Sunday, 25 September 2016

Portal of Evil playthrough

Written by Peter Darvill-Evans, artwork by Alan Langford.

Right, so, Portal of Evil. Never played this one before. The front of the cover tells me that it involves a goblin with a pet stegosaurus or something similar, and the back of the book tells me that an evil something-or-other has awakened in the mountains. It's not very specific, but at least it doesn't jump right into wizards with unpronouncable names raising undead armies again.

The back cover also has a sticker on it which the book seller put on, stating that the quality of the book is 'verygood'. Sadly this sticker can't be removed without tearing the cover. Book sellers.... don't do this. Ever.

On first glance, the book looks simple enough in terms of system, no additional 'time' or 'honour' scores to keep track of or anything, just skill and stamina and luck etc. So let's dive right in.

Long story short, there's a mountain full of gold, people are mining there. But weird stuff has been going on, miners have vanished, so the mine owner has asked me to go look at it. The book tells me that I've bought a map of the area, which is duplicated on the inside cover of the book. Uhh.. no, it's not. The inside cover of the book is blank. Maybe it's just my copy of this. Hmm.

Anyway, with or without a map, I head off to meet the owner of the mine. During the travel, I bump into an elf and her pet dinosaur. They're being pursued by some soldiers, and after I fight them off, the dinosaur tells me that he's actually an elf who has been put under a spell by an evil portal. It doesn't make much sense, but who am I to argue? It's a talking dinosaur, man! I'm just wishing that the book gave me the option of locking a chain around its neck and selling it to the circus.

The dino-elf tells me that I should go and talk to Gartax, an old miner, who is organising a resistance movement against the portal and its worshipers. This doesn't seem like a very profitable way to spend my time, but hey, maybe it'll be good for a laugh. It's not long before Gartax sneaks up behind me, holds a knife to my back and demands to know who I am. After spilling the beans about who I am, Gartax leads me back to his secret rebel base camp, which I'm secretly hoping will look like the ewok village.

It seems that the leader of this group is happy to hear that the mine owner has hired me, and tells me a few useful details. Such as that the mine owner in question is a dwarf, but doesn't want anyone to know that he's a dwarf, so he shaved off his beard and wears very tall shoes. I suppose even a dwarf can have a bit of a napoleon complex. He also tells me that there's a wizard who lives near a lake to the south who can help me.

But first, he wants me to protect his camp from an attack by the minions of the portal, who are all brainwashed zombie types. Gartax's soldiers are all useless, but so are the zombies, so I kinda imagine that this attack just involved groups of people all swinging swords around blindly and missing with each attack. Over the course of a few hours, my character has trudged around the battlefield, killing all the enemies single-handedly.

Taking only a bunch of food and one of the portal zombie's evil magic amulets with me, I head off in pursuit of the wizard of the lake. It's not too long before I find a cave near the lake, which I proceed to stick my head into in the hopes of finding the wizard living there. Instead, I find that the cave contains a giant lizard monster called a Stegocephalian. It's not much of a threat, possessing only three skill points. It does have a 19 in stamina though, so although it's an easy fight, it takes forever to whittle it down.

There's no wizard in the cave, keeping the lizard as a pet or anything. I continue to follow the lake along, until I find an actual proper hut. I knock on the door, hoping to meet the wizard this time. Instead I find a hungry dwarf who, in exchange for a meal, gives me his boat. "Right," I say to myself, "I'll just take the boat and find the wizard. He's got to be around here somewhere!"

I hop into the boat and head out into the middle of the lake. And, this being a Fighting Fantasy book, it's only a few pages later that hit some rapids, and only a few moments later that I'm washed up on the shore of the lake, having lost all of my belongings except for my sword. And by sod's law, I am immediately attacked by bandits.

The bandits insist that I tip out my backpack, so I upturn the soggy, empty bag and let them decide how much of the water and fish they're going to take from me. Telling me that they're unhappy with my offering, I duel with their leader. When I win and then spare his life, the bandits let me leave with their respects.

By this point I've all but given up on meeting the wizard, when I stumble across a shadowy cloaked figure on the side of the lake. I tell him that I'm looking for the wizard, and when I answer his rather easy riddle, he admits that he's the wizard I'm looking for and that he will help me out. I catch a boat out to his little island, where he gives me a magic anti-zombie ring. Makes you wish the chaps from Walking Dead had one of those, eh?

He also hands me over a magic sword, and tells me that he's going to head off to the nearby town in order to arrange for the people to get their act together and fight back against this evil portal and its army. The wizard, whose name I don't think I've been told at this point in the adventure, promptly climbs onto his robot horse and offers me a lift. If you've ever seen the old 1959 Mexican Santa Claus movie (or its MST3K episode), I'm remembering the scary-ass robot reindeer at this point. And you really should check it out if you want to see Santa Claus fighting the devil.

Having rode through the air on the back of the wizard's terrifying robotic abomination of nature, I stumble into town and sleep for the night. Rising the next morning, the book offers me a chance to beg for food, but I decide to just pay for my dinner instead. It seems that the wizard, the mine owner I was supposed to meet but never got around to it, and the Margrave (the head of the town, for those not up to speck on their outdated semi-medievil titles) are having a council meeting to discuss what they should do about the portal's evil army.

It is announced that they will put together an army of their own, with a champion to lead it. The champion will be chosen by means of a tournament, which is an excellent way to make sure that the best fighters in your city are all crippled or dead by the time the huge battle comes around. Seriously, why does that never occur to anyone in these kind of books?

Anyway, it seems that they're wanting to go for the less lethal kind of tournament, because the first test is to stay still while the mine owner puts slugs on my face. The second test is to do some maths. No, I'm not joking.

It's only the third test that involves any combat, and when I get to this point, I remember that Gartax mentioned that the mine owner loves a bit of a duel himself. So I challenge him, and it proves to be one of the hardest fights in the book so far.

Nevertheless, as the battle draws to a close I'm given the option to throw the fight, which I do. Following Gartax's suggestions from earlier, I applaud the mine owner and tell him that he is as strong as a very tall dwarf. He's so happy that he invites me back to his place, where he gives me the horn. No, really. He has a magic horn, which can summon some eagles, and he lets me have that valuable artifact. After the sex.

The town is very happy to have a new champion, so much so that they decide to abandon the idea of forming an army and send me off alone to stop the invasion of the portal people. I'm given more food, some gold, a magic potion, and sent off on my own to fix the world. I stumble hopelessly into the forest, without a clear direction in mind, sure to face a horrible and gruesome fate.

