Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Talisman of Death

Hey guys, another FF book completed and ready to review  =)

#11 Talisman of Death

This is exactly what I needed after House of Hell! I had forgotten how much I like this book!

Something very special happens when Mark Smith, Jamie Thompson and Bob Harvey get together. This combination of writing and drawing talent is also responsible for bringing us the incredible 'Way of the Tiger' series of gamebooks, a collection of books very dear to me. If you haven't read them yet; bloody well go and do it!

The adventure is actually set in the same world (Orb) as the later 'Way of the Tiger' books, so I guess they were just feeling things out? This is a first for the FF series as every other 'Fantasy' setting has been on the FF world of 'Titan'. This is also only the second time a writer/s other than Ian or Steve (GB) has contributed to the series (the first instance being Steve Jackson (US) with Scorpion Swamp)

The links to 'Way of the Tiger' are very strong, there are even a couple of characters that reappear from 'Talisman of Death' to try and thwart you as a Ninja in those books!
And to be honest, characters are what this story is all about. Its brimming with them!

Thats not to say that Messrs Smith and Thompson cant set the scene; the world of Orb is an interesting blend of Eastern and Western medieval ideas and well rounded, believable locales. Its just that there are so many fantastic peeps running around in this book! Look at this!

There are all sorts. Warrior Women, thieves, sorcerers, monks, Dark Elves, scholars, High Priestesses, messengers of Death, dinosaurs, orcs etc etc. Its all done very well and any GM worth his notepad would be proud to have populated his game with any of them. 

The story itself plays excellently. There were at most a couple of sections that didn't quite work or made you flick back to get an idea of what it was you had just gotten yourself into. But in its entirety it all read very well with a plethora of options to choose from and loads of character interaction.
The story is of a linear 'find the thing and take it somewhere' model but has a few different lines you can approach the end with, so I found a replay was def called for  =)

The cover is supplied by Peter Andrew Jones (Starship Traveller) who blends one of the books encounters with the idea of 'Death' being your harasser and adversary. I love PAJ's work so I think it's awesome =)
Bob Harvey provides the illos and he is the Man. Period. The matching of his artwork to Mark and Jamie's writing is perfect. This book has the same memorable visuals and well put together feel of 'Deathtrap Dungeon' or 'Scorpion Swamp' Its just a combination that works.

I love it  =)

Friday, 13 December 2013

House of Hell...

Oh my God.
I just got my ass handed to me by a book!

But to be fair, it was THIS FUCKING BOOK!

#10 House of Hell

Forest of Doom may have been the first FF gamebook I ever read but House of Hell was the first one I owned.
What a start!

This has to go down as the hardest most frustrating and downright wet pants creating (when you are 6...) FF book of all time. Yes, alright maybe not THE hardest but its def in the top three.
My hat comes off to Mr Jackson (GB) for his efforts with this story. I remember being totally destroyed by this book as a young child and not being able to wait until I had saved enough to get another gamebook so that I didn't have to play House of Hell anymore!

The book itself is worthy of some sort of prize for its twists and turns most of which end you up as part of the sacrificial offerings being entertained at the House. The number of dead (and I mean dead) ends and traps from which there is no recovery is staggering. I truly believe there is only ONE correct path through the story and any deviation from it leads to eventual failure and getting roasted by a pack of deranged cultists.

How does it read though? Not bad. There are no mistakes or dud sections here.Basically this book feels like a collection of mazes populated by the aforementioned cultists and a whole host of horror cliches. The whole thing is quite terrifying once you step back and actually think about what your character is going through, and this is where my appreciation for the book's most original qualities lies.

A lot of people have stated well before me that this is the only FF book in a 'modern' setting, and that its is just one big maze, but I think that there is more on offer.
This book, for the first time in the FF series (aside from the vast 'Sorcery' epic still being completed) marked a departure from the norm. It wasn't a kid-friendly title with some Orcs to kill and a treasure to be had, it was an horrific ordeal with the only prize on offer to the character being escape and his/her mortal life!
The connection to HP Lovecraft's sinister mood setting is strong in many of the sections, and for the first time your human interactions with the people you meet must be made with great caution. A hardened adventurer with a strong arm and sharp sword you are not!
Speaking of Lovecraft. Tim Sell is the interior illustrator for this book. His work has also graced the covers of several HP Lovecraft reprints. The pictures range from unsettling to macabre. Just look at this!

I was 6! 6 years old!! This pic in particular kept me looking at my wardrobe with dread!

The cover was provided by master painter Ian Miller and features his trademark biological phantasms along with a stormy depiction of the House and the night you arrive.

