Wizard Books, £5.99, ISBN 1-84046-438-0
Fantasy, 2003 (Reissue)
The Crown of Kings is the fourth and final gamebook in Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! series, where you basically finish up what you started out to do in The Shamutanti Hills. You will infiltrate the Mampang Fortress and slay the Archmage in order to retrieve the Crown of Kings. That’s basically it for plot.
Now, you really should not play this gamebook without having played the previous three gamebooks first. You really shouldn’t. If you have played the previous three gamebooks in exactly the right way as Steve Jackson envisioned, you will have collected enough junk, er, special items and clues to make your life so much easier in this campaign. Of course, the key words here are “in exactly the right way as Steve Jackson envisioned”, which is also a significant flaw in this ambitious gamebook.
You will find that The Crown of Kings isn’t too much of a challenge where combat encounters are concerned. The Archmage’s statistics, for example, aren’t too impressive. However, getting to him is going to the biggest problem here. This gamebook is designed like a well-oiled puzzle, with very little flexibility despite the presence of many choices. If you are a gamebook player who enjoy the very process of defeating the author in his role as DM, then this gamebook may not be that bad. But if you prefer a gamebook to have a strong storytelling element, then this gamebook is going to be very dry and uninteresting, like a fiendish puzzle to crack with very little payoff.
Oh, and after playing the last three gamebooks, only now in this one will you realize that playing a wizard will make it easier for you to complete the campaign successfully. If you started out as a warrior, oops, it’s too late to change vocation at this late point…
The author’s bizarre depiction of morality continues here. A very notable example of this is how an NPC will give you some important information about a spell that can get you out of a hopeless situation, but you will then cause his death and no, you don’t even feel any remorse about it. Then again, the entire mission is to get back the Crown, even if it will create a better world for all should the Archmage possess it and become a benevolent ruler as a result, because your liege is apparently too stupid to rule wisely without magical help, so perhaps you are not supposed to be the good guy here, who knows.
The Crown of Kings demonstrates how sometimes British gamebooks sacrifice storytelling elements because the author is too concerned in making sure that the campaign is designed to give the player a tough time. If you like this, good. If not, you won’t find much joy in Mampang.