After killing another dinosaur and its portal-zombie owner, I wander into an abandoned village. Hearing a bunch of people approaching, I hide in an abandoned tavern, only to be attacked by giant maggots. The bunch of people are some of the Margrave's soldiers, and they have to come and rescue me from the giant maggots, which is suitably embarrassing. By the time they finish interrogating me and let me go free, I'm wondering if this is worth the paycheck.

Stumbling blindly through the forest a while longer, I come across a nice garden, belonging to the inhabitants of a tree house. I decide to be friendly, climbing up to the house to say hello to the inhabitant. The elf witch inside threatens to hit me with her touch of death spell unless I go and clean up her garden. So, while the forces of evil are crawling over the planet's face, I spent a few hours gardening for an unhappy person. In return, she gives me a pair of budgerigars, which is just weird. "Thanks for cleaning my garden. Here, have a budgie."

After a few hours of exploring, I find myself surrounded by wood elves. They offer to take me to their forest home for an evening of dancing, singing and whatever else elves do. I take a sip of my magic potion, and it shows me that the entire elven settlement has been possessed by portal-zombies! For some reason, the book won't let me fight my way free from them and insists that I let them escort me back to their treehouse.

That evening I try to sneak out, but find that the door is magically sealed shut. The spell on the door says that it'll let me through if I can guess its number, but I can't do this, so I instead have to leap out of the window and fall to the ground below.

I survive, though.

Meanwhile, the entire village of possessed-elves go off to invade the Margrave's town. Yeah, hope you all changed your minds about putting together an army of your own! So, I push onwards. There are more and more portal zombie patrols, and I'm needing to sneak through the undergrowth to make progress. Before long, I catch sight of a path leading towards a mine.

Clambering over the fence for the mine, I head into the tunnels. And then, completely unexpected to me, I come face to face with the portal. I wasn't quite expecting it to be sitting there, all happy and content. I'm told that it feels ancient, like a thing from beyond the dawn of time. And then it begins to probe my brain.

I'm a bit confused at this point. Is the portal a sentient thing? Is it GLADOS? Is it a shoggoth? I don't know. All I know is that the fall from the elven treehouse took far too much damage from me, meaning that I just wasn't strong enough to resist the portal's mind-whammy. I turn into one of its mindless zombie minions, and promptly toddle off to chew on the Margrave's kidney.

Portal of Evil was a lot of fun. The combat is quite sparse, but it makes up for it by being pretty damn hard-going on the dice rolls. The atmosphere is very nice, and I'd definitely score this book highly. Eight portal-zombies out of ten, or whatever.

No cake at the end, though.

(If you've enjoyed this article, be sure to check out Justin MacCormack's bestselling collection of horror stories - "Hush!: A Horror Anthology", and the young adult coming-of-age comedy "Diary of a gay teenage zombie".)

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Armies of Death playthrough

Written by Ian Livingstone, artwork by Nik Williams

Did you ever wonder what happens AFTER you win the adventure and get the big box full of treasure? The answer seems simple enough - you buy a massive army.

Personally, I'd buy a giant statue of myself made out of solid gold. But that's just me. Hell, I wasn't able to win the Deathtrap Dungeon, and I've been there twice now. But the character in Armies Of Death got through it no problem, and has spent his treasure on recruiting an army of his very own.

And before we've had the chance to invade all of Westeros, we learn that Aggrax the evil is amassing an army of his own, in order to take over the world etc etc. Of all the Fighting Fantasy books, this is published around the 30s, at which point pretty much every storyline is "Evil wizard A is amassing an army, find the magic B and go to his castle at C to win the day." Having the strength of an army behind you really does change the feel of it all.

We start out buying a ship from a grubby old man in the middle of the road, which can happily accommodate my 200 or so troops. We all cram into the boat and sail down the river, singing sailing songs. Eventually we catch sight of a barrel floating in the river, which contains a load of apples (and not hobbits, as I was expecting). My troop happily chow down on the apples, unaware that they were all poisoned by an evil crone. An evil crone whose main source of happiness in life is to float barrels full of poison apples down the river, hoping that a group of people eventually find and eat them...

Pirates, pirates everywhere!
Ah, it's an Ian Livingstone adventure. That explains it.

In Fighting Fantasy books, my luck with going into rivers is almost legendary, resulting in drowning, being eaten by piranahs and eels and ambushed by pirates. So naturally enough, we are immediately attacked by pirates. Fortunately my elven archers are able to see them away, and the day takes a turn for the fortunate when I find a dead body in the river which is holding a clearly useful key.

My army is soon bolstered by a group of wild-men who offer their services, and one of their number is kind enough to give me a yeti's tooth which will magically keep werewolves away. This is startling like something that happened in my real life a few days ago, when I bought a magic hat that keeps the opposite sex away. I'm so grateful for the wild-men joining my army that, the next morning when we are attacked by poisonous wasps, I let them have the glory of dying in my place.

After seeing another ship full of pirates on their way, our noble ship eventually docks and my army merrily skip along to a nearby town, setting up camp nearby. The town's officials don't seem to be too bothered about the massive army of a few hundred bloodthirsty warriors camped up near their settlement though, and are quite content to let me ride into their shopping district to do a bit of retail therapy. I manage to find a rather nice gold ring, and an exotic pet pokemon creature that can turn invisible (at least, that's what the store owner told me, although I suspect that he just sold me an empty cage!)

I manage to find a small gym type building, which I take to be a local fighter's guild, and after proceeding to beat the living snot out of the manager (technically we call it 'bartering for a good price'), I manage to recruit a bunch of fighters for my army. I'm running a little low on funds, but settle for a nice quiet little inn to stay the night. We meet a very familiar looking gentleman at the inn, who tells me long and involving stories about his old sailing buddies, and eventually gives me a rather nice sword as a reward for listening to his rambling stories. Lovely!

The next morning I get lost in town, and eventually find my way back to my army's encampment. We set out to explore the nearby forest, hoping to find some clue as to the demon lord chap's location, and instead stumble upon an elf village. Having a closer look, it seems that the dark lord whosisface's forces have massacred the village, so I suppose we're on the right track after all.

I then proceed to make a complete fool of myself by trudging into the middle of a giant puddle of mud in order to recover an old wooden box, and get bitten by a whole load of insects in the meantime which causes me to develop all kinds of horrible diseases. My army laughs at me. And for all the effort, the box contained a load of useless bones... Who is putting boxes full of bones in mud pits? Eh. Doesn't matter.

