Saturday, 23 June 2012

The Fighting Fantasy Board Games

Here's a bit of a retro moment.

In my last playthrough, 'The Warlock of Firetop Mountain', I mentioned that there was a board game version of the game. I actually had a copy of this when I was a kid. We bought it second hand from a car boot sale, which I stumbled across while searching for Conan the Barbarian books. I was an odd kid.

Remember Zagor's Labyrinth from the book? Now you
can bring your friends along and see how long it takes
before they refuse to ever play board games with you again!
To play the game, a group of players would each take turns to move around the game board, which was a fairly detailed representation of Firetop Mountain. The board was impressive, because it had the general layout roughly correct - the starting areas, the river, the damnable labyrinth. The game used cards to represent monsters and treasures, including keys.

Keys, just like in the gamebook version of Firetop Mountain, were the most important feature. You needed to work out the correct combination of keys that would let you access the warlock's treasure, all the time hiding your own keys from the other players. The character sheets (and yes, you had character sheets - the combat in the game was pretty damn close to the book) had a little section that you could fold over to hide your keys.

Also just like the book, there was a nasty labyrinth, this time represented with random tiles that could shift the path somewhat. As should come as no surprise to FF fans, who I'm sure know all about Citadel Miniatures due to the book's founders' involvement, the player's pieces in this game were Warhammer-style plastic miniatures. They were fairly neat, but sadly as with most second-hand board game purchases, my copy was missing a large number of cards and tiles that were needed, which rendered the game unplayable. Oh well.

What I did have, though, was the Legend of Zagor board game.

And to be fair, I kinda regret this. I was into board games at the time - hell, I was into gaming in general, so the Legend of Zagor board game was a massive desire of mine. It wound up on my 'christmas wish list' when I was 11 years old, and because I had been a very good little boy and not burned down any orphanages that whole year, Santa brought it along. The damn thing cost almost £50, and that was because it was a game that talked! Suffice to say, I didn't get much else that year.

Zagor's speech was so dull, the announcer on Gauntlet had
more enthusiasm. "Blue elf is about to die!" - classic.
This has a far simpler goal than Warlock of Firetop Mountain, because there's no messing around with mazes or keys. It also contained miniatures for the player characters, but also minis for all of the enemy monsters, including Zagor. The board itself was structured like a little 3d dungeon floor design, and was divided into three areas - one large, one small, and one area where you fought Zagor and Zagor's pet dragon. If you remember 'Hero Quest', it was startlingly similar.

The gameplay was very simple - it was essentially a race to get to the warlock and kill him. The more treasure you found along the way, the easier it was to kill him. The game's main gimmick was that at random points, Zagor's voice would speak, commanding you to move a number of squares, miss a turn, and so on. The actor who played Zagor didn't sound especially enthusiastic, so the developers tried to spice it up with lightning effects and so on. Sadly this only cheapened the overall feel - no matter how dramatic you try to make the sound of a dragon spitting fire, the game's tiny speakers could only factor that sound as a blurry burst of static. Oh dear.

The game was just so damn fiddly, though. Not just in terms of setting up the board, which took almost half an hour on its own due to connecting the pieces together, laying out tiles, placing monsters, programming the voice computer with how many people were playing (a chore in itself!) and so on - but once you had done all of that, the combat system just had so many unnecessary variables, like changing stats for weapon types, special items, buying new items and carrying them with mules etc. As much as I wanted to love this game, its gimmick wasn't well conceived and the play itself had more pointless busywork than fun.

The following year I held out for a copy of 'Atmosfear', and was much better off. I no longer have a copy of either of these games (photos here are property of boardgamegeeks.com), and to be frank I'm not really looking to pick them up again any time soon. So, that's my little short memoir on the Fighting Fantasy board games. Stick around, because I'm going to be posting another playthrough real soon, and I have a couple of very interesting lesser-known FF books that should hopefully be in the mail to me very soon!

2 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. I didn't, no, but I did love my copy of Hero Quest, and the slightly more obscure Key To The Kingdom.

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