Game Review: Relic



You know what we could really use right about now? Some fun. 

It's been a historically brutal and trying week for countless people. What better way to give our minds a much-needed break than to pick up some dice?

Last summer, in my recap of last year's Gen Con, I mentioned that Fantasy Flight Games (FFG), as part of their burgeoning partnership with Games Workshop, had announced the production of Relic, a rendition of the classic game Talisman set in the Warhammer 40K worldscape. The premise was extremely intriguing in general: a combination of an excellent base game enhanced by a rich and storied universe. It held special appeal for my husband and I, as we're huge fans of pretty much every aspect of this project. (Side note: going forward, I'll refer to my husband as the Geeky Innovation Repositor, or GIR).  Still, apprehension abounded. Plenty of these potential mash-ups start out sounding brilliant, but end up fizzling out or disappointing in one way or another. So, when the intended release date last autumn rolled on by without an update from FFG skepticism mounted. Cynicism set in when the holiday rush passed and Relic remained "at the printer" according to FFG's pipeline rating schema.

Then, when it seemed like we were going to be in for a long wait, Relic appeared in the FFG online catalog and my GIR promptly snapped up a copy. The game arrived at our doorstep a few days later, packaged with the kind of efficiency and attention to detail that makes you say, "Damn, these guys really know games." Of course, that's par for the FFG course.

This brings us to one of those glorious little pleasures unique to Geekdom: unwrapping a new game. Any board game aficionado will tell you that the sensory experience is one of those that's almost guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. It's the gentle cracks as you unfold the board for the first time, the little pops as you free the chits from their cardboard holsters, and breathing deeply of "new game smell." 

Then there's the visual aspect, taking in the board and the entirety of the game laid out on your table for the first time because, honestly, after this the focus will be on playing the game! Relic is stunning to look at. The board alternates the darkness of deep space with galaxial bursts of swirling color. Everything from the character cards to the chits are rendered in detail both minute and unmistakably true to Warhammer 40K canon.

The colors! Oh, the colors!
The layout and actual game mechanics are very similar to Talisman. That being said, the two are entirely separate, self-contained games so you don't need to have any play history or materials from one in order to enjoy the other.

Related Aside: While you don't need to be familiar with Talisman in order to play Relic, the next section will likely be more meaningful if you do have a point of comparison.

Basic Stats: Relic is designed for 2-4 players over 14 years of age (there are some images of blood, references to brutal acts, and a LOT of small pieces). While FFG lists the normal playtime at 1-2 hours, don't be surprised if this game consumes an entire afternoon, especially if you're using any of the game's end condition enhancements or you've got a full contingent of 4 players.

The basic premise is identical to Talisman: select a character (each with unique abilities) and, with said character, make your way around concentric levels of the game board by hacking, slashing and dispelling whatever might obstruct your path. Your journey will also be punctuated with encounters, a few of which will provide you with a chance to obtain the eponymous Relic, which serves as your entry key to the final levels. Fight stuff, gather equipment, get a Relic, clear all three levels.

Ok, if it's so similar why even bother getting Relic? Why not just stick with Talisman?

While the two games are inherently the same at the macro level, Relic offers a number of enhancements to actual play that makes it a worthwhile and worthy successor. These are listed below in a handful of basic categories.

Characters
- The tokens used as primary play pieces are large, detailed resin busts of your chosen character. Not only are they of very good quality material, but they take paint so you can customize them further.

- Gone are the tiny plastic chits used as counters for your character's various attributes. Instead, each player receives a master board with four dials that can be updated with a simple twist. Speaking of which...

- There are four primary attributions instead of Talisman's three: Strength, Willpower, Cunning, and Life. Each of these is denoted with its own color and each gets its own dial on your master board. Managing these will play an enormous role in your character's ultimate fate, but more on this in a minute.

- In Talisman, you basically meandered around the outer layer of the board, killing and acquiring things until you felt "strong enough", after which time you ran at the remaining two layers of the board and hoped that your instincts were true. Relic offers a more concrete method for tracking that previously semi-tangible "strength" by providing the opportunity to level up at distinct intervals. You keep track of your character's level on a support board that hugs your character card and denotes which benefits you receive each time you level.

- Leveling up typically provides your character with two benefits which can range from attribution points to additional hit points to bonus objects and influence (the currency of the game). Arriving at certain milestone levels warrants additional goodies, like more slots to carry gear in. Since you get to see all these benefits and the levels at which you'll receive them you can engage in quite a bit of planning and tailor the gear you choose to pick up to complement your future skill set. 

Game Play
- Like Talisman, the driving mechanic of Relic is resolving combats and encounters. Akin to character advancement, Relic offers the players the opportunity to have a bit more direction when meandering around the board in the form of Mission Cards. As you'd guess from the name, these Cards list specific objectives which provide players with all sorts of useful gear when completed. Complete three Missions and you can exchange the cards for a Relic. The Missions themselves vary from relatively simple "defeat any enemy on square type X" to fairly complex, "select another player as your 'mark', track them down and steal something from them immediately following a combat."

- Unlike its predecessor, Relic does not permit players to duel one another overtly should they be in the same square at the same time. Of course you wouldn't attack another defender of the Imperium! The game is far from cooperative though and you'll have a fair number of opportunities to mess with your fellow players.

- One entirely unique addition to Relic are the Corruption cards. Appearing on certain interactions and in certain boss scenarios, the Corruption cards mutate players and said genetic edits have an equal probability of causing good or ill. While these cards play a much larger role in certain game setups than others, managing your character's level of Corruption can add an interesting twist to overall game play.

End Game/Scenarios
- Players have the option of tackling Relic "straight" (i.e. without any end game enhancements) or enacting an overarching scenario that provides context and additional motivation for play. The former will make Relic feel much more akin to Talisman. The latter can assume several forms, many of which are a game boss that has its own set of requirements in order to defeat. Though these scenarios often add an enjoyable challenge to the game, using them will likely add quite a bit to the overall time taken to play.

Overall, a welcome addition to the Talisman family and a solid effort from FFG. As always, happy gaming!

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