We rescue a group of dwarves from some especially unpleasant ogres, or hobgoblins, or whatever. In gratitude, the dwarves join us, and it's about at this point that I start to see a few similarities between the combat system as used here and the one later used in Blood of the Zombies. See if you can spot them too. We now get to the part of the adventure that I call 'getting lost in the forest'.

After stumbling around for a while, I find my way into a cave. Chopping apart the giant ant who's no doubt just happily sitting in the cave (which is probably just the giant ant's bedroom, which I have invaded). I grab a small box, which contains a flash-bang bomb that blinds my character utterly. My skill score, which was at a rather health 10, plummets as a result. Oh, giant ant, why do you even have this item in your cave?

We stumble through the forest for a while longer until we meet a group of knights who are guarding a bridge. In order to allow us to cross the bridge, they ask us a riddle. Well, not really a riddle. They just ask us who one of the big important Fighting Fantasy wizards was. I'm not even sure if this wizard was mentioned in the book prior to this, or if the book is just asking a general bit of trivia to test the reader's knowledge of the setting, but either way I guess at the illustrious Yaztromo being the correct answer. And it is.

The knights join the group, and we cross the bridge, setting up to make camp for the night. During the night, I look up and see that there is a full moon tonight... somehow, I can still see this despite being blind. I just assume that the book means that my trusty lieutenant tells me that there's a full moon. Anyway, this means that the camp is soon attacked by a werewolf! It howls viciously, but my trusty yeti tooth holds even greater power, causing it to be frozen in place while we dispatch its foul lyncanthropic hide. I'm actually fairly impressed that the damn thing worked. I guess I owe my respect to the poor, dead wildman who gave me the thing.

Still, after having killed the werewolf, we're able to get a good night's sleep. The next morning, we wake up and continue on our trek, only to come face to face with an army of Chaos Warriors. Sometimes, you can see little things like this which remind you about the whole warhammer connection to these gamebooks. I wonder why Games Workshop never took advantage of this link and published any of their own gamebooks... anyway, the Chaos Warriors butcher my dwarves without breaking a sweat.

The Chaos Warriors then unleash a horde of goblin war machines, which tear through a large chunk of my army. The entire forest turns into the battle for Pelinor Fields at that point, and I am personally drawn into a fight with a Hill Troll. As you'll remember, I'm now blind, but my blind fighting kung fu skills are amazing and I manage to slay the troll. Barely. I have three health points left.

So once I've killed the troll, a Mountain Orc takes his place and finishes the job. I no doubt die in a horribly gruesome manner. My blind fighting kung fu skills have abandoned me. Perhaps I should have played a Pandaren Monk instead.

Armies of Death is a pretty solid and exciting book. Its system for large scale combat is really easy to use and flexible enough to work really smoothly without cutting into the flow of the story. This is good. Buy it. Then get me a new pair of shoes. Mine are muddy.

(If you've enjoyed this article, be sure to check out Justin MacCormack's bestselling collection of horror stories - "Hush!: A Horror Anthology", and the young adult coming-of-age comedy "Diary of a gay teenage zombie".)

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Daggers of Darkness playthrough

Their tails are going like fan
blades right now. Vrrooooom!!
Written by Luke Sharp, Artwork by Martin McKenna

Daggers of Darkness is a fairly standard FF adventure. Let's check and see what's new with it, before I start my playthrough.

The most stand-out thing about this book is the cover. It is the best cover of any FF book of all time, because it shows a mongolian barbarian who seems to be wielding a death-mace-whip weapon of some sort, and his trusty eagle companion, jet-skiing across a river by means of standing on top of two saber-toothed tigers. There is simply nothing better than this image. Compared to jet-skiing tigers, Game of Thrones falls flat on its face. "Oh, you have dire wolves? Can I jet-ski on them? I don't think so!"

Well, the formula of the adventure seems standard. A villainous warlock (or in this case, the vizier Chingiz) is trying to usurp power in Kazan, and I need to go and stop it, or something. Aside from the usual stats, the book also has a poison rating. Well, not so much a rating, but it's a little drawing of a man with his body parts blocked out into seperate areas. As you go through the adventure, you fill in more and more of the body, until the poison takes over and you die. Charming. So already the book is devising new ways to kill the player.

So how do you get poisoned in the first place? What are the plans of the evil vizier? What are my starting stats for this game? Let's find out! Well, stamina's a lowly 15, but skill's a decent 9, so it looks like we might do okay this time.

There was a time when all video games started like this
The adventure starts as an assassin is trying to stab me to death. So, not fooling around, then. The last time I started an adventure by almost being stabbed, I wound up being accused of being the false prophet (wow, an Ultima reference? I'm feeling very retro today!). He barely manages to scratch me with the titular dagger of darkness, but in doing so I have been intoxicated with the poison that will slowly try to claim my life.

I was rescued by a drinking buddy, who turns out to have been a wise wizard all along. Kinda like Cliff the mailman in 'Cheers', but without the uniform. Anyway, he tells me that I've been targeted by the assassin because I'm one of the 'Select', a group of people who may compete to claim the distant throne of Kazan. There's a whole history as to how this comes around, it's a very complicated and involving story which adds a lot to the general atmosphere of the book, but it essentially boils down to this - if I want to become the ruler of Kazan, I need to find some amulets that are guarded around the land. That's the only way I'll be able to confront the vizier, get a cure for his poison, and kick him in the knee for being such an evil plonker.

With Cliff's advice still ringing in my ears, I head out on my travels. Before long, I find another of the Select, who is laying dying with one of the daggers of darkness embedded in his chest. He manages to tell me which way the assassins went, so I opt to head in the opposite direction. I don't have the chance to rob the body though, because the full force of the poison that flows through the poor victim causes his body to crumble to dust - along with ALL OF HIS POSSESSIONS as well! How does that work? Seriously? Did the gold coins in his bag get poisoned too? Damn, I don't stand a chance with that kind of poison in my system! I'm lucky that plants don't just die as I walk past them...

