Wizard Books, £4.99, ISBN 1-84046-389-9
Fantasy, 2002 (Reissue)
The Citadel of Chaos is only the second book in this series and it is already such a vast improvement over The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, it’s almost unbelievable.
Evil sorcerers tend to live in creepy castles on top of mountains and because they have nothing better to do, they plot mischief and mayhem. One wonders what good wizards do in their free time. You play the most talented apprentice of the Grand Wizard of Yore in this campaign, but alas, there is no answer to that question. Still, your master is busy doing… something… so when the summons arrive for a bad-ass good guy to take on Balthus Dire, the evil sorcerer of the Black Tower, guess who is sent to do the dirty work.
According to the people of the Vale of Willow, Balthus Dire is amassing an army to invade the Vale during the following week. Therefore, what makes better sense as a course of action than to send an apprentice to destroy this army and kill the evil sorcerer? Mind you, as you begin exploring the Black Tower and slaying all “Chaotics” that you come across, there is no sign of this army and you’d probably wonder whether poor Balthus Dire isn’t just a misunderstood lonely guy who is being set up here.
This campaign introduces the use of magic but in this particular campaign, the use of those spells do not drain you of Stamina points. Cool. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that Magic is the most important component of this campaign. If you have the correct spells at your disposal, you can extricate yourself from the most sticky situation even if you have low starting stats.
What I really like about this campaign is that the exploration of Black Tower is not some random “turn left, turn right, turn left, OH MY GOD!” exercise of boredom. There are interesting traps and encounters to elevate the tedium. The monsters by themselves aren’t tough – especially if you have the correct spells to counter them. The difficulty here arises from the fact that you will need certain special items or you will not survive certain encounters. Some of these special items can be tricky to find and therefore not easily obtained on the first run, which is the only reason why you may find yourself repeating the campaign a few more times.
While a little low on background and plot, The Citadel of Chaos is a good example of an early Fighting Fantasy gamebook that can still withstand the test of time, especially when compared to the later and more sophisticated gamebooks in the line. Steve Jackson is a better gamebook designer and writer than Ian Livingstone, and this gamebook is one example of why this is the case.