Bantam, $3.50, ISBN 0-553-26904-6
Longhorn Territory is Marc Newman’s winning entry in a Choose Your Own Adventure writing contest. While this is an otherwise pretty average entry in this series, it’s a noteworthy one because Mr Newman was 17 when he came up with this campaign. Also, Frank Bolle’s illustrations are some of most richly detailed and attractive in this series.
You are a young lad in 1860 who sets out to San Talpa to visit your uncle Matt. He’s the Sheriff of that place, and for reasons that only exist in young adult fiction, he decides to make you his deputy. After training you, of course. But you can also opt to join the Pony Express. Which one will put you in more contact with Western clichés?
Indian attacks, outlaws, coach robbers, cattle wars… you name it, that Western trope is here. Still, what is pretty impressive is how strongly drawn the atmosphere of the setting is. There is enough historical details to make the setting a bit more than mere wallpaper, but not enough to swamp you with details like a history textbook. However, there is far more exposition than actual option-choosing here. More often than not, you will be turning page after page to follow a long stream of exposition, making only the occasional option that brings the adventure path to an end a page or two later. The rationale behind the outcome of some of these choices seems random. Sometimes you get punished – badly – for being stupid, but at other times, being reckless and even stupid nets you a far better ending than the more cautious option. Don’t be fooled by the “More Challenging Choices!” tagline on the cover – here, you are very obviously at the mercy of Mr Newman’s whims. The action scenes are also bewilderingly short and lacking in description compared to the descriptions of the scenery. It is as if Mr Newman or the editor is afraid of showing even a hint of violence in this campaign. This is odd, because some of the bad endings do not make any point of being subtle when it comes to telling you that you are dead.
Oh well. At the end of the day, though, Longhorn Territory is a mixed bag. It has atmosphere and a strongly drawn setting, but it is lacking as a gamebook, and the endings tend to be even more short and abrupt than the typical ones in this series. It’s good enough for a ride for kids or those young at heart who want to play at being a cowboy for a while, but you shouldn’t expect anything more than that from this.