What does it say about me that the first version of
this shot I looked for was the Ralph Bakshi one?
I follow the dying man's advice and head in the opposite direction from the assassins, but it's not before long that I hear riders on the road up ahead. Taking the advice of Frodo Baggins, I decide to get off the road and hide. I'm sure that I find a really nice hovel under a tree to hide in, hoping that it's neither assassins or Nazgul that are on the road. Whoever it is, they're a bit smarter than Nazgul though - rather than falling for my trick, they just unleash an eagle on me which pecks me until I stagger out of the hiding place. I hope Sauron is taking note of this tactic.

It seems that the riders weren't assassins, because when they confront me and I tell them that I'm one of the Select, they greet me with praise and respect and offer to take me along on my journey. They even give me a horse to ride on. An old gray mare (which ain't what it used to be), and before long I'm making really good progress.

Well, we make good progress until we're attacked by orcs and my entire party is scattered or killed during the night (although I'm sure a couple manage to scramble into Fangorn Forest and are probably eaten by Ents). I chop up a few of the orcs, but I'm left stumbling in the dark. From somewhere in the shadows, I am assailed by a 'dark warrior', who I have to assume is one of the vizier's assassins. I take a skill penalty due to the darkness, but I'm still able to overwhelm my enemy and push on.

Leaving the ruins of my comrades behind, I head into the unforgiving snow. The snowstorm begins to get wilder, sapping both my stamina and spurring on the poison in my system. In the midst of the storm, a sinister magical force of unspecified origin (I have to assume the vizier or his assassin's hands are involved, because the book doesn't really tell me otherwise) coaxes me to lay down in the snow and wait for death. But I draw on my strength and, seeing an image of Cliff the mailman shimmering before my eyes like some kind of celestial Obi-Wan Kenobi, I push onwards!

If Obi-Wan asks you to go to Port Blacksand,
the wisest answer is to tell him 'no'
By this point, the poison's already starting to really build up and it's close to taking a full third of my body. I haven't found any of the medallion/talisman/amulet things as of yet, and I'm rather certain I should have come across one by now and simply missed it. Maybe my luck will change soon, because it's not long before I'm rescuing a fellow adventurer from a pack of goblins. He seems a trustworthy sort, so I tell him that I'm one of the Select.

It turns out that this is a good idea, because he teaches me how to fight in the dark. Which would have been really useful a few sections ago when I was fighting the dark warrior, but I don't mind. We head to a nearby tavern, where I have a quick meal. It seems that things will be settling down for a while...

But of course, me and 'peaceful' don't co-exist in the same general area. After a couple pints of ale, a group of mercenaries burst into the tavern and throw a net over me. They knock me out, and I wake up later on in a dingy caravan where I'm informed that I will spend the rest of my life in the fighting pits. Oh joy. Does this mean that I will one day rise through the ranks, only to be released and seek my revenge against the evil Thulsa Doom (played by James Earl Jones) and his snake cult? I certainly hope so, and to prove it, I challenge my cruel slavemaster to a duel.

So, Adventurer, what is best in life?
He knocks me around the arena for a while, beats me in combat, I no doubt pee myself, and he leaves me in a pool of my own embarrassment. Strange, this didn't happen to Conan.

Anyway, it seems that my willingness to stand up and make myself the center of attention has caught the notice of one old man, who tells me that he has been watching for the Select, and he can tell that I am one. Being one of the traditionalists, he wants to see the old rituals of royal ascension maintained, so he hurries me to my freedom. We journey to his home city, where I am plied with food and wine (and I chug down my Stamina Potion now so that my health is maxed out) and I'm told about the trials that stand before me.

In order to win my first medallion, I need to win the test of chance. To do so, I need to make my way from one side of a chamber to the other. There is no floor, only a series of pillars which I need to walk over the top of. Several of these pillars hold vicious snakes. So in short, it's like the movie "The Golden Child", if you remember back when Eddie Murphy made good films (oh, so long ago)...

But more deadly. And more random, because your movement direction is determined by the dice. You roll 5/6 to move up or down, 3/4 to move left or right, and if you roll 1/2 then you stay where you are. You cannot go back, I assume because the pillars you've just stepped off will crumble into the pit beneath you once you step away from them. And if you're bitten by a snake, you lose three stamina. If you're bitten by three snakes, you die.

We should have just let Lara Croft handle this part
Oh, and if you can't move on any given turn (either because you're unable to move in the direction that the dice indicates, or because it rolled 1/2), you lose one stamina point... I don't know why. I assume that there's a group of men standing at the entrance who throw rocks at you or something. It's the only logical reason, because as it plays out, I wasn't able to get across this pit. Eventually, only one step from being all the way across, I rolled a 2 and my stamina hit zero. Because the book doesn't tell me WHY it is that I died, and because my 'men throwing rocks at you' idea sounds too sadistic even for this type of test, I'm going to just assume my character died from a bad case of death.

Not a bad book, the atmosphere is very thick and you get a real sense of history and fantasy environment from it. It's a lovely escapist piece, because it gives a very unique feel to the area and culture you're travelling through. But the downside, it's one of those very difficult books. It often feels like the author was trying to make sure you couldn't get through some parts without vast amounts of luck (actual luck, not the stat).

(If you've enjoyed this article, be sure to check out Justin MacCormack's bestselling collection of horror stories - "Darkness Bites", and the young adult coming-of-age comedy "Diary of a gay teenage zombie".)

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Doctor Who and the Fescan Threat

By Chris Stone

What is a Fescan? Is it like a fresco? Perhaps it's like a fax machine? I have no idea. Not yet, in any case. But thankfully, we have a professional on hand who knows all about them. We can trust him, he's a doctor.

Doctor Who and the Fescan Threat is a gamebook adventure by Chris Stone, and he's asked me to give it a whirl and see if I enjoy it. It is available exclusively at for a limited time, and proceeds go towards mental health charities.

If you don't know what Doctor Who is by now, I'd like to introduce you to the longest running sci-fi show in the world (beating out Star Trek), and also the show of the most variable and often dubious quality. Get your bubble-wrap ready if you want to cosplay as any of the alien monsters in this show, kids!

Our story begins with the doctor telling his trusty companion that the Fescans are alien fish people, and he has faced them multiple times - once for each of his incarnations. Now don't worry, you'll get a chance to see many of these, as his first ten incarnations are included in this book, each one with their own adventure against the fish folk. (translation - you get ten adventures to play through here, guys). So, I chose to decide by a completely random roll of a ten sided dice to let's see which Doctor I will be...

The Sixth Doctor

As the Sixth Doctor, played by the iconoclastic Colin Baker, you have a strength of 40. You are armed with a coat that could make a blind man's eyes bleed, and a badge in the shape of a cat. Your special skill is hypnotism and being fired by the BBC.

