Beaver, £2.25, ISBN 0-09-948520-6
Black Baron is meant to be paired with White Warlord, and the content in both gamebooks is almost identical – apart from a few cosmetic changes reflecting the place of origin of your character – so this review is going to be identical to that of the other gamebook, heh.
In this one, you’re the Black Baron of Zorn. You’re also deranged, judging from the cover art. The Black Baron a “notorious buccaneer” that has led many successful daring raids on the ports and strongholds of Kordan, thus earning you the enmity of the lord of Kordan, the White Warlord of Castle Whitefire. Clearly, you’ll be playing the bad guy here, so you may want to pull straws or see who can throw the first punch when it comes to deciding among you and your friend who will play which character.
In this campaign, the plot is simple. Xenda the Maze-Master from the city of Jakor down in the south issues an invitation to you and your nemesis to duke it out in his maze. The winner gets 50,000 gold coins in addition to the satisfaction of slaying the loser. Of course you accept the challenge, so the game is on.
If you play a solo campaign, basically you are ambushed and kidnapped by the White Warlord’s men while you are on your way to Jakor, and basically, you now need to find – and fight – your way out of Castle Whitefire. Should you emerge triumphant, you still need to find a friend and play the dual player campaign for a resolution to the enmity between you and the White Warlord.
In the dual player campaign, it’s basically you and your friend wandering around until you stumble upon each other, which is when you two will try to kill each other with joyful abandon.
The gameplay system is based on that of Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf gamebooks, but with adaptations and enhancements. You can use a bow, and this also means having to refer to the bow fire grid in the back of the gamebook during combat involving archery. When you score a critical hit with either your melee weapon or a bow, there is also a critical hit chart for each type of weaoin to determine the exact amount and nature of damage inflicted during the critical hit. You can also perform ambush and other things when the opportunity arises.
Also, this is basically a dungeon crawl with a first person view of things, so you’re recommended to do some fancy map-making in order to keep track of your progress, unless you just love random wandering to the same places over and over. There are also various treasure items to collect in the solo campaign, with the right one needed at the right context by the right NPC in order to escape from your enemy’s stronghold.
And if the whole thing feels needlessly complicated, well, you can get used to it after a while. But if you take away the shiny “Ooh! This is new!” gimmick of this gamebook, the campaign is actually rather random and boring. After the initial novelty wears off, this one will feel like a campaign by Ian Livingstone, only shorter and even more random. There had been much effort put into the system and the illustrations, so only Asmodeus will know why the end result is a tedious and uninteresting dungeon crawl where the pay-off is basically you putting the gamebook down when the White Warlord is dead and that’s about it. Shouldn’t the whole thing be more… interesting?
At any rate, this gamebook probably filled a niche before the time of The Elder Scrolls and various single-player and multiplayer open sandbox fantasy games. But it’s too dull to encourage further replay, so perhaps it would be more entertaining to just pay a visit to Skyrim. At least they have dragons over there.