Almost thirty years ago, the woman I was in love with and a man who was a close friend of mine sat down with me to play a fantasy board game called Talisman. The three of us played deep into the night, and I found a love for this simple game I kept in my closet; a love I never knew I had. The two of them found their connection to the game stronger than they expected. And something magical happened, over the many years to come.
Talisman is and was a straightforward game that brought multiple dynamics to the table, while being one of the easiest games to explain. In Talisman, you roll a die and move around the board just like a standard game of Monopoly. There is more to it than that, of course, but the basics of the game are as cut and dry as any board game you grew up playing.
Talisman was a bonding game. It brought out competition, camaraderie, problem solving, character building, and random experiences, all within an easy-to-digest board game. It wasn’t one of the more difficult games I’d grown accustomed to over the years, nor was it particularly exhaustive in its descriptions and mental imagery, but it offered something more powerful than I could have ever imagined.
You see, Talisman gave me memories I would not have otherwise had from those two fellow human beings around that table.
It gave the two of them an easy pathway into the types of games I enjoyed, without me having to be the Explainer-in-Chief.
And it made the process of sitting down to play a board game as simple and enjoyable for someone who wasn’t used to expansive fantasy games as it was for someone who was. Talisman was a bridge I didn’t know I needed.
And they loved it.
That night, we three bonded over a board game in a way that wouldn’t have happened at a pool hall over a billiard game, with loud noises rushing through the bar and spilled alcohol sticking your shoes to the floor. It wouldn’t have happened at a concert hall or venue for loud music, where we also frequented. And it wouldn’t have happened at any of the large places of gathering for entertainment.
We grew our characters and plotted against one another. We discussed strategies and we took all the many possible forms of play into consideration. And, we even talked about how the game could be expanded into more challenging designs and more intricate ways to play.
That last bit would have never been on the table within any other form of game, by the way. It takes a game of character development, and a fondness for the game and its character-building concepts, for that level of enjoyment to take place. When the players are discussing how the game can be extended, expanded, and otherwise grown in ways to play, by people who aren’t normally fans of fantasy gaming or the fantasy genre, then you’ve got something good on your hands.
Then, as happens with all things when sprinkled together with enough time, life rolled along. That woman who I loved tragically passed away. And the friend became a success within his field of expertise.
But, there’s a special magic given to me - from those days of gaming with the three of us - that will never go away. That magic was created by those simple, little pockets of time so long ago. It’s a magic I carry with me every day. The magic and fondness that remains are the memories from those nights that followed, and the sprawling fantasy board game that covered the entire dining room table. The magic was the memories created by staying up until 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning and experiencing epic gaming and conversation with a small group. The magic was watching people who weren’t previously gamers at heart grow into explorers of their own minds and adventurers within the game. The magic was the careful watching and observing of people who normally didn’t play fantasy board games, let alone pen and paper fantasy role playing games, enjoy a product they never thought they would.
That magic may fade with those who move far enough away from the time and place of its occurrence, but it never fades from me.
Bonding can occur between humans in a variety of ways. It can be a shared interest, or a freak occurrence that happens when you least expect it that ties you and someone else involved together. It can happen over time, between family and the shared experiences of those who you love. It can be a connection created through hardship or tragedy, and the forging of a new you through the troubles you face.
But, let us not discount the strength of gaming and the shared experience of sitting down across from fellow humans and embracing a shared experience. It is, in fact, a form of bonding all its own. It’s the shaman and his tribe, the storyteller and his campers around a campfire, the breaking bread between two sides, and the age-old experience of humanity finding ties. And, in the case of games that enhance your sense of escapism like the game of Talisman, it can be a gateway to a life changing event.
Talisman opened eyes for those who never wanted to become too involved with games that were deep and complex, but, in a way, that’s the reason it was one of the more deep and complex games ever devised. How we measure a game is based on wide ranging criteria, but there are intangibles beyond what some of us would deem strengths and weaknesses. What is a hurdle for some is a bridge for another. What is imposing for some is just what the doctor ordered for others.
That was the second edition of Talisman we played, all those years ago, and I’ll always have a fondness in my heart for that product. Today, the game is in its fourth edition, and I’m bringing it back into the fold. It’s a game that offers something for fans of complex games of strategy and chance, and it’s a game for fans of traditional board games where dice being read is the furthest your challenge requires.
Talisman will become one of my staple games yet again. Call it nostalgia, call it love, call it what you will. It’s a game that’s a bridge, for the many, into a simplified fantasy gaming frame. And it’s a smooth ride for those of us who know fantasy gaming inside and out. It’s an old friend, a warm embrace, a raising of our glasses in a toast of celebration, and a forever smile that never fades.
And it’s a magic I’ll always cherish, through good times and bad, because of those few days in the span of the universe in which I was given the privilege of watching something magical happen and eyes become wide with possibilities.
Grimspell Gaming will be working an episode of Talisman (or several episodes) into the future fold, so stick around. We’ve got a lot to go over before that time comes to pass, but it’s most definitely coming.
Until then, may your gaming experiences be as life-affirming and changing as the stars themselves, and may your memories be as cherished as those evenings we shared around the table.