Well, Relic is finally here! Since Fantasy Flight Games announced their new board game set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe and based on the Talisman game mechanics way back in July 2012, it’s felt like a long wait. But at last we get our hands on a copy and take the chance to find out what all the excitement is about, and how Relic compares to Talisman (Revised) 4th Edition for veterans of the game system.
So what is it?
Relic is a new board game for 2-4 players. The game is set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, more specifically in a place known by the Imperium as the Antian Sector. All sorts of shenanighans are going on in this particular corner of the galaxy – involving the Eldar, Orks, rampaging Tyranids, and of course the ever present Imperium hell bent on bringing humanity to heel.
Players assume the role of one of 10 characters that ship with the game. Each character has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. The Antian Sector itself is represented by a very stylish game board around which the player characters move, fighting battles with enemies, picking up wargear, gaining experience, completing missions, potentially being touched by the corrupting powers of chaos, until hopefully securing a powerful Relic or two which allow them the chance to overcome the final challenge of the game and win.
All of this action happens within a framework of rules based very heavily on the Talisman game system. Fans of that series will find much the same in Relic, however there are also some significant changes which make the game play slightly differently, and we’ll take a look at those in more detail here.
One thing I love about my own copy of Talisman is the models which come with the game, because they represent the player characters so well (and make excellent painting pieces too). Actually I own two copies of Talisman because back when I started as a gamer I picked up a newly released Second Edition of the game. Back then characters were represented by cardboard standees. Relic takes a slightly different path to both of these. Your character is represented by one of 10 plastic busts which attach to a colored base. These busts are well sculpted and I’m sure a lot of gamers like me are excited about getting them painted. Some of them represent characters which Games Workshop have not given much love to in a long time, like the Sisters Of Battle bust.
Talisman uses a character sheet and counters to represent your character and Relic takes this idea and builds on it. You still have a character sheet but this now fits into a character board containing four different dials and a peg track. Each dial represents one of your characters important attributes – Strength, Cunning, and Willpower – as well as your Life total. The peg track is a neat way of recording your current character level, because Relic features a nice system for levelling up during play. The character board is a nice addition to the Talisman system and replaces the tokens used to track Strength and Craft in the previous releases.
Now, the character choices are varied and each one has their own abilities – the rules themselves allow for each player to choose between two randomly drawn character options, giving some flexibility, although we suspect many will use house rules to allow players to pick the character they want from all ten, and why not – after all, you’ll want a chance to try them all out at some point.
The Game Board
The Antian Sector will look both alien and familiar to veterans of Talisman, and that’s because the design is very similar but of course the locations are very much not. The board is divided into three Regions just like the land of Talisman – an outer, middle, and inner region. Where the design departs from the original system is where each Region is split into four different Areas, and four Corners.
An Area consists of one edge of a Region, of between three and five consecutive spaces, and the spaces in an Area share some flavor background. For example, the Outer Region consists of four Areas : Hive World, Forge World, Death World and Maiden World. These should all be familiar to anyone with an interest in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. The effect is to add a continuity to the game board in a similar way as the forests and plains of the land of Talisman did but in a more cohesive way, you feel like you are travelling through a joined up game world with less of a random feel to it. This will appeal to most, but perhaps not to all.
It’s worth noting the Inner Region is not split into Areas, and that right in the centre of the board is the Scenario space – more on this later!
Missions are a great addition to the Talisman system in that they provide some focused objective towards which your character must progress. Missions represent things that can be achieved in the Antian Sector to further your pursuit of victory and include an Objective and a Reward. When you complete a mission you get to draw another one and if you complete three, you get to draw two cards from the Relic deck and choose one of them to keep. Relics are powerful weapons and artefacts that provide your character with a good boost and also are required to enter the Inner Region, so they are needed to win the game.
In Relic Influence takes the place of Gold from the Talisman system and this Influence can be used to acquire items of Wargear from a special location on the game board. The Wargear is more varied than the equipment cards from Talisman and form an important part of the characters arsenal. A nice system which Relic uses is that of Charge Tokens, where some items have special activated abilities with limited uses. Charge Tokens are used to track how many times an item has been used before it has been exhausted. This adds some choice and timing decisions during gameplay.
Battles proceed much the same as in Talisman but one of the major changes is the inclusion of the Exploding Dice rule. This means that whenever a six is rolled during combat or a skill test, the dice owner may roll a further die and add this new roll to their total. If this results in a further six, they may continue this process. This represents things like critical hits, outside odds, unlikely flukes, and so forth, and adds a bit of tension to situations you may otherwise think are impossible to lose (or immpossible to win!)
