Bloodbones lives! The dreaded pirate-lord Cinnabar, scourge of the twelve seas, plagued the seafarers of the Old World in a bloody reign of terror until a brave adventurer put an end to his evil. But now he is back from the dead, seeking revenge and with the dark powers of voodoo at his command.
YOU have your own score to settle – Cinnabar murdered your family when you were a child. Only YOU can end the horrific slaughter by destroying the pirate captain and his crew of cutthroats. Come hell or highwater Bloodbones must be stopped!
A note of numbering: In the title I have labeled Bloodbones as book 61. This is because it is the 61st unqiue book in the Fighting Fantasy series, even though it is listed as book #26 on the spine.
Ah! A quest for revenge! One of the best reasons to go on an otherwise foolhardy adventure. Bloodbones starts you off in the Port of Crabs, a notorius den of thieves and pirates. Your first mission is to find out where the pirates hideout is. Your enquiries quickly turn the attention of the pirates to you, and you start to discover clues about what is happening and where the pirates may be found.
The Port of Crabs is probably the most frustrating part of the book. It took me almost a dozen tries to finally get out of the city and discover the pirates hideout, and none of the clues you find help you in this; although they point you to things that will help later on in the book, finding the pirates hideout ultimately is about luck. This is annoying, but luckily it is one of the only annoying things about the adventure.
Once you have gotten to this point, the chase is on to stop Bloodbones himself. The adventure leads you across the high seas and an encounter with a ghost ship, then to a remote and mysterious island. A bit of exploration around here leads you to a temple of a dark and sinister voodoo god where another annoying thing happens: In order to get through, you must rely on the luck of the dice. This is something I dislike, strongly: a random dice roll, without relying on stats such as luck or skill, can end the adventure. Luckily, I beat the roll and continued.
An epic battle ensues with a high priest of voodoo and then another journey across the high seas to finally confront the pirate Bloodbones himself. I think I may have been lucky, as the first time I encountered him I managed to slay him, having somehow managed to gather all of the correct special items needed. But, just as I thought I had the book beat, the voodoo god manifests himself and manages to kill me! So close….
And that brings me to something I like about this book (and other gamebooks like it): the fact you can get so close to victory only to see it snatched away from you at the last makes me all the more keen to play it again. I was left with this feeling after (almost) finishing Bloodbones, and that gives the book extra credit in my mind. Rating the book is hard: the part in the Port of Crabs is fairly annoying and makes it hard to want to keep going when you can’t even get out of the city, and then realizing it is blind luck that gets you to the pirates’ hideout. But the adventure after that is a grand, swashbuckling story. So….
RATING: 7 out of 10
This review was written by guest writer Neil McGrory, to whom my thanks goes out to!
By Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson
Knight Books, 1985
Ninjas were very much in vogue in the 1980s, and gamebooks were no exception thanks to the Way of the Tiger series by Smith and Thomson.
You are Avenger, Ninja of the Way of the Tiger, raised since infancy by the monks of Kwon, who have trained you in the deadly arts of stealth and assassination.
In Avenger!, the first of six books in the series, you quest for revenge against the evil Yaemon, an evil martial arts master who slew your foster-father. However more than personal vengeance is at stake as Yaemon is about to perform a rite which, if successful will imprison your god and DOOM the WORLD.
The book begins by asking you to select ninja skills, which work along similar lines to the Kai Disciplines in the Lone Wolf books. Standout abilities include being able to spit deadly poison needles at your enemies, or use your martial arts skills to deflect incoming arrows and missiles.
The combat system is, in my opinion, one of the best of its kind. During encounters you usually get to choose between kicking or punching your foe (kicking does more damage, but enemies generally have more chance of hitting you in return) or throwing them, which usually does no damage but makes it easier to land a follow-up attack. You can also attempt to block successful attacks from enemies, but this makes it harder to retaliate. Lastly, you have a limited amount of Inner Force which can allow you to do double damage and is a real life-saver on occasion.
The Way of the Tiger series doesn’t require you to roll your starting stats, which is a nice way of avoiding that sinking feeling of impending failure that random stats sometimes give, but this book, like the others in the series is no pushover as there are several potentially-fatal situations where you have to get lucky rolls to survive, and you can also expect to die many times until you learn the routes through the book.
