Reviews by Team: Gamebooks & Solitaire RPG

Everything related to gamebooks, Choose-your-own-adventure and Solitaire RPG

4 stars
A classic series begins here

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain written by Steve Jackson (UK) and Ian Livingstone is the first title in the Fighting Fantasy (FF) gamebook series. Published in 1982 it was such a great success that nearly 60 titles in the series followed. As the very first book it also works as a blueprint for many other books in the series. This includes the arbitrary limit of 400 sections and dungeon crawling in a fantasy setting.

The title spells most of the back story already. YOU are an adventurer that tries to find the treasures of the warlock Zargor in the firetop mountain. Those are hidden in a maze in subterranean halls of the mountain. The game mechanics are easy to learn. The requirements are low as everybody has a pen and paper. On the bottom of the pages are the required dices printed even though most readers will likely raid the family board game collection to get some actual dice. This low entry barrier is to this day key for the series’ success.

Cover by Martin McKenna of the Wizards Series #1 (Credit: Martin McKenna, Wizards Books. Fair use.)

The gameplay consists of stat keep of the character and their inventory. Tests of luck and combat situations are resolved with just the two dices. The monster encounters are quick fights that give the flow of the book a nice pace between action and exploring.

All classical flaws that haunt the FF series are present like roll or die scenarios where bad luck just ends the adventure. Dead ends like missing one of the required keys also ends the journey while the player did nothing wrong. The dungeon itself is engaging and well described so that map drawing is fairly easy. Finding a low risk route is done by trial and error to finally get the treasures of the warlock. After you found the treasures the replay, value is nil.

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is a classic and a great introduction to the gamebook genre to this day. Instead of world building it focuses on the gameplay. The atmosphere and flair comes from the great black and white illustrations by Russ Nicholson which more than compensate the missing world building in the text. Many reprints and translations for the very first FF adventure are available so everybody has a good chance to read a well recommended classic.

Interior pages with illustration (Own work. License: CC-BY-SA.)

3 stars
Free will and choice

Life’s Lottery by Kim Newman works like a classic Choose Your Own Adventure book but with an adult story in a real world scenario. It explores how little, seemingly unimportant decisions can steer the life of the protagonist. There is no stat keeping or dice cast necessary to follow the life of Keith Marion from childhood to death. A minor childhood decision can derail his adulthood from happiness to misery which gives the reader great pleasure because it allows messing with someone’s life.

Every decision asks if Keith actually has a choice when you know all details from his life to this moment. Even worse, some events are inevitable baring the question: Is there any choice in life or is it just predestined? The plot handles all aspects of life like confronting the school bully, losing the love of your life or a criminal career.

Book cover (Credit: Titanbooks. Fair use.)
The multiple endings of the story vary a lot so the replay value is high. But it is more about back tracking and re-reading sections to nudge destiny in the right direction instead of re-reading the whole story again. In the book are no illustrations so it feels and looks a bit dry. I recommend reading Life’s Lottery because it strays from the sucked dry fantasy setting to a rare real world setting. The adult themes are a refreshing change from the common gamebook stories.

4 stars
Abkadev invites YOU to an exciting dungeon crawl

The Dungeon of Abkadev by Peter Konink is a Print & Play Adventure that closely mimics the gameplay of the Fighting Fantasy (FF) gamebook series. This adventure is based on the winning One-Page Dungeon 2016 of the same name.

The rules are very similar, including the magic, to the rules of the classic Citadel of Chaos which is the second in the FF series. Classic game mechanics are extended with random wandering monsters and the abstinence of roll or die situations. If you played any of those books before then you will understand it very quickly.

View inside the PDF file. (Credit: Pieter Konink. Fair use.)

While the story places you in the aftermath of a massive battle between two mighty wizards, the actual gameplay is just one big dungeon. You explore the dungeon to find the Tome of Vyzx for your wizard master. Even though the adventure consists only of 100 sections you get everything from monsters, traps, riddles to map drawing. The difficulty is high as it is impossible to obtain all three keys on the first try. Knowing traps and encounters before hand will help you to select the better routes and fitting magic spell. If you do not get all keys it is better to restart the adventure as back tracking is very tedious. Once you have collected all keys and finished the adventure there is little replay value.

The adventure contains several good illustrations that enrich the atmosphere. Together with the good layout and type setting the adventure looks really good when printed out at home. Dungeon of Abkadev is a great dungeon crawler every FF-fan should play.

Printed copy, used for playing (Credit: Pieter Konink. Fair use.)

3 stars
A political satire as gamebook

Can you Brexit? is a rare genre mix of political satire and gamebook by the well-known Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson. The duo is known for the Fabled Lands gamebook series and more.

Book Cover (Credit: Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson. Fair use.)

