Wizard Books, £7.99, ISBN 978-184831405-4
In a way, it’s a tragedy that Blood of the Zombies is the new Fighting Fantasy gamebook to usher in the 30th birthday of that legendary gamebook line, because Ian Livingstone can serve up an atrociously bad stinker when the mood really strikes him. And if this gamebook is anything to go by, he was really in the mood when he designed this hilariously awful mess.
This one is set in present day alternate Earth, by the way, so you get dollars (yes, dollars when you are in Europe) and guns and other modern day things instead of swords and magic. It’s odd how this gamebook is supposed to the face of the 30th birthday bash when it’s not representative of the Fighting Fantasy line, but hey, it’s Mr Livingstone. Anyway, you are a “second year student of mythology” at this Bollingbroke College and you are in Romania, looking for clues to the existence of vampires, when you are led into an ambush, get knocked out, and find yourself trapped in Goraya Castle. You soon learn that the “insane megalomaniac” Gingrich Yurr plans to create an army of zombies, sorry, Zombies to take over the world, so what are you waiting for? Go stop him!
Yes, a nefarious plot that remains hidden despite the fact that the insane villain lives in a freaking castle. And this one has other staple tomfoolery typical of a campaign by Mr Livingstone: storekeeper NPCs at the oddest places, allies that spring up in unlikely places in unlikely timing (this time, it’s an airhead instead of a dwarf, and she conveniently has time to keep a journal for you to find despite being busy eluding Zombies), and the whole thing turning into a scavenger hunt. You not only need the right keys and weapons and special items to make the cut, you need to destroy all zombies to get the happy ending, and it will take a few runs to figure how where and how to kill all these things.
Gameplay is simplified from the typical Fighting Fantasy gamebook. There is no need for Luck and Skill here, as each attack round, you and the opponents automatically hit. Each Zombie has only 1 Stamina, and they inflict 1 Stamina damage per attack round. Imagine that you are surrounded by 20 Zombies. Your weapon has a fixed damage modifier score, so if you roll a 12 Stamina damage, for example, you kill 12 Zombies in one swoop. The remaining 8 Zombies then a swipe at you next, and you automatically gets 8 Stamina damage. Repeat and rinse. Sounds simple, but the Zombies can show up in big swarms, so it’s pretty easy to become Zombie chow. It’s also easy to crumple because you lack the proper item needed at a particular moment, or you encounter one of the many fandom death scenes peppered in this campaign. Meanwhile, you wander around, stopping to open boxes, unlock doors, or peer into bags and pouches conveniently left in the open to loot for various junk that may turn out to be that one essential item later on. In other words, you can tell right away that it’s a gamebook by Ian Livingstone.
And it’s a colorless campaign. The setting contains threadbare flavor, the campaign itself is an incoherent hodge-podge of hammy clichés (fat villains that taunt you with details of the whole plot before crumpling in defeat, for example) and zombie movie tropes. Perhaps this one will appeal to kids below the age of 15, but for adults, this one may qualify as a “play once, then put away and forget about it” type of dud.
Blood of the Zombies is for the gamebook fan’s collection, but for a good time, look elsewhere.