In Avenger! it is possible to make life much harder for yourself by choosing the wrong ninja skills. Also, there is an optimum route through the book which must be followed to maximise chances of success in later books, and it requires a combination of choosing certain skills and lucky rolls to successfully complete.
Like many of the other books in the series, Avenger! often feels disjointed, as random stuff “just happens” for no obvious reason. Sometimes these transitions can be quite jarring – for instance there is a good chance you will end up in a deadly gladiatorial tournament without meaning to be! The book starts well, with you competing for the right to become a Ninja Grandmaster before setting out on your mission of vengeance, and the climactic showdown is also fun, but the middle sections of the book suffer from this feeling of inconsistency.
However the book is still recommended – as mentioned, the mechanics are excellent, and you get to be a NINJA!
The third installment of the Lone Wolf series, The Caverns of Kalte takes us to the icy wastes of Kalte in search of our arch enemy, Vonotar the Traitor.
Originally published in 1984 and republished in 2007, the Caverns of Kalte is set a year after the first two books in the series (Flight from the Dark and Fire on the Water). Again you play as Lone Wolf and, if you have completed previous books, can carry over your gear and stats. I this time picked Tracking as my new Kai Discipline (special skills available to Lone Wolf).
The main part of this adventure is the journey from your ship, which lands on the Late ice shelf, to the distant fortress of Ikaya, a ten day journey. Right from the start you are presented with two options on how to get there, either via a huge glacier or up through a mountain pass. The two paths are fairly different, with different hazards and encounters. Either way, however, you end up (accidently) in the ancient Caverns of Kalte, a network of tunnels and caves beneath the ice.
Within these caverns there are also many different paths to take, all of which lead to the Ice Fortress of Ikaya and a meeting with your quarry, Vonotar. Up to this point I had not actually had a combat encounter at all, and my newly chosen Tracking Discipline had been put to good use. Once inside Ikaya, however, the combats came but, with the Sommerswerd in my possession from book 2, they were all a breeze. (In fact, most of the combats were too easy and provided virtually no threat to my character. Most of the time my Combat Skill was a massive 34 (base 18, +8 from Sommerswerd, +2 from Weaponskill, +2 from Mindblast, +2 from Silver Helm and +2 from Shield). The book may have been much harder I had not completed previous books).
Anyway, I found Vonotar and, with the help of a magician named Loi-Kymar who I had rescued, we captured the traitor and returned to Sommerlund where he was found guilty for his crimes.
All in all, the book was fun but rather short and easy. The shortness of the adventure can be forgiven, however, as unlike the previous book in the series this one is much less linear.
I noticed a few changes between this and the original version of the book. Most again were descriptive, with the magical M’lare bowls now always being referred to as Shianti M’lare bowls. In addition, another change I noticed was a mechanical one: in certain sections you are able to take a Bone Sword from some barbarians. In the original book this just counted as a weapon, but in this one it provides a +1 bonus to your Combat Skill. There may be more than this (and I am sure there are), but it has been a while since I read the original.
There is also a mini-adventure at the back of this book, called Vonotar’s Web. Written by Laszlo Cook, this bonus quest is 120 paragraphs long.
In this adventure you play as Loi-Kymar, an elder magician of the Brotherhood of the Crystal Star. This adventure is set not long before Lone Wolf takes off to Kalte and revolves around the theft of your magical Guildstaff, which has the power of teleportation and is a part of the main Caverns of Kalte story. Again, the adventure is short, not in terms of paragraphs but actual play time, but this is because of the choices available to you. The ending feels somewhat…odd, I guess, mainly because you do not succeed in your mission. But as the ending basically sets up the main Caverns of Kalte story, this can also be forgiven.
RATING (CAVERNS OF KALTE): 7.5 out of 10
RATING (VONOTAR’S WEB): 7.5 out of 10
Zagor! The very name of the Warlock of Firetop Mountain strikes terror into all who hear it. Banished from the world of Titan, the sorcerer is slowly but surely regaining his strength. Within Castle Argent, in the kingdom of Amarillia, Zagor has been transformed into a demon.
Such is his power, he must be destroyed. There are several adventurers willing to volunteer – mighty Anvar the barbarian, the warrior Braxus, Stubble the dwarf, Sallazar the wizard – but only one will be chosen. Are YOU that hero?
