Talisman 30

Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday dear Talismaaaaaan
Happy Birthday to you!

Edited from a post I made on the FFG forums

Way back in the mists of time, at GW’s Games Day 1983, a board game was unleashed onto an unsuspecting public.

That board game was… Calamity! designed by the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

As you have likely never heard of said game, it is probably true to say that it did not fare too well.

However, at the same time, GW launched another board game. A light fantasy romp through a magical land by a certain Bob Harris. That game was reasonably well received and to this day is still played, both in its original and revised forms by players throughout the world.

THAT board game was… Talisman: The Magical Quest Game!

Advert for Games Day 1983 from White Dwarf #46

Talisman (and Calamity!) at the printers

Advert for Talisman from White Dwarf #47

As you are reading this article, I imagine that you should already have some idea of the popularity of Talisman and its various incarnations over the years, but if you want to find out a little more then have a peek at the World Tour section of the site.

You’ll be able to see how things have changed from 1st Edition by Games Workshop to the Revised 4th Edition (not forgetting Relic) by Fantasy Flight Games, and more recently on a digital platform by Nomad Games, along with a few pretenders to the throne along the way!

I asked Bob Harris to share some of his thoughts about Talisman for the anniversary –

I still retain some memories of the launch of Talisman even after 30 years. Before Games Day 1983, all I’d seen of the professional version of the game (as opposed to my own handmade sets) were a few poor quality photocopies of the rules posted to me by the guys at Games Workshop. I think they only just got the finished product ready in time for Games Day. I had my first sight of the real thing there at the same times as everybody else.

I have to confess I was not in the best of shape. Having travelled down from St Andrews to London, I spent the evening before drinking at the King’s Head pub in Islington with friends from university days (Hi, Judith!). Still, it was very exciting to be handed a brightly coloured box with glossy cards and a full colour board. This was the game I had made to amuse myself and my friends, based on the game Rectocracy which I had made at school. In this you started out as a teacher in the outer ring, worked to become a head teacher in the middle ring, finally reaching the office of the Rector (headmaster) in the centre of the board.

I had been making games since around the age of seven, starting with a version of Monopoly set in my home town of Dundee. Another long lost game is a card game called ‘Gibbon’, which I created about the same time as Rectocracy. It involved collecting sets of cards to score points, the highest being a set of three gibbons matched with three coconuts. Other cards included our Geography teacher Mr Vigrow, who was portrayed as a vampire and had to be matched with a coffin (he also featured in Rectocracy). A number of the other cards had special effects on the game and these included the Blank Stare, the Cheesy Grin, and the Muggins.

So back to Games Day 1983 where I left myself holding one of the first Talisman sets. Also launched that day was a game designed by Andrew Lloyd Webber which was all about insurance. Good thing he stuck to the day job. At a nearby table was Ken St Andre, creator of Tunnels and Trolls, the game on which I based my own ‘Aldergard’ roleplaying system. I had a chat with him and got him to sign my copy of Talisman, declaring it the best roleplaying fantasy board game in the world. I did not realise then that that might just be true.

The next time I attended Games Day was a few years later, by which time the figurines and expansions sets had appeared and Games Workshop were well on their way to world domination. Also the game now had a large body of fans, many of whom wanted to buy me drinks and have me join them in a nuclear war card game once I’d finished running games of Talisman.

So all these years later the game continues to grow and bring pleasure to thousands of people all over the world. I get emails now from people who tell me they played it in their younger days and are now enjoying it with their children. I can’t be that old, can I?

As part of the blurb I wrote in the post over on the FFG forums, I mentioned a little surprise that had been cooked up by some of the old guard of Talisman, namely Bob Harris, Gary Chalk, John Goodenough and ummmm… myself.

The back story is that some time ago, John had been in touch with Gary, who said that he would come up with a brand new illustration in honour of such a milestone in the history of Talisman for John to breathe life into.

John then passed the baton onto me and I figured that there would really be nobody qualified to undertake such a project, other than the “Father of Talisman” himself – Bob Harris.

So, Bob came up with some suitable abilities for such an unusual adventurer and John and myself made a couple of small edits and I set about shoehorning the text into the card template…

…and now I can present to you a homage to the very first iteration of your favourite fantasy board game in the shape of THE COMPLEAT¹ ADVENTURER!

¹ Yes, the spelling is intentional.²

² Yes, I am sure.

You can download our brave adventurer, along with his character token, in a 909KB zip file here and I hope you have a bit of fun with him!

As part of the anniversary celebration, I suggested that people might like to play a special game of Talisman to mark the occasion and I will be able to post some photos of the games here in the near future.

In closing, I would like to thank Bob Harris for his creation and the countless others involved with Talisman’s many editions for giving us 30 years of high adventure! Here’s to the next 30!!!


I neglected to update the article with some pictures that were sent to me (or posted online) of the anniversary games that took place last year, so without further ado, here goes –

Paul, Adam, Tara & Shawn

Katie B & Susie

Brian Souvey and his gaming group

FFG user Draii’s gathering

Azoic’s epic game in progress

The last picture I have is a great implementation of The Compleat Adventurer from Katie B. She has used an old Citadel miniature (Complete Adventurer – Sink Variant) and has created a “backpack” using a jewellery box and cards to keep track of which item he is using at the time. The pièce de résistance however is the fantastic Raft model she has made for him to cross The Storm River. I wonder how it fits in his backpack?

Compleat Adventurer complete with Raft and backpack tokens

If I’ve missed some pictures, please get in touch and I will try to get them online for people to enjoy!