In conclusion? I don't know what to say TBH. I have a long and torturous history with this gamebook. The originality of its content and Steve Jackson's sheer balls for writing it into this series can not be overstated.
I don't like it. I might not want to replay it. But i have to respect it.

It stands alone.


Monday, 9 December 2013

More reading!

Ok. Two more and I will have caught up on my reviews!

It's been a long day at the coal face so please excuse any grammatical faux pas.

#8 Scorpion Swamp

Written by Steve Jackson (USA) This has to be the most D&D influenced title of the whole series. Not that thats bad, as a matter of fact, it makes this one of my favourites to replay.

The whole thing just oozes RPG charm. From the characters you encounter to the interactions you are able to take with them, you can tell that Jackson knows his stuff where RPG's are concerned. TBH I wouldn't mind playing through a multiplayer version of this adventure with my friends!

The book stands alone in the way it has been written. There is a heavy emphasis on mapping and revisiting sites, rather than the more traditional linear storyline. On that subject, this book is again interesting in that it allows for multiple quests within the swamp itself! Not only that, but when in the swamp the sections are written to account for whether or not you have just stumbled across a nasty situation or if you have already dealt with whatever it was that was trying to make you dead (and there's a fair bit of that to be had)
It's a little hard to explain suffice to say you should just read it!

It wouldn't be right to not talk about the art!
Supplied this time by Duncan Smith (in his one and only appearance for Fighting Fantasy - which I think is a great shame) It fits the book perfectly. Most of the encounters get a pic, some get more! Its all very D&D as I mentioned before but it all adds to the classic feel of the adventure. The cover is the popular choice of depicting a powerful nasty from the story, and I reckon its pretty appropriate (I suppose a scorpion might have been an obvious choice...)

Favourite pics from the book? Def this one  =)

I mean how Dungeons and Dragons is that!

And last, but by no means  er, THE last, er review...

#9 Caverns of the Snow Witch


Hmm... You know when you're planning a holiday and there are all those things you just have to pack into one weekend, and you just have no idea how to get from one thing to the next in time?
Thats how this one feels.

Don't get me wrong, it has some very good points and the title alone is awesome enough to be turned into a film. Its just not that well put together  =(
You start out already on a quest (of sorts) Then find yourself on another, complete that and get given ANOTHER quest to undertake, see that one through and get railroaded into one more before completing that AND THEN HAVING TO DO ANOTHER THING!

Now I do like a story that throws a few surprises at me and variety is the spice etc etc. But honestly it just saps the life out of the original idea! THE SNOW WITCH!
This is a shame as the book does offer some great encounters. Its lighter on traps than some but makes up for it with a couple of good puzzles (of sorts) and does add some story driven tension that impacts positively on the game play. The Frozen, magical ice fortress of the Witch is well populated with foes and (in one of the books better moments) friends and allies, all of which does still make it enjoyable at times.

Art wise? This one uses a duo of talent to fill its pages with Gary Ward and Edward Crosby providing pen and ink illos (not sure how that came about or how it was divided?) And again this is the only appearance of their art to be shown in an FF book. Probably some of the most original ink illos to appear for a fantasy setting, the work is characteristically 'heavy' in feel but it comes off well and does a lot to add to the 'alien' quality of the creatures you encounter.
The cover is a great piece by veteran illustrator Les Edwards (he of HeroQuest cover fame, among many others) And accurately depicts a gruesome scene from the book.

A fairly fast read with a few good bits and, if you like roller coasters, one hell of a storyline!

So thats it for a bit, I'm currently trying to finish the next book so give me a sec!


More reading and a bit of a bash at HeroQuest.

Yep, so for the first time in about ten squillion years I got to play HeroQuest with my friends.

Awesome =)

I'll leave a more detailed post about this subject for another time suffice to say I had a blast and I hope the others did too! If you have this game banging around at home dust it off,  get it out, grab some mates, add some beer (because we're all old now so we get to play HeroQuest drinking games... not that we did... but that is an interesting idea for next time) and smash the dungeons.

Have a great time  =)

Speaking of great times, here's another Fighting Fantasy review thing.

#7 Island of the Lizard King

I think at this point in 83'/84' Steve Jackson (GB) was off writing the 'Sorcery!' books (which are amazing and I will get to after the main series) leaving most of the books to Ian for a bit.

While no 'DeathTrap Dungeon' this title is still a worthy adventure. I think this is the first book in which a bit of cultural diversity starts to influence your surroundings as the art (supplied by Alan Langford this time) is slightly oriental/far Eastern in appearance. This is cool as it really helps to fuel the sort of 'Voyage of Sinbad' feel that the book offers. I always find myself thinking of Ray Harryhausen's monsters on their model islands when I play this one =)
Speaking of the artwork (because I always do!) This story has some great pictures, some of which go down as childhood favourites I've remembered forever. I know I said no spoilers but I feel this isn't really giving the books secrets away.