The third and final book in the ‘Zagor trilogy’, Legend of Zagor follows on from events in Return to Firetop Mountain, though this time the story takes place in another world. It was published in 1993 and written by Ian Livingstone.
Once again a hero is needed to thwart the plans of Zagor, who this time has fused his body with that of a demon. Unlike previous books and in fact unique in the Fighting Fantasy series, you get to choose from four different heroes to play as: Barbarian, Dwarf, Warrior and Wizard. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages which come into play throughout the story, a fact which makes this book quite replayable.
Once you have chosen a hero, you set off in search of Zagor. He is in the ruins of Castle Argent this time rather than beneath Firetop Mountain and, although this book has much in common with a dungeon crawl, it is much more dynamic; you can return to previous areas of the book in certain circumstances, for instance. The inhabitants and traps of in the castle also make more sense than in the previous two Zagor books; they all have a reason to be there, even the people who are friendly towards you (the knight you can meet is the only surviving knight and has holed up, for example).
The text itself and the way the story is written is an improvement again over Return to Firetop Mountain (which was an improvement over The Warlock of Firetop Mountain). Like the previous books, you still need to collect certain items along the way (golden talismans and silver daggers in this case) but you can still win without actually gaining any of these. And although the book is difficult, it is not too difficult; you always feel that you are not far away from winning and, with the choice of four different characters to play as, you always feel that the book is different on subsequent read-throughs.
Another thing that stood out to me in the book was the artwork: I have always been a fan of Martin McKenna, and in this book he has excelled. It really captures the story quite well.
My record with the book was not great. I played four times (once with each character) and didn’t complete it. I did make it to the final encounter with Zagor while playing as Stubble the Dwarf, but did not survive (I entered combat against him with only 2 STAMINA points…) Still, each read-through was quite enjoyable. Overall a good book and recommended.
RATING: 8.5 out of 10
In another time, another world, lies a kingdom once colonised by fugitives from a dying planet. It is a land of mighty rivers, vast forests, mountain ranges rich in precious ores and gems – and inhabited by fantastic creatures, half animal, half human.
YOU are a young adventurer of Skyfall with a desperate mission. Your father has vanished on a journey throught the unmapped interior – captured by the powerful and dangerous Lizardmen. You must discover his fate, and as you tackle the perils and pitfalls in this Advanced Fantasy Gamebook, you will need real skill to succeed…
Monsters of the Marsh was first published in 1985. It was written by David Tant and was devloped from adventures the author ran for his Dungeons and Dragons group.
The game system is similar to that of Fighting Fantasy, with one major difference. You have three statistics: Expertise, Vitality and Fortune (which are the equivilant of Skill, Stamina and Luck). The major difference is that, instead of using dice, you flip coins. While novel and unique, it quickly became very frustrating to keep doing this, especially in a combat (in which you have to toss a coin 8 times during a round of combat). For anyone who plays through this books, I would recommended doing what I did: grab some six-sided dice, and nominate a roll of 1-3 as ‘tails’ and 4-6 as ‘heads’. It will save you time and your sanity.
The introduction is great and really sets the scene well (and the map of the area is quite well done with great detail). The planet is inhabited by humans whose space ship crash-landed centuries ago. Although their science has been lost, magic has developed to take its place. You play the roll of a young adventurer who has returned home to find his father missing. You set out on a boat along the river system to find him.
Unfortunately it all goes down hill from here. From pretty much the get-go you find yourself wandering around a maze-like network of rivers and tributries. Even with mapping, I got hopelessly lost. To make matters worse, the descriptions in this part of the book are bland and uneventful. In addition, you are told to keep track of time while navigating the waterways, and this adds a huge amount of bookwork to what is already a boring adventure.
I really wanted to like this book after reading the introduction. It seemed a unique and well-developed world. But I just couldn’t bring myself to keep trying to get through that damned river system. So I gave up, which really was a huge pity.
RATING: 4 out of 10
Fire on the Water is the second installment of the Lone Wolf series, originally published in 1984 and reprinted in 2007. It follows on immediately from Flight from the Dark and continues the story started within. Our hero, Lone Wolf, has reached the capital city of Holmgard and now must undertake a quest to retrieve the legendary Sommerswerd, the sword of the sun. It is with this weapon that you will kill the leader of the invading army, the Darklord Zagarna.
