Wizard Books, £4.99, ISBN 1-84046-397-X
Fantasy, 2002 (Reissue)
City of Thieves embodies both the strengths and flaws of a typical gamebook by Ian Livingstone. He loves to make you look for things all over the place, but at least here you are given information on what to look for, as opposed to searching blindly and hoping that you have found the correct items just like in some of his other gamebooks. The campaign is linear and restrictive without having an interesting story line to mask the limitations. However, when Mr Livingstone sets his typical very average campaign in a very solidly drawn setting – like he does in this one – you may just find yourself intrigued despite the game play limitations to keep coming back again and again.
After all, who can resist Port Blacksand, the magnificent den of thieves, ruled by the mysterious tattooed bad-ass Lord Azzur? Port Blacksand, the home of all kinds of thieves and hooligans, the veritable paradise for a hero seeking the thrill of danger and such! Here, you will get to encounter classic Port Blacksand characters and locations such as the two funny troll guards Sourbelly and Fatnose, the Serpent Queen, the famous Public Gardens with its man-eating plants, and Madame Star’s booth.
Unfortunately, the story line and the campaign blow chunks. You are an adventurer requested by the mayor of Silverton to help end the tyranny of the evil monster Zanbar Bone and his Moon Dogs. You have to travel to Port Blacksand to seek the advice of Nicodemus, who in turn asks you to locate a list of items and to get a tattoo. No, he won’t tell you where to go, so good luck. And then, it’s off to kill Zanbar Bone, an encounter in which, thanks to Nicodemus screwing up on top of being a useless help, you have to succeed a Test Your Luck roll and pick one of three possible options to conclude the quest.
The campaign requires you wander around aimlessly in Port Blacksand, hoping that you are headed in the right direction to pick up the correct items. The problem here is that a city is not linear. And yet the campaign is linear, which means you have no opportunity to revisit other options. Once you’ve missed a turn, there is no going back even if you’re in a city, not a maze, and you should be able to turn around and explore every lane to your heart’s content. This is a tedious campaign, therefore, because you have to read the author’s mind and pick the right path, or else you will have to replay the campaign a few more times to discover that right path.
And worse, your adventures in Port Blacksand see you going through a series of random and unconnected events. Look, there is an empty house full of snakes! How do those snakes get there? Who cares, the author just wants you to kill those snakes! Then you will also find yourself walking into shops and killing shopkeepers before looting them and walking out without facing any repercussions. Nice. Since you’re the hero, you can’t be doing anything wrong here, right? There is a bizarre moral dissonance here, I tell you.
The setting is fun and memorable, but the campaign is decidedly below average. Balance those two out and you’ll find a merely adequate campaign that is severely lacking in many ways. A better campaign in Port Blacksand would be Midnight Rogue and I’d suggest you give that one a try instead of this one.