 And I really love this picture.

Frank Frazetta would be proud! One of the few non lizard encounters from this book is this lovely girl and her Sabretooth Tiger. How or why she is living on an island presided over by a Lizard gangster mob boss we may never know. I just like looking at her.
Thank you Alan Langford, for one of the loveliest ladies of Fighting Fantasy.

TBH up till this lady graced these pages I don't think the world of Titan had much to offer in the way of female surprises. I suppose there was a She-Elf contestant in 'DeathTrap' but I can't think of any in the previous books... oh, apart from this rather dangerous girl from 'City of Thieves'

Hmm. Not really the sort you bring home to mum? (well maybe MY mum...)

Anyway. Alan outdid himself on that and many other exotic looking illos found within the books pages. The cover is also the last time Iain McCaig would contribute to the series, marking a huge change in the visual appearance of the books on the shelf.

How does the book play? Um, a bit strangely really.
It's the pacing that does it. Some parts seem to take forever to figure out and then you find yourself rocketing along trying to keep up through other sections. TBH it's not a bad thing as I always find reading this story to be very exciting and the story itself well rounded and interesting. I reckon it was the fastest read so far as far as time spent with a book goes.
Mind you there's tons of fighting to be had, rescues to attempt and Ian managed to throw in a lot of options and choices at key moments which have quite marked affects on your next moves.
The game itself is hard to define this time as it is a mixture of 'find the thingy to kill the bad guy' and 'find the guy to tell you stuff you need to know' as well as 'command the troops' and 'help the people escape from blah blah' So all a bit overwhelming at first!

Yeah, all in all it's a bit of a winner  =)

Man that cave girl is hot...

Saturday, 7 December 2013

More Fighting Fantasy goodness!

Right, so where was I? Oh yes...

#6 Deathtrap Dungeon

Lets face it. There's not much I can say about Deathtrap Dungeon that hasn't already been said. This book is arguably the most famous story of the series rivaling the mighty 'Warlock' itself in reprints and versions. Everyone I knew who read these as a kid either had this or had read it.
How do I feel about it? I love it!
As far as the writing goes it's basically flawless, the exploration of the dungeon and characters/monsters you meet are both exciting and well rounded. The traps are well thought out and there is a good chance of completing the book without falling foul of a 'cheap' unavoidable death.
There are fellow adventurers to find and interact with, some useful, some not. The basic idea is the 'go find stuff that may/may not be useful and hang on to it' quest type, made interesting by the sheer variety of items and treasures to be had.
The art is again all provided by Mr McCaig. The cover is among my favourites, and lets face it, the beast depicted is truly hideous. The book sports a pen and ink illo of some sort of encounter every three pages or so, some are so original in composition of pose and lighting that I don't think they have ever been equaled. Honestly, If all you wanted to do in life was draw awesome dungeons, ferocious monsters and cool characters you could do worse than study this gamebook and Iain's hard work. What a wonderful man he is =)

One interesting side note of Deathtrap Dungeon's fame is its appearance as a game (there were a few different platforms it was ported for but the only one I am familiar with is the Playstation release)

I have never had a chance to play this game personally (although I look for an old Ps1 copy of it constantly!) so there's not much I can talk about =( One thing I will say however is that they knew their target audience when they started on the advertising!

Check this out =)

Reminds me of my high school...And here's a rather, er, revealing shot from the game itself...

Hmm. Don't remember fighting a dragon? Or meeting a woman who, ah, met those requirements...

Who cares! It all looks fairly good fun, and from the few vids of it I have seen on youtube, it all works well with plenty of teenage hormone riddled angst and violence.
So all in all?
Def one of the most rewarding and painless reads in the series, great art, great encounters and good pacing.
Get it!

Friday, 6 December 2013

Fighting Fantasy gamebooks and proffesional procrastination...

Hey guys!

Hope all has been well?

As the title of this post suggests I have not had the time I would have liked to get projects done last month, no matter! All things in their own time =)

On to some things that I have been able to do then.

A while back I had a bit of spare time and decided to pick up reading all the books from my FF collection. These books have been an inseparable part of my life since childhood and are probably one of the major causes of the brain damaged insanity that saw me spend most of my adolescence buying model kits and small leaden toys...

Anyhow now that I am older (and poorer...) I have a magnificent collection of gamebooks to peruse at leisure. Having never actually attempted to read all the books chronologically before, I decided why not??
I'm not going to go into ridiculous detail or give away any spoiler-esque material (because that shit drives me mad) I'm more or less just going to give my thoughts on the books as a whole and, I suppose compare them to my memories of reading them as a young twit (if I actually CAN remember back that far...)