Unlike many other gamebook series, in Lone Wolf you keep the same character from book to book. The only thing that changes is that you get to pick a new Kai Discipline. For this book, I picked Healing.
The story of this book revolves around Lone Wolf journeying to the distant country of Durenor to retrieve the Sommerswerd. However, from the outset it is evident that someone is trying to prevent you from reaching your destination. You are attacked before you even leave Holmgard, the ship you are travelling on is set on fire, someone attempts to kill you by dropping a boulder on your head, Helghast (shape-changing undead creatures) ambush you, and a fleet of sunken ships with zombie crew are raised from the watery depths of the sea in order to prevent you from returning to Holmgard. All the while you are pressed for time as you must complete your mission within fourty days or Holmgard is sure to fall to the invading army. No pressure!
I have to say, although fairly linear, this actually works to the books advantage as the story is engaging and exciting. Figuring out who is attacking you, and trying to anticpate where your next attack might come from keeps you riveted. In addition, when you finally recieve the Sommerswerd you feel a great sense of accomplishment and even awe; the author does a great job of instilling the reader with a sense of wonderment over the sword, and the bonuses it gives to Lone Wolf back this up!
This new edition book also includes a mini-adventure called The Crown of King Alin IV. In this adventure you don’t play as Lone Wolf, but rather as Lord-lieutenant Rhygar, a Knight of the White Mountain. This adventure takes place in a small village in Durenor called Durenon Bridge. It seems the infamous pirate Captain Khadro has stolen the crown of King Alin IV, ruler of Durenor. It is your task to track it down. As the adventure progresses, you learn that the theft of the crown was part of a much larger plot, a plot which must be stopped at all costs!
At only 71 sections long, the adventure is short indeed. Much of it is taken up with a chase through the streets of Durenon Bridge, and there is very little fighting or use of your Knight of the White Mountain abilities (these are like the Kai Disciplines but different). In fact, there is only one fight in the whole adventure. The adventure is not overly difficult; I made it through on my first attempt with a COMBAT SKILL 13 and ENDURANCE 29.
RATING (FIRE ON THE WATER): 9 out of 10
RATING (CROWN OF KING ALIN IV): 6 out of 10
Firetop Mountain, the forbidding peak whose dark shadow once cast gloom over the whole of Northern Allansia, has been quiet for ten years. It has been that long since the diabolical reign of the evil sorcerer, Zagor, was ended by a heroic adventurer who braved the countless perils of the dungeons beneath the mountain and succeeded where so many had failed before.
But now, resurrected by the power of dark sorcery, Zagor has risen from the dead! More evil than before, the crazed wizard is intent upon wreaking his revenge upon all in Allansia. He must be stopped, and for good this time. Some brave adventurer – YOU! – must enter the forbidding labyrinth and bring justice once more to the lord of Firetop Mountain!
Return to Firetop Mountain, written by Ian Livingstone and published in 1992, is the sequal to the Warlock of Firetop Mountain. Although it has much in common with that book, Return to Firetop Mountain also contains a few pointed differences: some good, some bad.
The book returns us once more to the dungeons beneath Firetop Mountain where, once again, we find ourselves on a dungeon crawl. But before that, this time we have an above-ground journey to find a wizard who can help us defeat Zagor, the Warlock.
Once we have done that, we head into the dungeon. The early parts of the dungeon are easily recognizable to those who played the previous book, with many nods of acknowledgement to that work. But from there it turns into a dungeon crawl again, reminiscent of the Warlock but with different challenges and opponents.
One good point about this book is that the writing has improved and the encounters evoke a greater sense of excitement (to me, a least). The text is much more descriptive and the sections longer, two points which I applaud. The problem with this book is how difficult it seems to be.
Don’t get me wrong: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is not an easy book, but once you beat the maze and find your way to the Warlock’s treasure, if you don’t have the right keys you become determined to try again. In Return to Firetop Mountain, the difficulty is different; it is hard to even make it to the final encounter.
Let’s have a look at how I died in my attempts:
1st: Death by doppelganger.
2nd: Death by doppelganger, again.
3rd: Death by animated swords.
