skull may grant you resource points, used to purchase more weapons. It’s worth noting that these are more or less a straight conversion from the base game with new names and images, but that in no way lessens the effect.

Some worlds require you to roll a dice to determine a favourable (or otherwise) outcome.
Some worlds require you to roll a dice to determine a favourable (or otherwise) outcome.

There are a few interesting changes from the original Talisman, just in case you were thinking it was exactly the same game with a new skin. First, there are only four players instead of six. This allows for a quicker turn sequence. Also, the four players are in two teams – Loyalist and Traitor. This allows for teamwork between the players. There are two combat skills – ranged and melee. Most of the time you can choose which to use but on some occasions you will be told which skill applies to a particular battle.

Also, it’s worth noting that some skills can be levelled up. For example, if you win a combat against an enemy player or encounter you will gain experience in the skill that you used. Get enough experience and that skill will increase – highly useful in preparation for the end game. From what I’ve seen some characters are able to level up a skill very quickly, leaving them nigh on unbeatable.

Well that didn't go well for the home team!
Well that didn’t go well for the home team!

And that leads me on to one of the few issues I have with this game. So far I’ve only played against AI players and, to be honest, they seem to lack direction. Sure, they’ll move around the board and make decisions on encounters, but a lot of the time it feels like when they can choose to advance towards the final goal they don’t. It just feels like they’re wandering around aimlessly, growing in strength but not doing anything to win the game. This can make matches stretch on for hours. A more aggressive goal oriented AI would help move things along.

Fortunately though there are other options. Local play allows you and up to three friends (or one other friend if you want to take two characters each) to play around the same computer. Online play is as it says – you can set up a public or private game for people to join. I’m hoping to give this a try soon with one of my fellow FBF’ers, and we’re hoping to video it.

All in all this is a very good representation, not only of the base game of Talisman, but also of the source material it is based on – the Horus Heresy. Playing it really made me feel like part of the story, even though it seemed to go on for a while. It’s also made me want to get back to reading the books. I should really go do that.

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