After rolling up a few stats, the TARDIS arrives in the Carollean system, and I have the choice of which planet to land on. I opt to check out the desert planet of Loxani, which I am reliably informed to be quite hot. Leaving the TARDIS, I wander northwards through the baking sun until I arrive at an oasis. Finding a few sprigs of orange berries growing on some oasis foliage, I chew on them until I realise that they're poisonous and spit them out. Well, going good so far!

Taking some of the berries with me, I explore the oasis a little bit more and take note of just how verdant it is. Very peculiar... At this point, a small assault craft descends overhead. A Fescan battle craft, it quickly opens fire. I dive for cover, but not before taking a sharp burning hit from its laser beams. Watching from under some cover, the fighter craft jets off into the horizon. The doctor proceeds past the desert, over the sand dunes, until something truly unusual catches his eye - a city, floating over the desert on a huge disc.

Eager to go and be haughty and arrogant at them, the Sixth Doctor scurries his way to the city and clamber aboard. It's an impressively futuristic city, kept cool by what I assume is either a geothermic dome overhead or by cunning air conditioners hidden where you least expect them. Wandering through the streets for a while, it isn't long before I catch sight of something suspicious - a group of Fescans. I head off in their general direction, and soon find myself standing outside of a bar.

So, ahem, the Doctor walks into a bar. The bartender asks me "Why the long face?" I tell him that Jon Pertwee's nose wasn't that big. Boom boom. Ahem. Anyway. The Doctor sits down at the bar, and a drunk chap wanders over and says "Psst, hey buddy, you're not a member of the secret underground looking to overthrow the Fescan invaders, are you?" The Doctor, naturally, steals the man's glass and runs out of the bar instead. Can't help but feeling that I missed a useful clue when I chose to indulge in my kleptomania...

Leaving the bar, I eventually find a large statue of a Fescan warrior. The locals seem to be avoiding it, and it's pretty clear that there must be some real systemic hatred of their cruel overlords. Can't imagine why. I manage to stumble onwards until I find myself in a rough part of town, full of people wearing hoodies. For a moment, I thought I was in London rather than Loxani.

I soon find my way into a park, which sets my mind to rest by reassuring me that I am indeed on a desert planet because most of the plants are cacti. Apart from some red flowers, one of which I take to wear on my gaudy coat. In a rather unusual twist of architecture, I soon stumble my way past a castle, portcullis and all. Evidently the inhabitants of the desert planet of Loxani are big fans of European castle designs. On my way through the castle, a Fescan guard asks for my ident card and, when I don't have one, he shoots me. Say what you will about the criminal justice system...

I wake in a cell. And, being the Doctor, I immediately find a small electronic panel near the door. While fiddling around with it to try to unlock the door, I accidentally create a swirling wormhole in the fabric of space... as you do... And being a bit of a sucker for diving into swirling vortexes of chaos, I dive right in.

I promptly fall through space and time, tumbling through universes and witnessing abstract images and thoughts given form. Flames dance around me and meteors fly past, and before long I am absorbed by a sentient entity made of the colour purple. It devours me entirely, and my misadventure ends here. A tragic state of affairs, really.

Doctor Who and the Fescan Threat is a good, solid gamebook. It's long at over 2000 segments, and captures the feel of the TV show very nicely. Right off the bat, you're given a path that splits off if you play as the 1st or 2nd Doctor, and if you don't then you are presented with four possible planets to select to explore, all of which means that there's a lot of replayability here.

This book is a limited printing, and all proceeds go to mental health charities, so if this sounds like your kind of book or you would like to benefit a good cause, grab a copy fast before it's too late.

(If you've enjoyed this article, be sure to check out Justin MacCormack's bestselling collection of horror stories - "Darkness Bites", and the young adult coming-of-age comedy "Diary of a gay teenage zombie".)

Monday, 5 September 2016

Stealer of Souls playthrough

Written by Keith Martin, artwork by Russ Nicholson.

Stealer of Souls is another book I never played as a kid. The cover shows an ominous looking figure standing in a dramatic pose, facing the reader. The same description applies to about 90% of the interior artwork, too. The story seems simple - an evil warlord/wizard is raising an army of bad things, and you need to go kill him. Oh, alright, the bad guy is called Mordreneth, he has a base on the Isle of Despair, and has kidnapped a nice wizard called Alsander too.

The inside cover has a map of the Isle of Despair, with such interesting landscapes as a swamp, a lake, a forest, some hills, and a bunch of mountains. No cities, no massive rips in the fabric of space and time, nothing like that. The book also boasts no additional stats or systems from the standard Fighting Fantasy set, just the skill, stamina and luck scores. Lastly, this copy I'm reading used to belong to a kid called Sam Rayner. Sam, if you're out there, leave a comment and you can win a prize. (the prize is nothing).

The book opens with your character being given his quest by a big high muck-a-muck who tells you to go and fetch the kidnapped wizard, and then you're packed off onto a ship to sail to the Isle of Despair, which I will henceforth refer to as The Isle of Somewhat Unhappiness. Mid-journey, a giant blackbird swoops down from the sky, which I promptly kill. Hope it wasn't an albatross.

The ship arrives at the Isle of Broodingly Sulking, and I climb into a raft to row to the shore. I'm attacked by a giant crab, which leaves me alone when I chuck some food at it. Shortly thereafter, the crab's owner, a sea giant, says hello and apologises for his pet's behaviour, offering me a bed for the evening and a hearty meal in return. He also gives me an old scroll with a poem on it, which I dump into my backpack along with a jar of insect repellent that the ship's captain gave me earlier.

The giant also gives me three meals to take with me, which makes me very happy (remember, each meal restores 4 stamina points, so that's a lot), but the very next paragraph tells you that the damp has ruined two of them, rendering the entire gesture rather frustrating instead. The road then splits into two paths, and I pick the path that has less mud on it, because I don't much fancy getting stuck in a swamp and eaten by Gollum.

We trudge on for a while until we eventually find a cave to sleep in for the night. While checking it out to make sure there are no horrible monsters, a poisonous centipede bites me. But it's evidently not too poisonous, because it only causes 2 points of damage, rather than a lingering death or anything.

