Fighting Fantasy: The Port of Peril by Ian Livingstone
|Fighting Fantasy: The Port of Peril by Ian Livingstone|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: These books have evolved over 35 years to be at this stage, which was a very good read – but damn those dice if you're not as lucky as you need to be…|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 232||Date: August 2017|
|External links: Author's website|
As I promised I would when I looked back at the beginning of the 35 year history of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks (here), I took to the brand-new-for-2017 volume with my pen, mapping paper, and most importantly, dice. For the first time in a long, long time, I would not read a book for review. I would play it. And so, armed with healthy stamina, reasonable luck but frankly embarrassing skill, I set off. This is the report of that journey – as well as hopefully being the usual useful book review.
I started, as indeed will you, in the river port of Chalice, and the chance discovery of a treasure map of dubious origin. But I was down on my luck, and not eating properly, so I needed to assume it would lead me somewhere. I explored as I could, and met with traders, and childish pickpockets, and some generosity, before I left the city behind and went into the wilder reaches of the kingdom seeking my subterranean treasure. But before too long I was actually finding the plot involved a lot more than the usual selfish quest for riches and wealth – it meant I had to luck upon a companion, pay attention to everything I was told, and try and save a kingdom…
But right from the off the book didn't seem to play by its own rules. You start having fixed your stamina and skill, etc, but before you've had a chance to use them you're encouraged to boost them, when you can't go beyond the maximums. I failed to see how I could get enough coin to do what I wanted (partly through not trusting the author/narrator enough). I managed to ask someone about a bloke I'd never heard of, which was a miracle. All the while I was finding things I'd have to choose from, as my rucksack was full, only to find it had acres of room when I found my next treasure. I also kept finding in-references to Deathtrap Dungeon, and while that is the sixth book in the Fighting Fantasy series, and this is the 66th, it's also the sixth in this 2017 reprint series and Deathtrap Dungeon hasn't been included as of yet.
Those are nerdy picks, but these books made nerds of us all when they first came out. I only owned half a dozen, and borrowed a few more, but it was the in thing to have these books you played, where you needed to rely on the dice throws and luck and intelligent judgement (and clue-following, as here) to succeed. This made a nerd of me here and now, for I filled a whole A4 page with a scrawl of a map, partly to know the entire world and my way through it, but mostly to follow the whole logic tree or whatever it's called of the book – to follow the routes available to the player/reader, and how many options they have.
And there are a lot. This is the same format as Warlock of Firetop Mountain, the first ever one, with the book split into 400 numbered sections you jump between, but it's almost fifty per cent longer. The writing isn't exactly classier, but it is better, and less naïve – not throwing clues at you, and not giving you any rest and assurance as to your progress in the journey whatsoever. The whole nature of the story isn't completely defined in advance – you may end the book wondering which place was the titular port.
So, back to my journey. Well, on my first pass I was unlucky fairly early on, which actually would have killed the experience for me – I had no way of getting what I needed in order to get what I needed. I battled well, but made a stupid decision in a cellar, and had to start again. Rebooting my stats I explored Chalice once more, finding better luck, and finding a couple of other things out (I'll leave you to see if invading the mansion is ever a good idea or not…). But it was later on, when I encountered a 'plague witch' that I thought 'hold on'. This review will never be ready if I do have to beat her without gaining a scratch, which is a good idea for a test but a test too far for reviewing purposes. And it was then that I dropped the dice and read, assuming I was lucky each time I needed to be, and had won every fight, as I once would have done as an impatient teenager. (As it was, the norgul would have finished me off anyway.)
I still kept track of what was in my backpack's possession, which was a heck of a lot of red herrings all told (and what happens when you lose all of that, but not what's in your pockets? – you hadn't been told to differentiate!), and this is where the real, non-nerdy quibbles set in. The winning of the situation and the completion of the book requires you to be spot-on with getting so many things that at first appear random. I'd actually hate to have stuck with the dice and played throughout – if I'd got to Bilbo Bigleg or whatever his name was and had to start all over again in Chalice I wouldn't have been pleased – and he was only halfway along the map! And without giving anything away, you can get to the last two pages and may need to throw a six to win, unless you have to start all over again.
Does that appeal – that slim chance of winning the whole thing? It didn't me, but then I have perhaps grown away from the gaming side of the book. This is a very, very good FF book, however – the world-building and the very complexity of the task is perhaps unbettered, with such a convoluted path through all the decisions. Reading all branches as I went along – which took some keeping track of, let me assure you – meant I spent even longer reading this than a full-length novel of this size would have taken. So you can gain a heck of a lot of playing fun with this, if that is your bent, and much longer immersion in these pages than you may assume. You may however find yourself tearing your hair out when the dice let you down. (I'll let you decide if you choose to keep it or not). Good luck, is all I can say!
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
If this format of book is still new to you, rest assured there's a lot to go back and explore, including the spoofs of it, such as can be found in Across the Wall by Garth Nix for this audience.
You can read more book reviews or buy Fighting Fantasy: The Port of Peril by Ian Livingstone at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Fighting Fantasy: The Port of Peril by Ian Livingstone at Amazon.com.
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