4th: Death by falling (from the back of a giant eagle)
5th: Death by doppelganger…
6th: Death by curse
At this stage, four out of the six attempts were ended before I even made the dungeon. The encounter with the doppelganger, which is unavoidable, is insane: an average SKILL 9 character only has a 50% chance of winning the fight. I also went through and counted the number of instant-death paragraphs in the book: 30. 1 in 7 1/2 paragraphs ends the adventure. Insane!
In the interests of the review, I decided to find the solution to the book online and play through before I lost interest in it. The final encounter is rather well written, and the face off against Zagor (SKILL 11 STAMINA 18 ) is great. Section 400 (which is almost always the ‘win’ section for Fighting Fantasy books) leaves the gate wide open for a further book (which we get in Legend of Zagor) and is a good ending to a frustrating but otherwise good book.
RATING: 7 out of 10
Deep in the caverns beneath Firetop Mountain lies an untold wealth of treasure, guarded by a powerful Warlock – or so the rumour goes. Several adventurers like yourself have set off for Firetop Mountain in search of the Warlock’s hoard. None have ever returned. Do you dare follow them?
Your quest is to find the Warlock’s treasure, hidden deep within a dungeon populated with a multitude of terrifying monsters. You will need courage, determination and a fair amount of luck if you are to survive all the traps and battles, and reach your goal – the innermost chambers of the Warlock’s domain.
The book that basically started it all, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain was first published in 1982 and is renowned as a classic amongst gamebook enthusiasts. But does it stand the test of time?
I started the book by rolling up my adventurer and getting SKILL 11, STAMINA 20 and LUCK 9. An above average character, so I should have a good chance of survivng.
It has been quite some time since I had played this particular book, and my memories of it were basically an exciting dungeon crawl with a frustrating labyrinth near the end of the book that I could never find my way through. So it was with some trepidition that I once again stepped into the tunnels beneath Firetop Mountain.
I was immediately struck by how the book is showing its age. The book is essentially a dungeon crawl, as I had remembered; but it was a product of the 1980s and things were different back then. Dungeons didn’t have to make much sense; you went into them, killed everyone you found, and looted their bodies. The Warlock is one of those adventures. Nowadays more people demand that at least some thought be put into their dungeon crawls or for them to at least make a little bit of sense.
As an example, early on in the adventure you find a spell book that has been hidden by a mage who was scared of it ‘falling into the wrong hands’. Why hide it beneath Firetop Mountain then? The domain of an evil warlock?
Maybe I am being nitpicky, as the book was aimed at those in their early teens. And, as stated, you could get away with those things in the 1980s when the gaming scene was still in its infancy.
Anyway, the adventure continued, and I was busy killing bad guys and taking their stuff. So far so good, I had barely been injured and had found a number of keys that I knew were needed to get to the Warlock’s treasure. Then I entered the maze.
This thing is as annoying as I remembered. Several times I nearly gave up in disgust, much like I also remember doing when I was younger. But I perservered, and after much hair pulling and frustration, I found my way out of the maze to confront a dragon. Luckily I had the aforementioned spell book and was able to see the dragon off with minimal effort. Now to confront the Warlock himself.
I drunk a potion of invisibility that I had found and drew my sword. The Warlock is a tough customer to fight! With SKILL 11 and STAMINA 18, he was almost as good as me! Luckily, the potion made it harder for the Warlock and I was able to see him off, though he did get me down to 8 STAMINA remaining. Now for the treasure!
There were three locks on the chest, and I had found four keys. I had to try different combinations to open it. Right, first combination: dang. Lose 2 STAMINA. Okay, 6 left, no problem. Second combination: damnit! 4 STAMINA left. Did I have the right keys? Had I missed a vital one? Was it all for naught? Third combination: YAY! The chest opens and the treasure is mine! Victory!
Even now in the 21st century, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is a fun romp through a monster filled dungeon. However, as I stated at the outset it is showing its age. If it were written today I would doubt it would trigger the same cult status it has recieved, but it is still enjoyable on a hack-and-slash level. It is not really a difficult book, as most of the monsters are easily defeated; however, finding the right combination of keys and your way through that damned maze are frustrating. It does add to the replayability of the book, but I would suggest making a map so as not to go bald through tearing your hear out.
