Puffin Books, £3.99, ISBN 0-14-034555-8
Hold the time of the month jokes, folks. We’re all grown-ups here, no? The Crimson Tide takes place a few years after the events in Black Vein Prophecy. You play a different character, by the way. This time around, Maior, the character you played in Black Vein Prophecy, has become the new ruler of the Isles of the Dawn, but things are far from fine. You should know. You are a 13-year old kid who see mercenaries kill your father and drag your mother along with other villages to be slaves of the new king. You may be a simple farmer, but now you want to avenge your father and rescue your mother.
Yes, you’ve read right: you start out as a 13-year old kid. That means your initial Skill and Stamina scores are terrible (only one die each) but because this campaign spans years, you will get to increase the Stamina score as you become older. The rest of the gameplay system remains unchanged.
The Crimson Tide is a very diverse campaign in the sense that you are given plenty of options as you go along. Unfortunately, the diversity of options can be deceptive as there are many instant deaths and failures in this one. Because you start with low stats and the author doesn’t take that into consideration when creating stats for the villains and monsters, you are going to have a really tough time even against random mooks especially early in the campaign. It doesn’t help that your Skill score will remain low throughout the campaign. This gamebook is considered one of the toughest in the Fighting Fantasy series for a good reason.
The payoff isn’t really worth the effort you have to put in this one. It is disheartening enough to know that Maior turns out to be a weak ruler after all the effort you’ve put into Black Vein Prophecy, but here, there are not enough memorable scenes to make it worth the pain of playing this campaign. After a while, the combat encounters become tedious, the instant deaths are annoying, and the lack of clear-cut answers dampens the mood.
That’s not to say that The Crimson Tide is boring. It’s actually quite interesting once you get to the happy ending and work backward to figure out the story. The question is, though, whether you should torture yourself with this campaign that makes Jonathan Green look like a benevolent fairy godmother.