(BTW I wont be using a rating system for these reviews. That shit is for retarded reality tv crap)

So then...

#1 The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

Still one of the best titles around imho. What can I say? A classic dungeon crawl. Lavishly illustrated by Russ Nicholson, this book has a nice claustrophobic feel and some great encounters. While never one of my personal favs, you have to start somewhere! There's really nothing at all wrong with the adventure and a good pace and suitably evil villain/overlord give some replay to this book. Funny thing that I remember being utterly lost in the maze section as a kid, but really enjoying it this time through?? Good times in the dungeon  =)

#2 The Citadel of Chaos

Great book. The cover art by Emmanuel must stand out as one of the most original in the FF line up (although a second cover by Ian Miller was used for reprints of this book) I just think its cool. A sort of tableau of the evil baddies you'll be up against is lined up outside the Citadel itself, all framed by a blood red sunset/sunrise filled with giant bats. Great stuff.
As for the book? Again Russ Nicholson provides some of the most compelling interior art I have ever seen, I was especially taken by how he created the foreboding lighting effects throughout. Some of his creatures have to be seen to be believed! This particular book always left me a bit worried of being in the dark as a child...
The writing by Steve Jackson (GB) is top notch. Not a long book by his standards, and fairly linear in approach, which is something of a rarity for Mr Jackson, I always think of him as the more "puzzle/mystery" orientated of the pair - Ian Livingstone being more for storytelling and setting an 'adventuresome' mood. But no disappointments in finishing this one.

#3 The Forest of Doom

The first Fighting Fantasy gamebook I ever read and my favourite FF book (and cover)
I actually feel for illustrator Martin McKenna having to redo the art for the reissue of this book years later for 'Wizard' publications. Imagine being asked to create artwork for one of the most iconic books of the series, and then being told not to deviate from the original cover created by none other than Iain McCaig!
Anyway. Obviously I like this book a lot. To be totally honest, its just a dungeon adventure set out in the open! What really makes it cool however is the creepy, verdant Forest itself. Almost all the encounters in this book get a wonderful illo by Malcolm Barter (a sadly under-used illustrator of these books imho) And you find yourself in every possible location a forest could possibly throw at you. In clearings, up trees, down holes etc. One of the best features of this book for me at least, is that it allows for a replay in itself. That is, the fact that you are looking for items to get you to the end of the book means if you dont have them by the appropriate section, you are simply given the option to turn around and trudge back into the glades! I know that doesn't sound like much, but I always felt sad when I got to sections like that in other books and knew it was over and had to start the book again.
Great stuff =)

#4 Starship Travaller

 This one gets treated unfairly I think. Def one of the hardest of the early books to complete, and a first for a sci fi FF book. I really like it. I was a big fan of Star Wars/Star Trek as a kid and this book has influences from both (though prob more Trek...) This is also the first time you find yourself able to command others in a FF book too, a responsibility that leads to a lot of tension throughout the story!
The art inside is fantastic. Peter Andrew Jones has a very unique pen and ink style that I dont think I have seen the like of in other FF books (it reminds me of the work done for the Highway Warrior series by Melvyn Grant for Joe Dever) Its all very spacey and doesn't give too much away leaving the encounters you have with aliens being, um, very ALIEN and a bit strange, which is exactly how it should be.
I've always been in two minds about the cover (also the work of Peter Andrew Jones) While I like the image a lot, I just don't know if it was the right situation from the book to use? IDK maybe. But hey, it could have been this...

Figure that one out!

#5 City of Thieves

Again great art by one of the best, Iain McCaig providing both the cover and the internal illos for this one. The first book set in a fantasy city, the story is a tried and true 'find the thing and use it against the bad guy' story. But its the setting that makes it. Some fantastic creatures and truly inspired traps wait for you amidst the crumbling slums and terraced houses of Port Blacksand (this is beginning to sound like a sales blurb...) With the aid of the fantastic illos, this book has a very special feel for me, easily one of the most stylish stories of the series. The added idea of being in a semi developed place for once also limits your 'homicidal adventurer' tendencies. Causing trouble in the wrong part of town could see the adventure ending from a jail cell!
The bad guy (Zanbar Bone) must have been an inspiration for Iain's later work on creating 'Darth Maul' for SW Ep1 (although I have never heard him mention this)

Cool. I have read a few more but my fingers are starting to get tired so I'll leave it there for now.

On the model front? Well the Spit mkXIV and FW190A8 are coming along, when I can clear a space for pics I'll be able to show off the first of my Post Apoc Hot Wheels cars and a vinyl kit I was given ages ago is almost there too.
Busy busy eh?

Why is my foot glued to the floor??