Gamebooks are paperback, solitaire role-playing games. They were at the peak of their popularity (at least with publishers) in the middle 1980s. Though there is some disagreement on this point, I hold that the first real gamebooks were the Fighting Fantasy series founded, and primarily written by, Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson, the founders of Games Workshop in the United Kingdom. There were a number of other series that came afterwards, most notably the Lone Wolf series by Joe Dever, but that is just one among many. Even though a number of series were printed in the United States by local publishers, gamebooks stayed a primarily British affair, with the more popular series having longer print runs across the pond, and having more volumes published. For example, Dell, the U.S. publisher of Fighting Fantasy, stopped publishing the series after #21. However, Puffin, the UK publisher, printed more than 60 volumes in the series.
This page is an area where I will gather my thoughts on the various gamebooks that I have read. It will include reviews written by myself (and maybe others, too) on individual gamebooks and whole series. I will also have some links to gamebook sites on the web, as well as some book merchants I recommend for trying to find gamebooks, almost all of which are out of print, the Lone Wolf series being one of the notable exceptions. Please note that this page will be "under construction" for a long time, probably a number of years. The prime reason for this is that all reviews that I am writing come from reading through these books presently, as opposed to relying on memories from 10+ years ago.
If you want to get in touch with me to discuss gamebooks or whatnot, click here.
Changes on 01/11/09
Added a new review, for the first book in the Legend of Inz series.
Changes on 10/03/08
Updated the links listing.
Changes on 1/23/08
I have taken down the books for sale, since many of my extra books seem to have gotten lost in the last couple moves I have made. Also I noticed that most of my links were dead, so I have removed them and added a new one to the PDF gamebooks available at Home of the Underdogs. I am also getting the new Mongoose printings of the Lone Wolf books, and my thoughts on the revised edition of Flight From the Dark is now up in the Lone Wolf section.
The list of series below is by no means exhaustive. The ones listed are those for which I have at least one copy currently sitting on my bookshelf. As I gather others they will be added.
Fighting Fantasy These were the first gamebooks that I ever read. I found them when I was in elementary school at the local library, and fell in love with them. I would go to the library and spend hours reading and re-reading these books. I can safely say that Fighting Fantasy really got me into using my local library, a useful skill for later in life.
Lone Wolf The Lone Wolf series is my favorite among all gamebooks that I have ever read. Unlike the Fighting Fantasy series, all of the books are connected, and you carry the same character from book to book. This is a wonderful concept, as you really get into the role of being a Kai warrior, and it allows sweeping, epic plot lines that take a number of books to play out. If you read no other gamebook series, read this one.
Sorcery! Written by Steve Jackson (of Fighting Fantasy fame), these books take the Fighting Fantasy system and do it one better. These four books form a single story, where you take the same character from book to book, like Lone Wolf. It uses the Fighting Fantasy rules system, but adds a very unique magical system to the game. A very interesting series.
Combat Command This is a science-fiction series, focusing on military units rather than single individuals like other series. Each book is placed inside a sci-fi world created by a famous author. For example, the first book of this series I read was set in the world of Hammer's Slammers by David Drake. Because the focus was on unit combat rather than individual combat, it had a very different style that is a nice change from the norm. Most gamebooks were set in fantasy worlds, so it is good to see some set in sci-fi settings.
The Way of the Tiger This series is set in a fantasy world of heavy Oriental influence. You play a ninja, and take your character from book to book, following a large and complex story line. The coolest part of these books was the combat system, though. You had a number of martial arts moves that you could use, as well as some real nifty ninja tricks. If you have an interest in ninja or martial arts, you should find these books.
Car Wars Every so loosely based on the Car Wars game by Steve Jackson Games (no relation to the Fighting Fantasy Steve Jackson), these gamebooks are stand-alone stories. You have a character with attributes and skills, like other gamebooks, but you also have a car (or motorcyle, or truck, etc.) that is almost as important as you are. Many of your fights take place in your car, which is armored and armed with weapons like machine guns, rocket launchers, and anti-tank guns. A fun read, especially if you are familiar with the boardgame.
Swordquest A series of gamebooks based on the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules. These books were written by a fairly prominent author, Bill Fawcett. I've only got one of them, which was a standard fantasy quest game where you have to hunt for a special item to save the life of your dying king.
The World of Lone Wolf This series of 4 books puts you in the shoes of Grey Star, a young wizard. It is set in the southern half of the same world that the Lone Wolf series is set in, though these books are not written by Joe Dever, but by his friend Ian Page (Dever is listed as the editor). You are on a quest to retrieve the Moonstone of the Shianti, which takes you from your home through jungles, wasteland, and even another dimension.
