Sunday, December 22, 2013

Blog Necromancy

Yesterday this blog completed three full months of inactivity; more than enough time for most to declare a blog dead. Yet, here I am to set it in motion again, like a necromancer raising a zombie from their grave... ok, not the best analogy (and quite possible tasteless) but it also serves the purpose of introducing the main subject of this post: Gamebook Adventure 2 - Siege of the Necromancer, which I have been playing lately.

Tin Man Games produces several digital choose-your-adventure books, including the Gamebook Adventure series and more recently, some Fighting Fantasy titles too. There are versions for different tablets but my comments are based on playing on the PC. To be honest, I was not aware of these digital gamebooks until I got two of them in a game bundle I picked up over the last year or so. Since then, they had been on a virtual pile of things to play.

The game's interface is designed to emulate the original experience of playing a gamebook. Text is presented over a textured background resembling a book, with page turning animations. Dice fall and roll over the book when called for. There is also a character sheet that you can check. As with original gamebooks, the text is organized into sections or paragraphs. Transition between sections is done by clicking on small, color-coded buttons: links that involve rolls are marked with different colors. To accomodate some limitations of digital displays, it is possible to click on an illustration to see a larger version and the font size can also be adjusted.

Besides the expected amenities of a digital gamebook, like the automatic management of the character sheet and saving the section you were on when closing it, Siege of the Necromancer has two other elements. The first is the bookmark system, which allows you to create the equivalent of a "savegame" while reading. This way, you can turn back if you make a bad choice or bad rolls. Gamebooks are mostly about choosing paths in the narrative (with some dice sprinkled) so to avoid devalueing those, you only get a limited number of bookmarks on each playthrough. The other one is a list of "achievements," which is always a controversial topic in game design. Some achievements stimulate exploration of different paths, like the one granted for finding all bad endings. Others depend on sheer luck, as the one for rolling three sixes at once.

The rules used in this gamebook are simple, keeping in the tradition of Fighting Fantasy and such. Characters have two attributes, fitness and vitality. Fitness is used in some skill rolls and vitality works as the character's "hit points." When in combat, characters roll pools of dice based on their weapons and armor. If the attacker rolls higher, they hit, causing damage equal to the total of the pool, which can be very nasty.

In my opinion, the writing is good. As I would expect in a gamebook, it is mostly focused on the action, but there are also competent descriptions to help the reader get immersed. I have not found an ending to be able to comment on the overall narrative, although several characters have found their demise.

These are my first impressions on Siege of the Necromancer. A well-made product, it makes me think about the appeal of this kind of solo game nowadays, especially in digital form. Is the faithful emulation of a gamebook suitable only for nostalgic readers? Or is it part of the play experience, so that even new players may suspend disbelief?

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