Red Fox, £4.99, ISBN 0-09-951210-6
The Cauldron of Fear, the ninth gamebook in the Lone Wolf series, succeeds in doing what the previous gamebook The Jungle of Horrors didn’t succeed too well in doing: creating a frantic sense of urgency and claustrophia as you race against time to retrieve a Lorestone even as the forces of the Darklands close in.
Three Lorestones down, four more to go. You, Lone Wolf the last of the Kai, et cetera, now seek the Lorestone of Tahou. Unfortunately for you, Tahou is the capital city of the Republic of Anari, and this is bad because when the campaign opens, Tahou is the target of a massive invasion by the armies of your old friend Zakhan Kimah, the ruler of Vassagonia who has allied himself with the Darklords.
This time around, you and your friend Banedon will be racing against time to reach Tahou, literally just a few days ahead of the enemy horde, where you hope to get President Toltuta and the Senate to grant you permission to descend into the Tahou Cauldron. You see, Tahou is built on the site of an ancient city called Zaryx, and the Lorestone is now somewhere deep in that city. But with the enemies at the gate and the possibility that the Senate deciding to hand you over to the enemies to buy themselves some time looming over your head, you are not going to have it easy.
The Cauldron of Fear is an interesting campaign because it’s a hybrid – half dungeon crawl, half conventional adventuring. The campaign is actually quite linear, but Mr Dever’s deft design allows the illusion of you having more options than you actually do. Since this campaign has a dungeon crawl, there are some expected sudden deaths from bad numbers. I sincerely hope you have picked your Magnakai skills wisely because the obvious skills that will come in handy end up dominating your options in this campaign – if you don’t have these skills, you’re in for some tough ride ahead of you, heh.
This would have been a typical enjoyable campaign were not for two things.
One, if you bring your Sommerswerd with you, you are in for a truly horrible confrontation with Zakhan Kimah late in the story. This confrontation is infamous for being nearly impossible to overcome even if you have maximum stats in everything. Strangely enough, your life will be easier if you do not have the Sommerswerd, but your chances of success depend very much on luck. One bad pick of number from the Random Number Table and you’re in for a lot of pain. This confrontation is a complete pain in the rear end. I personally decided on my third attempt to create some offstage backstory where Lone Wolf passed the Sommerswerd to King Ulnar when the enemy forces begin attacking Sommerlund. Then all of a sudden things became so much easier – not easy, just easier.
Two, due to either some oversight or omission, you can actually lose all your Special Items and weapons if these are confiscated and you somehow cannot find a way to retrieve them from the Tahou South Gate Guard by the last section. It’s going to a whole lot of burn on the heart to lose seven gamebooks worth of Special Items this way!
The Cauldron of Fear could have been really good, but some flaws in the game design bring it down a little.