The next day as we journey along, we meet a lizard man asks me to go and kill a giant bird that's been bothering him. I clamber up the cliff to the bird's nest, fall off, and sustain only minimal damage before climbing back up again and killing the giant bird. The lizard gives me some generic loot ("Here, have some Generic Loot!"), which a forest imp tries to steal from me while I'm asleep the following night.

Here, for a moment, stop reading this. If you're having fun, why not go and read my novel instead? It's a collection of short horror and dark fantasy tales, and it's bound to be more entertaining than genie loot. It's right over here, click here to grab a copy! Hell, if you live in the UK, you can even post it to me and I'll sign it or some crap like that. Right, enough viral advertising, back to this bollocks.

When I notice that the imp in question is trying to steal my Generic Loot (tm), I'm given the option of just letting the imp go, or murdering him in cold blood. Which seems a bit harsh, even for my standards. I immediately have a moral dilema. Should I risk losing whatever reward the imp will give me for sparing his life, purely so that I can indulge my urge for mindless butchery? I decide to let the imp go, and he gives me some luck powder in return.

Soon I come to another crossroads, this one with a signpost. I follow the one which has a large deathly skull on its sign, which eventually leads me to a small cottage. There are two hobgoblins knocking seven shades of excreta out of each other in the garden, which causes me to do what any sane person would do in this situation - get some popcorn and enjoy the show.

Eventually the two monsters have murdered each other (for my viewing pleasure), so I head into the cottage and find an old man tied to a chair, he tells me that the monsters were fighting over which one of them got to kill him.

Questioning the logic of the hobgoblins is, of course, pointless, so I simply talk to the old man and he tells me that I should ask the local tribal leader about the scroll I found earlier. The book then guides me straight back to the signpost at the crossroads, and tells me in no uncertain terms to pick another path.

Heading south this time, I find the tribe of forest-dwellers that the old man mentioned. Their leader offers to sell me a few items in exchange for the Generic Loot I got earlier, so I hand over the Loot and get a key, rope, and some white oil. I talk to the leader about the scroll, and he explains that the poem written on it is about an ancient nasty monster thingy called the Stealer of Souls, and that if I hear it singing, I should avoid it. Hmm, good to know.

The book then guides you right back to the crossroads yet again, and throws you down the only untraveled path. After travelling for a while, we find a house. Entering, I find an old man who is chained to a wall, but while I look around for traps, the illusion fades to reveal that the old man is actually a mad evil cultist who wants to stab me to death for no apparent reason. And I guess he was just waiting there for random strangers to come into his home, with this illusion spell in place and... eh, everyone needs a hobby.

Despite the house being decorated with skulls, alters to the dark gods, and generally looking like Ed Gein's holiday home in the Algarve, I'm told that I need to sleep there for the night. My sleep is interrupted by nightmares (no, really? But it's such a nice house!) which are so bad that they cause me to take three points of damage, somehow. Anyway, the next morning I find a trapdoor in the house, and follow the stairs down until I find the entrance to the Iron Crypt, the place I've been searching for on this island... wow, that was convenient!

I bend the bars of the doorway into the crypt, and chop up a few goblins as I stumble through the tunnels. At this point in the adventure, you might have noticed one thing that I've neglected to mention so far, and that's how well I'm doing. Frankly, I still have plenty of provisions left, which means that my health is fine and dandy. In fact, I'm rapidly starting to suspect that this adventure is just a little too easy.

The book then decides to correct this by throwing me into a maze. Urgh. Think you all know how I feel about mazes. I stumble around blindly for a while, killing ogres and snakes and random generic skeleton monsters. This goes on for a while. Soon, I stop even noting down which tunnel I've taken, because they all blur into one another, such is the way of mazes in this type of book.

Having then deciding to completely screw me over, the book describes a chamber in the maze as having 'sound' coming from it, so I head in to investigate, and am promptly eaten by the Stealer of Souls. No, the description didn't say 'singing', because if it did, I wouldn't have gone in. It said 'sound', which could have been anything, from the sound of goblins marching around in circles, to the sound of a baby eating a cat.

This book was... it was definitely a book. It had a cover, and it had words, and the words were printed on paper, so it was definitely a book. That's the most remarkable thing I can think to say about it, really. I wish I could say more, but there's just so little to say. I'd suggest reading Michael Moorcock's Stealer of Souls book from his Elric series, but I'm afraid that one would put me to sleep too. And if you want that, why not just watch the first Star Trek film? That's guaranteed to put you to sleep! In fact, I think I'll go and watch that right now....

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Sky Lord playthrough

Written by Martin Allen, artwork by Tim Sell

Oh boy, a sci-fi Fighting Fantasy.

When I was a kid, the sci-fi books in this series meant one thing and one thing only - a giant warning light with the words 'AVOID' printed on them. Thus far in my blogging career, the entire sci-fi episodes of the franchise has been something of a damp squib. Will this one change that? I really don't think so, but I'm willing to give it a shot!

I had umpteen chances to purchase this book when I was a kid, and never did. Almost entirely because the cover is just simply so bland, with a strange alien thingy riding what appears to be a flying motorbike. There's a laser beam and I'd guess it is meant to indicate that the creature is firing at someone, but the angle makes this difficult to tell for sure, and the background is a simple gradiant yellow which simply screams lack of imagination. Really, with a cover like that, what kind of adventure is it selling? What lurks within?

It doesn't start off well. You play as a four-armed alien knight thing from a planet whose name looks like someone's cat walked across the keyboard. Your planet's king summons you and tells you that he needs your service, because an evil Generic Bad Guy is doing Generic Bad Things. Our villain of the month is L'Bastin, whose foul plans involve tax evasion.

Let me clarify, L'Bastin wanted to get a whole load of money because he's evil or something, but because the planet you're living on hasn't given anyone a pay raise in two hundred years, L'Bastin asks for a loan. He's turned down, and instead comes up with a plan to make himself rich. His plan is to replace his entire workforce by creatures grown in test-tubes, and keep their wages for himself.

The evil fiends other crimes include selling his flatmate's possessions at the local pawn shop, and glueing a pineapple to the queen's face. I wish I was joking here. I really do. Seriously, come back Balthus Dire, all is forgiven! Anyway, I'm promptly shipped off to the bad guy's space castle (a castle on a planet in space... some things never change, eh?) which is full of mutant cross-breed monsters of various types. So in short, I suspect, it's going to be just like any other FF book, with nothing really major to differentiate it from the fantasy genre ones. If this pans out to be the case, that'll mean that the best sci-fi one is Starship Traveller, as disturbing as that sounds... okay, let's get on with it. The book asks me if I want to start off by making my ship time-warp or light-warp to the enemy's castle.

