Puffin Books, £3.50, ISBN 0-14-036257-6
Along the coast of the body of water called the Straits of Knives, poor fishermen eke a living while cowering under the constant threat of attacks by the Lizard Men of Silur Cha. However, things became much better for a while when a group of wizards move to Solani Island and use their powers to calm the sea and wind in exchange for the fishermen supplying them with food and other necessities.
Of course, when things are too good to last, they often don’t. In Island of the Undead, something is clearly wrong. Dead bodies are washing up on shore and turning into zombies. The wind and the sea become too unpredictable for fishing. You are part of a group from the village sent to Solani Island to meet the wizards, and when the campaign opens, you are the only survivor when the boat you are all on capsizes in a terrible storm. You end up washed ashore on Solani… so what will happen now?
Island of the Undead has a vivid setting – something comparable to The Island of Dr Moreau, only with undead spooks – but to get the whole story, you have to undergo a painfully tortuous campaign involving finding what seems like a hundred Special Items and deciphering the names of the idiot wizards of Solani using a visual clue that can be pretty tough to work out, thanks to the font used in that illustration. I can only imagine how you will be able to run around when you are bogged down with so many things. In addition, you have to perform mathematical acrobatics: converting names to numbers and adding them up, remembering the number of facets or whatever related to some Special Item that you must have and multiplying them with some number, and more. The whole thing is so convoluted and mind-numbingly laborious, you’d start to wonder whether this is really a gamebook or a punishment.
This is one gamebook where it is far easier and more enjoyable to cheat than to play straight and honest, because the payoff, especially the unsatisfying final entry, is definitely not worth the time and energy invested in overcoming the odds in this campaign.