The best things in life may be free, but when it comes to quality, depth and longevity in mobile games, I've yet to play even the most generous free-to-play title that didn't leave me with a wanting feeling - like living in a world where sugar-drenched Coke used to exist in abundance, but no-one was willing to pay for it so we'll all just have to make do with Diet from now on. Bleurgh.
The simple fact is, Talisman Prologue might be one of the finest examples of getting exactly what you pay for that I've played in some time - perhaps, without coincidence, since I lost last summer to Magic 2013. Based on the classic board game of the same name, a PC version of Talisman was released last year, and its arrival on touchscreens is a welcome one indeed.
This is an adventure game built around dice rolls, good fortune, bad fortune, enhancement cards and - above all else - sheer intrigue as you travel around and through the layers of the board. Split into three concentric squares of increasingly perilous content, your quests will demand that you see off an assortment of evils, and you'll always have to carefully evolve your character's power before choosing the right moment to attack your ultimate target.
Each dice roll determines which tile you can move to next. Standard tiles require you to draw a card from a randomized deck, cards which might award bonus gold to spend on weapons and armor or - more commonly - present a monster fight. Your base strength in these fights is modified by equipment cards you've gathered along the way, along with a dual dice roll that enhances your own strength versus the monster's. Emerge victorious from the fight and you'll gain a trophy which can be traded in for further stat enhancements.
Other tiles carry special penalties, such as removing one of your handful of lives, or limiting movement for a fixed number of turns. We couldn't possibly go into the minute detail of every variation to be found within Talisman Prologue, from the village taverns where you can dice-roll drunkenly for penalties or bonuses, to the ominous Sentinels who block passage to the center of the board. Suffice to say, there's such a rich depth of interaction between the random encounter tiles of the game, the inhabitants of the world, and the modifier aspects found in every nook and cranny, that every single quest you embark upon feels like a fresh and exciting adventure story in its own right.
Excellent though the gameplay and presentation of Talisman Prologue is, the most remarkable thing about the game is how accessible it is to players of all levels of experience. Have no doubt that you can lose all your lives and perish on a quest, but even the freshest newcomer to fantasy boardgaming will achieve satisfying triumphs just from learning the intricacies of the game, and from making mistakes along the way. Mastery of Talisman instead comes from completing quests using the smallest number of turns - and this is where the meat for the true fantasy maestro is to be found.
This touchscreen incarnation of Games Workshop's board-game classic doesn't just put up an excellent case for the continued development of touchscreen card-based games, it's as powerful an argument as any that money talks on the App Store. And when you consider that the cost we're talking about here amounts to nothing more than a handful of dollars, it's a wonder the debate is even deemed worth having.
What's Hot:Depth, adventure, strategy, addiction, endless variety and pure unadulterated value for money.
What's Not:Could the text be a little bigger? Perhaps, but we're clutching at straws here.