GAMEBOOK REVIEW: Fighting Fantasy – Blood of the Zombies By Ian Livingstone

Fighting Fantasy: Blood of the ZombiesIn August, 1982 a new kind of gamebook hit the bookshelves of the United Kingdom. While choose-your-path gamebooks had been round for a few years, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain introduced role-playing mechanics to the genre. This book, authored by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone (two of the three founders of Games Workshop), flew off the shelves despite pessimistic sales predictions from the publishers.

Ten years later, and the series had spawned fifty titles and a number of “clone” series had been published as well. The original series came to an end with it’s fifty-ninth title but saw a new lease of life in 2002 when Icon books published a number of adventures (including three new titles) under their Wizard imprint. Thirty years on, and a new offering has been published – but how does it stand up? Find out after the break!

The Blurb:

Terrible things are happening in Goraya castle…

Insane megalomaniac Gingrich Yurr is preparing to unleash an army of monstrous zombies upon the world. He must be stopped and his undead horde defeated. In this life-or-death adventure the decisions YOU make will decide the fate of the world. Can YOU survive or will YOU become a zombie too?

A Fighting Fantasy gamebook in which YOU are the hero.

The Review:

The Fighting Fantasy series was my proper introduction to the Fantasy genre as Trial of Champions was recommended to me by my local librarian. To this day, I have a reasonable collection of the original range (I’m missing 13) and the series fills me with a nostalgic joy whenever I think about it. When I heard that Ian Livingstone would be writing an anniversary book, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. When I later learned that it would be a modern-day, Zombie book … my enthusiasm waned somewhat. The thing is, I’m not a big fan of the Zombie genre. On top of that, it seems to me that Zombies are so … 2009. The big phase of zombie love seems to be on the wane, so it almost felt as though the book would be out-dated before it was published. I bought the book a couple of weeks after it was published, spurred on by nostalgia … and above all, faith in the author.

So. Blood of the Zombies is a choose-your path adventure set in an eastern European Castle where a mad scientist is plotting to turn the entire world’s population into mindless zombies because… I did mention he’s mad, right? Into the scene, steps YOU. YOU are a student of mythology on a road trip. You get kidnapped. You start in the castle’s sub-levels. You must escape, kill the zombies and stop the mad scientist dude from unleashing unholy hell on the world.

What’s quite clever about this book – and it’s helped by the setting – is the simplicity of the rules. The core mechanics of the series of old are practically gone. Instead, a simple combat system exists using the sole remaining statistic: STAMINA. You determine your STAMINA at the beginning of the adventure by rolling dice. Incidentally, random dice are presented on each page to help those who don’t have a set to hand, or who haven’t downloaded one of thousands of dice app onto the phone of their choice. In combat, you choose a weapon which deals a certain amount of damage. Each damage point kills a zombie.

Any Zombies who survive the encounter inflict 1 point of damage each to you. Rinse and repeat until either Zombies = 0 or your STAMINA = 0. What I found really weird about this is that every Zombie encounter felt much more epic than the one on one or few on one combats of old. You run into a bunch of twenty-odd zombies armed only with a pistol that can deal 3 – 8 points of damage and you know you’re in some trouble!

The writing style is familiar to gamebook fans and Livingstone doesn’t let down. Enough detail and information is presented to make you aware of your surroundings while not taking an age to get through.
Aiding in this are the illustrations by Kevin Crossley which are littered throughout. These are in a more comic-book style to those I remember the fondest, however they do fit the setting and tone of the  story quite well. Of particular note is an illustration of an encounter which was my favourite in the book and comes towards the end of the adventure. I will not spoil it other than to say TURN TO 158 when you get hold of the book.

Take note though: Do not expect to be able to complete this book successfully on your first play through. Take notes and even draw a map. I played through twice on the day I received my copy. The first time I was ripped to shreds by my first MAJOR zombie encounter. The second time, I erm … didn’t roll dice. But thanks to Ian’s ingenuety, even that didn’t mean I was successfull thanks to a very neat twist after what should have been my beating of the adventure. And yes, I will be playing again, making notes and indeed drawing a map!

My biggest bugbear is that I wish they had presented the cover more in the style of the old books. Efforts in this direction have been made (the FF logo on the front cover, the green spine etc), but I’d have loved to have seen Ian Livingstone’s name on a prominant banner on the front cover.

Does the format, and this book itself hold up in this modern day of video games and quick media? Personally, I think so. Reading is possibly not the prime choice amongst the young, but they do read, despite
what certain elements of society will tell you. The book is easy to pick up, well written and encourages replay. The simplification of the rules (which I was taken aback by) works superbly and mean the minimum of number crunching for those in a hurry. Wizard (an imprint of Icon books) re-published a number of the old adventures in the new millenium and also published a number of new titles to add to the range. My advice: Get hold of Blood of the Zombies. Play it. Give a copy to a nine year old. Buy more Fighting Fantasy or other Adventure Gamebook series books. They are out there, even including a Doctor Who series.

The format is excellent and will hopefully get youngsters (and oldsters for that matter) into two things. Reading. And Fantasy. And maybe even into more social forms of Role-play. Here’s to another thirty years!

Author Ian Livingstone was recently at Forbidden Planet for the launch of the book and Geek Syndicate was there. It was one the few times I saw the queue to get a signed book go halfway round the shop floor. Clearly the series still has a lot of fans.

Rating: 4.5 / 5
GS Reviewer: WedgeDoc

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