Puffin Books, £2.50, ISBN 0-14-031812-7
Historical Fantasy, 1985
Bloodfeud of Altheus is first gamebook in the series called Cretan Chronicles. Set in ancient Greece and loosely based on famous events in Greek mythology, this series will see you playing Altheus, the illegitimate son of King Aegeus. Theseus, the bloke who is supposed to kill the Minotaur in the isle of Crete, is dead. So it is you who has been decreed by the Gods – and you know this because the god Hermes tells you personally at the start of the campaign – to finish the quest that Theseus has started. This gamebook chronicles the first stage of your epic quest as you leave your home in Troezen, seek out your father in Athens, and eventually make your way to the island of Crete.
The gameplay system is pretty complex. Apart from the usual Might score for combat purposes, you will also have to keep track of Protection, Honour, and Shame points. Protection is an indication of your defensive abilities. Honour is all about how goody-goody you are, and it will also be used to increase your Might and Protection should the need arises in combat. Shame on the other hand keeps track of your faux pas, embarrassing mistakes (like marrying your own mother – oops), and dishonorable antics. Basically, you must never have your Shame score rise above your Honour score, because when that happens, you will be compelled to commit ritual suicide and your adventure is naturally over. Health is tracked in a rather unusual manner called Wound Record, with Wound Record being not quantified by numbers. Instead, you can only sustain a fixed number of whacks from an opponent before you are dead (the same goes for your opponent) and when the combat is over, your Wound Record automatically goes back up to maximum level and you are considered Healthy all over again.
There are other rules that involve combat, surrendering, taking hints, praying to Zeus at critical moments for favors, and your relationship with various Greek gods. All of these come into play in this story and you will have your hands full keeping track of all of these rules. The presence of Honour and Shame points means that your actions are actually quite constrained by the authors’ script and there is very little flexibility here. You may end up feeling like a little kid constantly being berated and scolded by the authors for misbehaving. Then again, the campaign is quite linear, so it’s not like you can actually run wild all over the place.
It will take a while to get used to the rules, but once you have settled in nicely, Bloodfeud of Altheus is a pretty interesting campaign. It is a vividly drawn one, at the very least, with plenty of refreshing and intriguing incorporating of familiar faces, names, and places in a manner that feels fresh all over again. The whole campaign is most enjoyable as a result. However, you should also be aware that this campaign can be very brutal as your opponents can have very high stats and there are plenty of ways to die. The authors don’t always play fair – usually you get humiliated when you do something stupid, but often you also get severely punished for doing something reasonable. There is no rhyme or reason in what makes a certain decision good or bad – the authors will punish you if they feel like it. Therefore, my final score of this gamebook comes with a caveat – this one is entertaining, but it is also very unfair at times.