Wizard Books, £5.99, ISBN 1-84046-765-7
The legend of Bloodbones persisted for a long time as the lost Fighting Fantasy gamebook, so much so that when this one is finally published, there are some rejoicing across the land. Well, excuse me if I don’t share the exuberance. After all, the author of this campaign is Jonathan Green.
Jonathan Green has fantastic ideas, but I have this feeling that not only has he never play-tested his campaigns, he will also make a better novelist than a gamebook designer. Bloodbones, like many of his previous gamebooks, has great ideas, but the execution is marred by unnecessarily difficult and complicated game design that makes finishing the campaign more of a chore than a pleasure.
The dreaded pirate lord of the Old World, Cinnabar, murdered your family as well as some neighbors when you were a kid. Since then, you have trained hard for the final showdown with Cinnabar, learning no doubt some mystical kung-fu and swordplay under the tutelage of some South Pacific version of Pat Morita… but someone managed to slew Cinnabar before you graduated from your training. Well, fear not, because currently there are rumors floating around the Port of Crabs that Cinnabar has returned, thanks to a pact he had made with his foul “Voodoo god” Quezkari.
The campaign can be roughly divided into two parts. The first part sees you snooping around the Port of Crabs looking for clues. Incidentally, we are talking about actual crabs here, not the other kind of crabs associated with sailors on shore leave, in case you are wondering. The second half sees you wandering around the islands looking for weapons and various means to defeat Cinnabar.
Like most Fighting Fantasy campaigns, this is essentially a treasure hunt. If you lack certain special items and magical weapons, you won’t survive the campaign. In fact, in order to advance to the second act, you need a certain special item or you will die a most ignoble death. The enemies are often unnecessarily overpowered – this is, after all, a gamebook by Jonathan Green. Let’s not even start with the final showdown with the big boss, shudder. There are also instant deaths in case you are bored with the usual death-to-overpowered-enemies thing.
More bizarrely, for a supposed hero who had trained so long for vengeance, your character seems uncharacteristically inept. In this campaign, you are required to Test Your Luck even for the smallest thing like creeping in a dark alley, so not only will your Luck score dwindle at an alarming rate from the moment you step foot into the campaign, you will wonder just how capable your character must be if he needs to be lucky in order to do anything.
There are some interesting elements here inspired by Jonathan Swift’s Robinson Crusoe and even William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but it isn’t long before any imaginative element in Bloodbones gives way to tedious dungeon-crawling, counter-intuitive measures (if you want that super secret means to defeat Cinnabar, you must keep fighting overpowered brute after overpowered brute to get it… but since you don’t know that this is the path to getting that weapon, that means you must have a death wish in the first place to obtain it), and an irrational urge to howl angrily at the moon.