These provide your character with one time special abilities and can also be used to swap dice rolls for fixed numbers for movement and combat. In a way they could be thought of as Spell cards from the Talisman game but they are different in that all characters have access to them and they can be drawn when landing in one of two special zones on the game board. The mechanic for swapping out dice rolls for fixed numbers is also different to Talisman. Power Cards allowing a die roll to be swapped for a ‘6’ also allow the player to force an Exploding Dice situation which could provide for some interesting tactics!
The Antian Sector really feels full of Warhammer 40,000 flavor. Given Chaos plays such an important role in the universe it’s no surprise it’s influence is felt in Relic. Corruption Cards are picked up during the game through different events and as you gain them, there is a greater chance of one of them turning into either a positive or negative corruption of your character. The more cards you pick up the more chance there is that new cards will not remain benign and this really gives a sense of slowly being overwhelmed by the corruption of the warp. Receive too many corruption cards and your character is lost forever…
Relic uses a Scenario card system where a Scenario Sheet is drawn to determine what the final encounter of the game will be. This adds a little bit of variation from game to game and also includes some fun flavor background to go with each one. The Scenario Sheet goes in the centre of the game board and once a player has secured a Relic by completing missions, and made it through the Inner Region, they get the chance to resolve the engagement described on the Scenario Sheet to win the game.
One of the things that seasoned Talisman players are very familiar with is the lack of control you have over what encounters you might come across on a new board space. You might be very strong in Craft but wind up facing off against a creature high in Strength only to be defeated easily and suffer a big setback in the game. In Relic the design mitigates against this slightly by introducing different Threat Icons for gameboard spaces. These Threat Icons differ in color – being either Red, Blue or Yellow – and when a player lands on a space with one or more Threat Icons, they draw Threat Cards (equivalent to Encounter cards in Talisman) from the appropriately colored deck. The different colors relate to different threats likely to be encountered – Red for Strength and enemies with the Ork trait, Blue for Willpower and enemies with the Tyranid trait, and Yellow for Cunning and enemies with the Eldar trait.
This shakes things up a little because before moving you can check to see what Threat Icons you will land on depending on the direction of travel from your current position. This is where Relic begins to address one of the things which has divided Talisman players for many years. Long time players of the game know very well that Talisman is a game in which your character can become defeated very easily and very quickly, even after two hours of game play. The rules literally allow for you to lose all of your progress on the roll of a single die and be faced with starting all over again. As a Talisman player I learned to accept this about the game and move on but what it means is Talisman does not allow you to invest heavily in your characters – you can lose them all too easily. Relic makes changes to the design to avoid this.
The Threat Icons allow you some choice in what kind of threats you might face, but the game goes further by modifying the rules on character destruction. If your character life is reduced to Zero, you have become Vanquished. This means you discard your intangible player assets like power cards and trophies from kills, you lose your influence, reset your life total, and move to the ‘St. Antias Sanctuary’ space. You keep all other cards and tokens. This is more of just a setback in your quest to conquer the Antian Sector and because you keep some of your progress, does not feel like starting all over again – you’re down, but not out.
If your player picks up too many Corruption Cards during play they may become Corrupted. If this happens then you must start over again with a new character. This is a hard reset but differs from Talisman in that it shouldn’t happen so often and therefore will be less common and not impact as many game sessions. You can also be eliminated from the game through special rules from a Scenario Sheet and this results in you leaving the game and not re-rolling a new character.
These tweaks to the design mean that players can invest a bit more in their characters. Many players will welcome this as a good change because Relic is actually quite a deep game in its design and to be able to feel like you can immerse yourself in it, you must feel like your character has a chance of being able to stick around. In the land of Talisman this was not always a given – death (or more commonly, being turned into a toad) never seemed further away than one poor dice roll. I think this will allow newer players coming to Relic to appreciate the game more and be willing to play a second game, which can only be a good thing.
Relic oozes the atmosphere of the Warhammer 40,000 universe by making use of some clever mechanics to represent facets of the IP really well. The corruption cards are a particular favourite of mine but I could also mention the great character busts, fantastic artwork on the gameboard, the wargear (most of which will be recognisable to Warhammer 40,000 fans) and more. It takes the Talisman rules and makes some significant changes without deviating from the heart of them – the game is accessible yet deep, without being overwhelming. We expect it will have broad appeal and we for one are very excited to see it finally arrive!