Wizard Books, £4.99, ISBN 1-84046-491-7
Fantasy, 2003 (Reissue)
In Ian Livingstone’s Island of the Lizard King, you play, of course, a sturdy adventurer who travels to the coastal village of Oyster Bay to visit an old friend, Mungo. Alas, when you arrive, you learn that the Lizard Men from the fearsome Fire Island had recently captured some young men from Oyster Bay to work in the gold mines. It’s up to you and Mungo to head off to rescue the slaves, and… well, not that I’m spoiling the campaign too much but Mungo dies in what seems three seconds after the whole thing begins so you’re on your own, buddy. Oh, and the Lizard King practices black magic and the mutants that are the results of his genetic experiments roam the island looking for heroes to chew on.
This is a pretty unique gamebook from Ian Livingstone in that, one, it doesn’t require you to pick up random items and hope that they are the ones you need to succeed the mission and, two, it isn’t a series of sequences involving opening doors and rummaging for junk. This is not a dungeon crawl, which in itself makes this one a rare breed of gamebook from this author. There is actually some attempt at creating a primal Neanderthal barbarian-era atmosphere using dinosaurs and illustrations of women in leather bikini. Monsters are everywhere, from hobgoblins to giant crabs to mutant lizard men. You can actually find success via various different paths which provide an illusion of non-linearity in this actually straightforward no-nonsense campaign.
Only, the whole thing feels really disjointed and arbitrary at times. Combat encounters crop out without context, there are plenty of obviously filler side quests (such as one involving a Shaman) that end up making minimal impact on your eventual success, and there are really nothing about the campaign that stands out as memorable. The difficulty level is uneven – the hardest encounters are all packed late in the campaign, so for a long time the whole thing can be a bit of a snooze.
Still, this is a campaign from Mr Livingstone that isn’t a tedious dungeon crawl, so that in itself makes it a memorable campaign, heh, if only for academic purposes.