Knight Books, £3.99, ISBN 0-340-39440-4
As the fifth gamebook in the The Way of the Tiger series, Warbringer! takes off from where Overlord! left off and introduces another interesting element to its campaign design: battle strategy.
You are Avenger, the Overlord of Irsmuncast, the closest city to the Rift, a scar in the land from which foul creatures live and emerge from to threaten the land. In the previous gamebook, you have established your rule and succeeded in traveling to the eastern end of the Manmarch to retrieve the two hitherto lost artifacts of the Overlord. However, you return to find your city in shambles, attacked by the forces of the Rift led by the ruler, the powerful dark-elf sorcerer Shadazar herself. At the same time, you receive a missive from your old friend, Honoric. The Lord of Doomover and one of the most powerful generals of the War God Vasch-Ro has yet to get over the fact that you nearly killed him at Quench-Heart Keep and now he intends to lead a huge army to take over your city and hang your body high for the vultures to feed on. But if you don’t do anything fast against Shadazar and her army, there may won’t even be a city for Honoric to mow over!
Warbringer! is basically a campaign with three acts. The first act requires you to make a frantic attempt to locate and kill Shadazar before her army destroys what is left of your people and city. This one is a standard, if very dangerous, campaign where you kick, punch, and break the bones of all who stand in your way.
The next act will require you to listen to your allies – or apparent allies – in your government on which neighboring army you can try to recruit to aid you in the upcoming war. Options range from the armies of the republic of Serakub, where the followers of Dama and Beatan predominate; Greydawn, where the beast men and humans hungry for expansion await; the Spires of Foreshadowing where the followers of Fate have been hungering for an excuse to go to war against Honoric; Wargrave Abbas, which you have visited before; and Upanishad, home to the largest congregation of worshipers and martial artists devoted to your god Kwon. Not all of these choices are viable, heh, but there are enough clues given to tell you which option is not good. Naturally, you have to travel to the city you have picked, a journey that is dangerous indeed as the denizens of the Rift are not in a forgiving mood after their defeat, and win over the ruler or rulers of that city. Failure to secure an ally means, naturally, defeat.
This act is interesting, as it introduces more of the cultures and terrains of the land in this setting. My personal favorite is the visit to Serakub because unlike the other options, this city is a republic and therefore you have to win over the entire congregation of rulers instead of just one person. The combat encounters are pretty standard, however.
And finally, the last act beckons, where you and your allies go to war. This is the longest and most significant act in the campaign, and this is also where the campaign disappoints me. Sure, playing battle strategy games on a PC or video game console can be fun, but such an activity differs significantly when it comes to a gamebook. Battle strategy played in gamebook form is pretty dull, I find, especially when after a while it becomes apparent that it really doesn’t matter in the long run whether you put so-and-so on the left flank or the right flank, as long as you played safely, cautiously, and smartly. If the major decisions make a bigger impact on the course of events, perhaps this act would have gained an urgency that makes it compelling to play through. As it is, the whole exercise feels like boring filler as you wait for some more traditional combat encounters to cross your path. Not only that, you are robbed of a grand showdown with Honoric where you could deliver a coup d’etat, another major disappointment.
Still, Warbringer! attempts to bring something new to the table, and therefore, even if it doesn’t work completely with me, I have to give the authors plenty of credit for trying.