The book puts the reader in the shoes of the Prime Minister (PM) of the United Kingdom first day after the Brexit vote till the bitter very end of the Brexit process. At least basic knowledge of the UK or the EU is required to follow the story even though the books goes into great length to explain the actual problems that need to be handled. These include the National Health Service (NHS), Exit Fee, Immigration, EU Trade Talks and Residency Rights. As PM, you cannot decide everything as you like. You have to consider not only the facts but also have to delegate decision-making, respect the party and popular opinion. The books make it very clear that this is the worst job you can have in current Europe.

While the actual Brexit is not yet the complete, the book allows the reader to follow alternative paths and already finish the Brexit in an alternative reality. For this alternative reality all names of political figures have been replaced with somewhat funny names. Everything is in the cards for the reader including political suicide to great disaster for Britain. As long as the real Brexit isn’t over, the replay value is high as you can play it again with current political progress in mind. The overall presentation is very dry with no illustrations. The gameplay requires keeping track of certain decisions and results in a lot or check boxes. No deice are required but a seldom coin toss will decide for you. The outcome of the story is base on four stats: Authority within the party, Economy of Britain, Goodwill of the EU and Popularity with the voters. Those can be increased with good decisions and very easily lost with any kind of backlash.

Can you Brexit without breaking Britain? It’s a difficult task and the book gives a very good glimpse into the process and facts behind the decision-making. It also makes very clear that Theresa May has the worst job any politician. Reading her memoirs and comparing it with these books a few years will be the only reason to replay it after Brexit. This book is for the political interested gamebook fans. For a gamebook beginner the story and presentation can be too dry to enjoy it at first.

4 stars
Einsamer Wolf #1 - Einstieg in die spannende Fantasy-Sage

Mit Flucht aus dem Dunkel entsteht 1984 der erste Band der Spielbuch-Reihe Einsamer Wolf von Joe Dever. Sie ist mit 10 Millionen verkauften Büchern ein der erfolgreichsten Solo-Abenteuer-Serien weltweit. Die hier vorliegende und erweiterte Neuauflage erscheint beim Mantikore-Verlag und unterscheidet sich deutlich von der Urfassung. Um an diesem Solo-Abenteuer Spaß zu haben, braucht man außer dem Buch selbst nur einen Bleistift und Radiergummi.

Bild des Buchs (Eigenes Werk. Lizenz: CC-BY-SA.)

Der Leser beginnt sein Abenteuer direkt mit dem Angriff der Schwarzen Lords auf die Abtei der Kai. In der Urfassung beginnt das Abenteuer erst nach der Zerstörung der Abtei und lässt den Leser im Unklaren über die grausamen Geschehnisse dort, die so in der Fantasie des Lesers stattfanden. Jetzt dient der Angriff als ein actionreicher Einstieg in die Fantasy-Sage und möglicherweise in das Medium der Spielbücher selbst. Der Ausgang ist vorgegeben, wie man sich in der Schlacht anstellt, ist der spannende Teil für den Spieler. Man reitet, kämpft und klettert durch die Abtei und macht sich mit den Mechaniken des Spielsystems vertraut. Dazu gehören Kämpfe, verwalten des Inventars und Kai-Fähigkeiten einsetzen.

Der Weg von der zerstörten Abtei dann hin zum König in Holmgard verlangt richtige Entscheidungen, um Erfolg zu haben. Fallen müssen erkannt und Gegner besiegt werden. Die Geschichte ist durchweg spannend, auch wenn klar ist, dass dieser Band nur der Einstieg in ein größeres Abenteuer ist. Die Welt von Magnamund zieht einen schnell in einen Bann, so dass sich der Leser heimisch fühlt auch ohne bekannte genre-typische Motive wie Zwerge oder Orks.

Das Kampfsystem erlaubt schnelle und zum Teil sehr schwere Kämpfe, die schnell verstanden und ausgewürfelt sind. Durch die verschiedenen Fähigkeiten, hat man gelegentliche Vorteil und kann einem sonst verschlossene Pfade und Gefahren erkunden. Zusammen mit der Wahl auf verschiedenen Wegen nach Holmgard zu gelangen, ist der Wiederspielwert hoch. Sollte man dem Zauberer Bandeon nicht begegnet sein, empfehle ich das Abenteuer noch einmal zu spielen. Die Illustrationen von Rich Longmore sind zweckmäßig, wobei einige Momente des Abenteuers toll eingefangen werden. Mit den düsteren und zum Teil unbehaglichen Illustration von Gary Chalk aus der Urfassung können sie dann nicht ganz mithalten. Die Deutsche Übersetzung erlaubt sich den einen oder anderen Patzer, trübt aber das Erlebnis nicht.

Mit Flucht aus dem Dunkel liegt ein gutes Spielbuch vor, dass man jedem Einsteiger aber auch altem Fan empfehlen kann. Leicht zu erlernen, viele Handlungsmöglichkeiten und die Aussicht auf viele weitere Abenteuer.

Buchinnere (Eigenes Werk. Lizenz: CC-BY-SA.)