As a child on Anglesey, I spent a lot of time exploring fantasy worlds and science-fiction worlds. An avid reader, and a player of games on our trusty Commodore 64, I became incredibly drawn to a phenomenon that really took off in that decade and has seen a resurgence in the past few years as well. The Adventure Gamebook. I was introduced to these books when my brother and I received a couple of them for Christmas one year. Choose Your Own Adventure. The style of the book – in which the reader became the protagonist and made choices that affected the way the story progressed was mind-blowing.We only ever owned about four of the Choose Your Own Adventure range and a Transformers licenced game which saw me and Robot-disguised-as-a-Porsche Jazz, face off against a Decepticon threat around an observatory but I read them over and over again. It was on a trip to the library in Cemaes bay that my eyes were truly opened though. There I discovered something far better than books – better than regular “find your path” gamebooks and better even than the video games of the time.
Fighting Fantasy. I was about to take another Choose Your Own Adventure book from the library when the librarian suggested I try a different series – one that was apparently quite popular. The title she handed me was book number twenty-one in the original run of the famous, green-spined series: Trial of Champions. With cover art that was leagues above those of the gamebooks I was used to, Trial of Champions was a thing of beauty. Not only that, but as well as having to find my path through the adventure, I also had to collect items, solve puzzles, combat enemies and more. I didn’t know about role-playing games back then, but the Fighting Fantasy series offered a young boy who lived a respectable distance from his friends and who liked his own company anyway more than even a video game could back then.
As an avid reader and lover of fantasy and science-fantasy (I’ve never really delved into proper, hard, Science Fiction) I actively searched out new adventure gamebooks to find new rule-systems and worlds to adventure in. Lone Wolf, Freeway Warrior, Way of the Tiger, Space Ace, Real Life Gamebooks, Sagard the Barbarian, Grail Quest, Heroquest and Knightmare – these are just the main series’ that I remember playing.
This brilliant medium of story-telling has made a resurgence in recent years on two fronts. Brilliantly, there are new (and re-issued old) gamebooks series’ being published. These usually seem to be from franchises such as Star Wars and Doctor Who and often have the very simple “find your path” system in place to reduce complexity. But Adventure Gamebooks have also hit the digital world and both old and new titles are hitting the various app stores and Steam all the time. Generally, they cost but a couple of pounds each, making them ideal “spur of the moment” purchases.
There is such enjoyment to be had from these books and the digital platform is a superb way to enjoy a book and a game at the same time. I highly recommend these also for parents who have children who are reluctant readers. Incorporating a game into the narrative can be a way to get children interested. Not only that, but story-time where parents read to their children can become much more interactive with a child guiding the narrative based on the options.
I’m not going to provide a “best of” list here for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I don’t particularly like “top x” list articles. Secondly, I haven’t played most the titles that are available so I’m in no position to judge the “best” ones. However, here are a few titles that I have played or that I have heard great things about that I think provide a good start to the world of digital gamebook adventures. Also, keep an eye on Amazon and your local bookstores for adventures in print (such as BBC Books’ Doctor Who: Choose the Future range and reprints of the classic Fighting Fantasy series) … there’s still something magical for me about flipping through the pages of a book rather than simply clicking options on a screen.
- The Forest of Doom – Tin Man Games. An adaptation of the third Fighting Fantasy gamebook written by Ian Livingstone, I particularly like this title because it allows the player to have another go at completing the adventure if they fail to find everything they need within Darkwood Forest. It’s not the best Fighting Fantasy gamebook, certainly and the encounters will have all reset but it’s nice to have that option rather than having to completely start over.
- Warhammer 40,000 Legacy of Dorn – Tin Man Games. A science-fiction themed book set in Games Workshop’s grim forty-first millennium. I really like what the developers have done with the interface and combat system in this adaptation of Jonathan Green’s book. There’s a real sense of immersion in that far future in the look as well as the text itself.
- Lone Wolf – GDV Games and Software. There are several Lone Wolf apps available but the one I got hold of is this one, which is a free version and allows players to campaign through the entire saga. The presentation is not as slick as for other gamebooks on this list, but it’s functional and the adventures still stand up today, despite being easier than many of their competitors. The app includes all 20 of the original gamebooks.
- Deadman Diaries – Cubus Games. Not one for the younger reader / player this. You can check out my review here. While it wasn’t for me, I appreciate the work that’s gone into to creating this dark, noire-themed gamebook.
- Sorcery! – Inkle. Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! Series was a four-book campaign with more advanced rules than the Standard Fighting Fantasy book – employing a unique code-based spell-casting system. Inkle’s adaptation is universally held to be a great adaptation, though to my chagrine I’ve not yet played it … despite owning the first two instalments.
- Appointment with Fear – Tin Man Games. Rather than simply adapting Steve Jackson’s gamebook in the normal manner, Tin Man have taken great pains to really give this super-hero adventure a comic-book feel. The adventure plays out in panels. This adventure offers more re-playability than most as there are multiple paths through the adventure based on the clues the player discovers.
- Starship Traveller – Tin Man Games. As far as I’m aware, this is still the closest a gamebook reader can get to being in a Star Trek Adventure. Another from Steve Jackson, this adventure has been given a sci-fi skin and really does give the impression to the player of exploring an unknown region of space. While the player is the captain, key crew members and the ship itself are also given statistics and are used throughout the adventure.
- Necklace of Skulls – Cubus Games. Another I’ve not played but which appears on quite a few gamebook lists, this one is an adaptation of a book written by Dave Morris (who wrote a great many gamebooks back in the 1980s for various systems and created the “Dragon Warrior” Roleplay game. Morris’ name and the lovely art-style are more than enough to get me on board for this adventure.
- 80 Days – Inkle. Step back in time and find yourself in the shoes of Phileas Fog. Your quest is to make it around the world in eighty days. The game includes one-hundred and fifty cities that can be visited and numerous routes that can be plotted. A fun and perhaps more strategic adventure than most on this list. Again, I’ve not had chance to play this yet but have only heard good things about it.
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