Wizard Books, £5.99, ISBN 1-84046-430-5
Fantasy, 2003 (Reissue)
The Shamutanti Hills is the first book in Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! series, which is basically four sequential and related gamebooks set in the world of Titan. This series is a little more complex than the usual Fighting Fantasy gamebook, although you won’t know that from this easy gamebook.
The game system uses a slightly modified version of the Fighting Fantasy mechanics, one that will eventually be incorporated in another modified form in the Advanced Fighting Fantasy tabletop gaming series. Here, you can play either as a straight-up warrior or a sorcerer, and it is when playing a sorcerer that the changes come in.
For one, you have to memorize a series of spells identified by three-lettered codewords. When you are given a chance to cast a spell, Mr Jackson will offer you a choice of spells identified by these codewords, and some are actually fake codewords placed by that man to annoy you, heh. Casting a spell, whether it works or not in the end, drains you of Stamina points, with the more advanced spells draining more Stamina points. Also, a majority of spells require special items before they can cast, some of them pretty silly like a wig, so it’s not like you can cast spells nilly-willy here. On the bright side, this prevents the spellcaster from being an overpowered munchkin on your typical Advanced Fighting Fantasy gaming evening. On the down side, this gamebook isn’t your typical Advanced Fighting Fantasy so be prepared to grit your teeth and be annoyed by some of the more tedious mechanics of spellcasting. Of course, you can always cheat and refer to the list of spells in the back of the gamebook instead of memorizing all of them in one go, but you didn’t hear that from me.
Okay, let’s move to the plot. Bear with me, because this one is pretty stupid even for a gamebook in this series. There is this amazing Crown of Kings, a magical artifact that allows the wearer to rule wisely and the land to prosper. For years, the Crown of Kings has been rotated between the rulers of four neighboring countries, of which your country Analand is one of them… until now, when the Crown is stolen from your King by the nefarious minions of the Archmage of Mampang. The Archmage rules Mordor Kakhabad, described as a land full of evil orcs and what not. Now, you’d think the Archmage wearing the Crown would be a wonderful thing, as this means he would be turned into a benevolent leader and there would finally be peace in the region, but no, you must now sneak off into Mampang alone to kill that Archmage and return home with the Crown. Why? I guess your king must be a pathetic dweeb who can’t make a decision without the Crown telling him what to do.
The Shamutanti Hills covers your adventures in the first of four legs of your travel to Mampang Fortress. This one serves a simple, even basic, introduction to the mess and mayhem that will follow, so this one is therefore a very easy campaign. There are your standard dungeon crawls, encounters with typical and stock monsters, and such. Mr Jackson does try to be more descriptive here than he otherwise would in a typical Fighting Fantasy gamebook, so the end result is still however an entertaining event. I know I’m in the minority but I think Jann the Mini-Mite is pretty adorable. The weakest part of this campaign is the dungeon crawl at the final stage of the campaign. Until that point, there is some fantastic scenery and some interesting encounters, but after that point, it’s all about random turns and twists. There is a memorably awful “lucky” encounter – if you succeed in a Test Your Luck roll, you die in shortly after that scene while if you fail, you can actually survive, heh. But other than that, the whole dungeon crawl is monotonous and tepid.
The Shamutanti Hills is an interesting, if rather typical, gamebook. As far as a hook to get people into following the series, this one isn’t bad at all, although it could be a little less basic as well. Let’s see how the other gamebooks in this series will turn out.