I engage the time-warp drive, and after a few minutes of flight I'm told that I notice a 'fuzzy purple blotch' on the side of my ship. The text describes this as a space fungus, so I drop out of warp and try to get rid of it, when I'm suddenly attacked by a random space ship, which I'm able to shoot out of the sky without too much trouble. The ship leaves behind a droid robot, which I apparantly take with me, before I crash into a random planet and sink my ship in a lake.

Stumbling out of the lake, the droid starts to toddle off on its own into the distance. I follow along after it, eventually losing sight of it. I walk along a random path, and find an alien spaceship which has landed on the planet. I attempt to board it, but two mutant monsters emerge and try to eat me. I defeat them both, but then apparantly lose interest in the ship because I go in another direction entirely. I don't know why, the book simply tells you that you do this. Frankly, given how many times I've said the word 'random' at this point, I'm not bloody surprised.

I manage to find the droid and save it from another generic mutant thing, and the droid is so thankful that it takes me to see its master, who lives in a nearby cave. The droid's master tells me that the planet has been taken over by an evil sprite type thing and an army of mutants, and the droid was sent to save them all because it has some kind of mcguffin that can destroy the sprite's ship.

The cave-dwelling madman then tells me that he's just going to go and get my ship back, so he toddles off into the back of the cave. He then emerges a few moments later and tells me that he's accidently destroyed my ship instead, and stranded me on this planet. The game then ends.

Let me make the record nice and clear though, I don't dislike sci-fi. But good sci-fi is very hard to write well. I largely think that the age of really challenging sci-fi is a thing of the past now, that we've run out of Arthur C Clarkes and Philip K Dicks. Good sci-fi should make us stop and think about ourselves, question who we are and where we are going. Very few sci-fi products do that any more, the last good one I seen was Duncan Jones' movie 'Moon'. To make matters more difficult, years of big franchise sci-fi like Star Trek and Star Wars has had some real impact on the genre, and not necessarily for the better. That is, technology in Star Trek works very much by throwing random tech-sounding words together as if technology was a form of magic (which makes a fan of Clarke's style 'hard sci-fi' like me kinda squirm), leaving me feeling as if I'm standing in a cold dark room clutching my dog-eared copy of William Gibson's 'Neuromancer', hoping for better days.

But yeah, in short, I don't hate sci-fi, I just think it's very hard to do it well, and that's why many writers struggle with it. But, god help me, I decide to give it another shot.

This time, my character reaches for the light-jump, which results in nothing much more than being attacked by a different random space ship. After defeating it, though, I'm informed that there's a large space station nearby which I could go and visit. I decide to dock in it, and (after blowing up a rather unimpressive drone shuttle) I'm given the bewildering choice of whether I enter the airlock while its vertical or horizontal. There doesn't seem to be any indication as to which of these might be a 'wrong' choice, so I just pick one at random. Horizontal. No obvious difference in my choice either way. Woo. Such a feeling of progress, there.

Once inside the station, I'm given the choice as to if I want to leave the room I'm in, or look at either a plastic tap or a glass tap. I look at the glass tap, and I'm told that I then decide that I don't want to do anything so just leave the room anyway. Wow. I'm so glad that the book gave me this choice. It added so much to my adventure and WHY AM I DOING THIS? I could be re-playing City of Thieves right now, and enjoying myself.

I wander around the station for a while until I encounter a locked door, and I'm told that lockpicking is a skill I learned at space academy. Let's consider this for a moment. First up, I studied at a place called Space Academy - not the University of Plegus 3 or anything, but Space Academy. Because we're in space, don't you know. Trite. But second, Space Academy teaches lockpicking. Because every student has classes on how to pick a lock, and probably also on general burglary skills. And third, in this distant space station in the far future, locks aren't bits of computerised digital systems that are unlocked by keycards or anything, but CAN BE PICKED WITH ACTUAL LOCKPICKS I mean god why why why why why why why why why why why why....

So after I pick the lock of the door (urrrrgh) I enter a room with a set of space mopeds in one corner, a la the high-speed carts in the film Space Mutiny. "Put your helmet on, we'll be reaching speeds of three!" But no time to think about that, because there's an evil orange blob on the other side of the room. I get on the cart and drive towards the orange blob, hoping that it'll put me out of my misery. Instead I drive right over it, through the door, and wind up in the hydroponics bay.

Hydroponics bay exists purely to annoy me. I try to examine some of the plants, and I'm attacked by brambles. Brambles, and I mean 'attacked' as in they are alive and fighting me. Can you guess how many skill points a bramble has? You don't have to guess, this book tells you. I'm feeling suitably underwhelmed, so after killing the bramble, the book asks if I want to eat a strawberry. Keen to have some slight sense of pleasure in my otherwise dreary mission, I chew on a strawberry. It was poisoned.

Spitting out the poisoned strawberry (and let me just ask WHAT KIND OF HYDROPONICS BAY IS FULL OF KILLER BRAMBLES AND POISONED STRAWBERRIES?), I decide to just leave, lugging a bag of weed-killer and a shovel with me, hoping that I can find a hole to bury myself in. Sorry, am I getting too bleak here? Let me make this very clear, this is not a good book. Fighting Fantasy has done far, far better. It's even done better sci-fi books. Bleh. Right, leaving the hydroponics bay of pain, my character seems to decide that he would rather just leave the whole silly station behind. He loads himself into a shuttle and returns to his ship, without even leaving me the chance to decide if I want to or not.

The shuttle is inhabited by a survivor of the station, who is terrified of the orange blob, which has evidently ate all his friends. Like any kindly and noble space warrior, I butcher the terrified old man in cold blood. I take his box of cigars and revolver with me, because fuck it why not? And then I'm thrown into a fight with the orange blob. As a 'fight', it is actually fairly unique and innovative for this book, as I need to throw things at it, the blob then eats them and I hope that it gets full or poisoned or something. The entire innovation is kinda ruined because when I fail at this, I get a very generic 'The blob catches up and devours you' ending. Not even an imaginative description of it devouring your flesh. Feh.

This book is bad. It's a bad, bad book. It's not good. Have I made that clear enough? And you want to know why it's bad? Because it's lazy. The writing is just so lazy. It has some decent ideas though, deep down. I mean, take the very first choice, if you want to travel with time warp or light warp. That could be a pretty neat idea, a chance to really experience some strange and entirely new type of styles. Instead, the text just tells you that each holds different dangers, but doesn't give any idea what those might be. Or the death with the orange blob eating you, it's all presented in such a bland and dull manner.

