Beaver Books, £2.50, ISBN 0-099-44770-3
Grey Star the Wizard is the first gamebook in a series called The World of Lone Wolf. As you can probably guess, this series is set in the same world that the Lone Wolf series in set in. But while Lone Wolf is running around terrorizing poor innocent Giaks and Drakkarims in Northern Magnamund, your character in this series, the human wizard Grey Star, will be running around in Southern Magnamund. The setting is an entirely new flavor as a result.
Basically, in the southern continent of Magnamund, we have the Shadakine Empire, the equivalent to the Darklords and their forces. A powerful Wytch-king, Shasarak, has been leading the armies of Shadaki to terrorize and take over vast chunks of neighboring lands. He is such a bad guy that our local race of immortal magical beings, called the Shianti, feel compelled to help the poor downtrodden humans despite their vow to the goddess Ishir that they will not interfere with human affairs. One night, a human baby is washed up on their shore in the Isle of Lorn. The Shianti decide to raise this child and train him in ways of magic so that when he is ready, he will set forth and liberate the lands from Shasarak’s tyranny.
Well, that kid is you, Grey Star the Wizard, and when the gamebook opens, you’re naturally ready to step out to the world to kick some rear ends. Your mission is this: you must retrieve the long-lost magical artefact called the Moonstone from Daziarn, the Plane of Shadow. To reach Daziarn, you must step through a portal called the Shadow Gate. Alas, you can’t just board a ship to Toran and request that the Brotherhood of the Crystal Star let you use their Shadow Gate. Apparently things work differently in Southern Magnamund – you need instead to locate “the Lost Tribe of Lara”, a race of magical creatures called the Kundi who are bestowed with a special ability to locate a Shadow Gate. The problem is, Shasarak had ordered the burning down of the Kundi’s forests a long time ago and who knows where the Kundi are now.
Your journey first takes you to the Port Suhn, a bustling port which is part of the Shadakine Empire and is ruled by one of Shasarak’s powerful sorceress. Fortunately for you, you will find some allies who will quickly assist you and teach you to adapt to your new surroundings. Unfortunately for you, you have attracted the attention of the enemies the moment you step foot in the city. Oh boy.
Because you are a wizard trained by the Shianti, you will have Magical Powers instead of Kai Skills. You can pick a generous five out of seven available Magical Powers here, and the most useful Magical Powers stand out from their descriptions alone, so you don’t have to worry too much about missing out on some vital Magical Power that can save you later in the campaign. I have to warn you, however: Elementalism is an interesting but unpredictable Magical Power. Pick it and have fun with the unpredictable ways of the elemental beings, but don’t tell me I didn’t warn you, heh. The use of Magical Powers eats up points of a new stats, Willpower. You will also use at least 1 Willpower point (the actual amount is up to you) in each Combat Round. Combat rules follow that of the Lone Wolf series with one difference: the final damage taken by your enemy is the number as shown on your pick in the Random Number Table multiplied by the amount of Willpower you have spent in that round.
Enough gameplay rules talk, let’s look at the game design instead, shall we? The writing is a bit bland and the setting could have been better fleshed out. Still, for a generic high fantasy setting with castles and what not, this one is pretty decent. It is also worth pointing out that you will actually get allies in this story, and some of these allies actually – gasp – survive long enough to show up in future gamebooks. These secondary characters are pretty generic, nothing special, but you will be getting what seems like a potential love interest, so at least Grey Star will be getting more action than Lone Wolf, heh.
While there is nothing objectionable about the setting, the campaign design is fiendish. You are lulled into believing that this campaign isn’t that bad when – wham! All of a sudden you face your very first combat encounter which could actually get you killed and it’s downhill all the way from there. I still shudder whenever I recall that nightmarish dash through a poisonous terrain, avoiding enemies that can kill you with a single bite while hemorrhaging Endurance points like crazy. Seriously, it is most likely impossible to finish this campaign successfully unless you cheat. I deliberately buffed my character up, with 20 Combat Skill, 40 Endurance points, and 50 Willpower points, and I survived with only 8 Endurance points – 8! – left by the final entry.
The rules of magic use is quite inconsistent as well. It is strange how you are rarely allowed to use Magic Skills when you are in combat. You’d think it’d be great to summon a few hulking Earth Elementals to become your tank while you stay behind and blast a few lightning beams at the enemies, but alas, you can’t do that here. Perhaps summoning legions of Fire Elementals to scorch your enemies while you cause the earth to quake and tear open under your enemies’ feet will seriously unbalance the game, but even so, it is frustrating how you are a wizard but you somehow “forget” that you have powers of great magnitude at your disposal when you are in sticky situations.
Grey Star the Wizard could have been an interesting counterpoint to the Lone Wolf series, but the poor campaign design ultimately makes this one an exercise in frustration. I don’t think anyone playtested this one before releasing it to the unsuspecting public. It’s just way too hard.