RATING: 6.5 out of 10
I decided that, for my fist review, I would return to one of my favourite series of all time: Lone Wolf. Written by Joe Dever and first published in 1984, the stories of Lone Wolf are ones that will always stay with me. This review is based on the newer, expanded edition of Flight from the Dark, published in 2007.
The first thing you notice about this if you have played the previous versions is its size: 550 sections instead of 350. The second thing you notice is the change to the start of the story. This is a good thing as it sets the tone of the book and the desperation of the circumstance much better than the original.
You are Silent Wolf, a young initiate in the order of the Kai. You are studying at the Kai Monastery, learning the ways of the warrior-monks, who train you in both physical and mental powers. It is during one of these training sessions that the Monsatery comes under attack and the action begins.
I rolled up my version of Silent Wolf and ended up with a Combat Skill of 18 and Endurance 26. Not too shabby. For my Kai Disciplines (the mental and physical powers you are being taught) I was allowed to pick five. I chose Mindblast (allows you to attack enemies mentally) and Mindshield (protects you if enemies attack you mentally). Weaponskill was my next choice; rolling, I find I am quite good with a sword. I chose Hunting next – with this skill I can hunt for food instead of having to carry it around in my backpack, which has limited space to begin with (you are only allowed eight backpack items). Finally I chose Animal Kinship, just because I like animals.
So the quest begins. I am charged with lighting a warning beacon at the top of the tallest tower in the Monastery. That should be easy, I think. I soon find that is not so. First I have to find a way into the tower, and every path I take seems to be blocked. However, I do eventually make it in by dashing across a courtyard full of enemies in a daring move. Yee-ha! To be honest, much of this part seemed like you were being forced in a certain direction, not something I like in gamebooks generally.
I make my way up to the top of the tower to light the beacon but find that my enemies have beaten me there. No surprise, really, but I have a trick up my sleeve: a gas-grenade like weapon called a Sleep Crystal which I use to knock them out and light the beacon. Mission complete!
But wait… I am recieving a psychic message. It seems the Grand Master of the order is locked in desperate battle and is telling me to flee before all is lost. I can’t disobey the direct orders of my superior, so I do so, realizing that I am now the only surviving Kai Warrior left in the world.
What follows is a desperate flight through the forest, a battle at a large bridge which I help win (but in the process the Prince of the realm dies) and then a dash to the capital city of Holmgard where I am to meet the King.
Although the flight through the forest feels similar to the original book, the expanded battle at the Alema Bridge is nice and certainly makes it feel like the important battle it was always supposed to be. The details of the Bridge, as well as the details of Holmgard make the place seem loving crafted and the attention to detail is certainly great; it all makes it seem a lot more vivid in the mind’s eye. Saving the King at the very end is also nice, and another improvement over the original book; it makes the ending much more dramatic.
I do have one admition to make though: I did actually die during the book. In Holmgard, as I was jumping from rooftop to rooftop, I fell onto the street fifty feet below and was killed. However, I decided to ‘cheat’ and turn back and just keep playing. So sue me🙂
I do have a few minor gripes with the book, one that I probably wouldn’t have had had I not read the original or any of the others in the series. The use of the warning beacon (a huge crystal light), the Kai Crystals (grenade-like weapons) and Boom Powder (gunpowder) all take away from the medieval feel of the book. Considering none of the other books have had this re-write and will not have any of those types of items pop up, makes it seem oddly out of place. Still, the book is a great tale and one I enjoyed.
RATING: 7 out of 10.
Welcome to Gamebook Reviews. The title pretty much sums up what the site is about; reviews of gamebooks. But what is a gamebook, exactly?
A gamebook, also known as ‘interactive fiction’, is a book in which the reader becomes the hero. The book itself is split into sections, numbered from 1 to whatever. Beginning with section 1, you read that section and are then offered a choice of what you can do. You choose one of the options and turn to the appropriate section, where you see the results of your choice, good or bad. This continues until you ultimately pass or fail the goal of the book.
Gamebooks often use dice (hence the word game) to resolve the results of actions. For instance, if you were fighting with a large dragon, you might roll dice to see who wins.
Over time, I hope to build up quite a collection of reviews on various gamebooks. I welcome your input on this too, so please leave comments and experiences.