I mean, let's compare this to my all-time fave FF book, Vault of the Vampire. Vault is a classic haunted castle, very little in terms of being unique. It's got nothing that really sets it apart from many FF books, but the writing is excellent. The descriptions are lavish, the monsters feel vibrant and the atmosphere jumps off the page. In this one, it all feels so bland. And that segment with the glass spiggot, where I ask to look at it, the character glances at it and then decides to walk off anyway, that's no real difference than just having the segment say 'turn to paragraph 307', which as you know is one of my real pet peeves.

In short, this book needed more. It has ideas, deep down, but it's all just performed in such a lazy manner. As if there's just no love or heart put into it. Which, strangely enough, is why I dislike The Hobbit movies. This book just reads as if someone was told to go and write it, and really didn't care if what they had at the end of the day was going to be good or not. And if they didn't care, why should I?

Next time on Fighting For Your Fantasy... Something else.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Slaves of the Abyss playthrough

Seriously, what are we looking at?
Written by Paul Mason and Steve Williams, artwork by Bob Harvey

Ah, Fighting Fantasy 32. The thirty-second book in the series. With a cover that is more bewildering than anything else. Honestly, I'm not sure what I'm even looking at here.

By this point in the series, things had kinda hit a plateux. I do think that the series picked up in the 40s with a lot more atmosphere and experimentation, but it definitely wasn't at the same heights of the earlier books. The 30s were kinda a bit 'meh' really, for the most part. I do think that's partly due to just how samey all the storylines were.

So for this particular book's storyline, Princess Caroline of some indescript backwater kingdom is afraid that a big ol' army of gribbly doom will come and stomp down her city streets and poke the town's puppies with sticks and so forth, so she asks me and  few other idiots - erm, brave heroes, to go and help defend the useless nation in the place of an actual army of anything.

I roll up a character who has a phenomenally high skill (11), and a spectacularly low stamina (16) and volounteer to go and scout out the evil army of evilness, because the other possible options for how to defend the city don't sound like much fun. While I get ready to head out on my journey, there's a big kafuffle in the castle when some character runs into the kitchen and sets himself on fire. I've no idea why, and this doesn't seem to have any impact on what's going on, so it just leaves me confused.

As we saddle up to head off on our mission, one of the other adventurers who've been charged with defending the kingdom gives me a bag of herbs which keep me awake. This seems rather pointless, until you remember that this is one of those FF books with a time system, so being able to stay alert and keep moving during the night is going to be pretty useful. During my first night out on the trail, I'm attacked by evil elves, which aren't too much of a threat.

So these priests are based on real-life, then?
Riding through the next day, I decide to stay over at a roadside temple. As soon as I step inside, a group of priests try to mug me and take all my stuff. I don't believe I just said that, so I'm going to read that section again.... Yes, the priests try to mug me. They demand all of the contents of my backpack, and when they don't get it, a group of them surround me and I'm left dodging out of their way and fleeing the temple. Y'know, I've heard about tithing, but this is ridiculous!

I continue along my way, eventually encountering a begger who tells me a tall story involving an evil jester and a wicked curse (which kinda makes me wish I was taking part in that story instead) and asks me for gold, I ignore him and press onwards into the next village. Upon arriving there, I am surrounded by hooded priests - oh god, they've caught up with me! The priests proceed to beat me unconscious, and throw me into a cell without any of my possessions except for an old statue I took from the elves that I killed a few nights ago.

I wake up in a cell, and one of the priests eventually tells me that they've been ordered to let me go. I'm not given the option to massacre their entire chav-ish order or anything, so I trudge miserably onwards until I come to another village, hopefully free from the tyrany of wandering bands of marauding clergy. The village is utterly abandoned, except for a strange man who is locked in a basement of one of the houses. Naturally this man drags me into a wine celler and tries to change the shape of my head with a vigorous series of punches, so I'm forced to run away yet again.

The Stuff of Nightmares
Seeking shelter in a nearby hut, I grab two suspicious sounding potions from a shelf, one called Arakh and one called Zazzaz. I plan to indulge my urge to taste possibly gross stuff with these potions. The hut also has some puppets in a corner, which I avoid like the plague because puppets are the scariest thing since clowns. Yeeks. Anyway, the next village I come across is similarly empty, leading me to suspect that the entire population has been abducted by aliens.

I try to press onwards, but this winds up with my character encountering an ending paragraph in which he stumbles in confusion across many featureless plains for all of eternity, causing me to have to restart the entire adventure. By the time I get back to this paragraph, I'm far less patient and quite happy to just give the entire thing a angry sigh and turn back the way I've come. Soon enough, I see the signs of the evil McEvilson army off in the distance. I'm so happy that I take a swig of the Arakh potion, only to find that it has no effect whatsoever.

I draw a bit closer to the army, sneaking nice and quietly. It's at this point that I can see that the soldiers are not ravaging monsters of evil eviltons, but blank-eyed peasants. So at very least we know what happened to the villagers. I'm so surprised that I take a swig of the Zazzaz potion, only to find that it makes me pass out and lose consciousness. When I come to, I get back onto my horse, who is promptly startled at the sight of the army, causing it to rear up and throw me off, which in turn makes me pass out and lose consciousness again.

The Shadow Over Where-You-Live!!
This time, I wake up in a giant void full of imprisoned figures, swirling in a strange un-world type of space. That's right, I'm IN THE FRONT COVER. And, yeah, the book kinda ends there. I assume that the giant floating head winded up getting a little bored and decided to have me for dinner.

This is one hell of a strange book. So, well, yeah. I'm sure there's a lot more to Slaves of the Abyss, I suspect it's a bit of a slow-burn kind of a book. I actually rather liked a lot of the atmosphere in it, which was occasionally a little "Shadow Over Innesmouth"ish. I'd give that point a recommendation, because it does play a bit of a mystery with the player.

The fantasy angle on it is a little dull, but overall I can't really say it's a poor showing. It does pose a rather nice little mystery, making you wonder just what's going on, and I'd be interested to try it out and see if we can solve it and find out just what is going on with this army of villagers and who the big giant head happens to be (hey, maybe he's William Shatner!) Give this one a shot. Just... try to do better at it than I did, eh?