Grail Quest A series of gamebooks written by J. H. Brennan, these books have a different feel to them than other gamebooks. First of all, the book "talks" to you. Sometimes it makes fun of you, too. The books are written in a very conversational style. There are some other elements that are rather unique, like "Dreamtime" (read the books; I'm not explaining it here). A good series, I have only read a couple of the books.
Sagard the Barbarian A series of 4 gamebooks written by Flint Dille and Gary Gygax, co-creator of the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. These books are quite different from many other gamebooks, as each section has its own title. They are also a little shorter than some of the others, but not by a large amount. I originally thought that these books were intended for younger readers, but I don't believe that now. It just is written in a somewhat simpler style to ease non-gamers into the system.
Combat Heroes A different take on gamebooks by Joe Dever of Lone Wolf fame. These books can be played in two ways: as a solo gamebook, or competitively against the companion book. For this second method you need an opponent to be reading the other book. In competitive play these books are like glorified Lost Worlds combat books. It's a somewhat similar setup, but with more depth.
Crossroads A series of "interactive novels," these books, like the Combat Command series, are all set in settings of pre-published stories. However, the Crossroads series give you a single character to control rather than a military unit and use a simplified version of the AD&D rules. Not very familiar with this series, as I just recently discovered it.
Fabled Lands / Quest This is a very ambitious series of gamebooks. The idea is that the books each present a different part of a fantasy world, and then you explore it to your heart's content. If you move from one area into another, you are given a section of another book in the series to turn to. However, there is no over-arching plot; you just wander around trying to get rich, kill things, or whatever else you want to do. These books are also rather modern, being printed in the mid-'90s. Some are even still available in stores.
Knuckleduster Interactive Western Adventures This is a currently-developing series of gamebooks set in the American West during the cowboy days. Only one volume has been published as I am writing this, but more are promised in the future. These are different from other gamebooks for many reason. First, they are more expensive. Second, they are large, measuring 8.5" x 11", rather than your standard paperback size. Third, they are distributed through gamestores, rather than booksellers. As far as I know, these are the only gamebooks dealing with the American West.
Freeway Warrior This is a set of four gamebooks written by Joe Dever after he had finished his initial 12 Lone Wolf books. In them you take the role of Cal Phoenix, a resident of a post-nuclear war United States; or what's left of it, anyway. The series deals with your efforts to get your small colony of survivors from Texas to California. And as with any good series, there are complications...
Tolkien/Middle-Earth Quest This series of gamebooks started out being published by Iron Crown Enterprises (ICE) under the Tolkien Quest name. After a couple books, though, Berkeley began publishing them under the name Middle-Earth Quest. The books are in the same series, though. The books are all self-contained and independent of the others. Some of them deal with events from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, while some are set in the Fourth Age, after Sauron's defeat. If you like Tolkien's work, you should like these books.
Catacombs This is a series of books published in the '80s by TSR. They are in a larger format, like the Knuckleduster books, and were aimed at the role-playing market rather than the regular book market. Most of these books were based on the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons system, though I know of one that is based on TSR's Top Secret/S.I. game.
Doctor Who Published by FASA in the mid-'80s, there were (as far as I know) only 2 books in this series. They use a condensed version of the Doctor Who RPG rules. I just got one of the books, so I don't really know anything about them yet. I'll provide more information when I can.
John F. Antal's Tactical Books Published by Presidio Press, this is a series of books that purpots to teach the basics of modern military combat through an interactive, gamebook-style approach. There are currently three books (according to Damien Katz), of which I have the first. The book that I have is a trade paperback-size book (bigger than a standard paperback book, with a commensurate price increase), and I assume that the others are, too.
The Legend of Inz Published by Outskirts Press, this is a new series of "choose your own adventure" style books focusing on the main character, Inz, and his adventures as he faces his destiny. They are kind of at the halfway point between interactive fiction and traditional RPG-style gamebooks.
Other This covers all "gamebook" adventures that are not a whole book unto themselves. I do NOT plan on reviewing actual Role-Playing Game solo adventures under this heading, just interactive fiction/gamebook stand-alone stories.
I will use the following system when reviewing all gamebooks. It is based on a "star" system, ranging from 1 to 5.
Five stars is the best. If I give any book this rating, you need to read it. Period. I do not anticipate giving out many of these, if I give out any at all. Five stars is as close to perfection as you are likely to get this side of Heaven.
Four stars means that I found the book to be all-around good. The plot was good, it was difficult to complete but not too difficult, lengthy but not onerously so. I fully recommend any book that gets this rating.
Three stars is an average rating. There are good things about the book, and there are bad things. I anticipate that most of the books will get this rating. Any book with this rating I hold a neutral position on. I don't recommend it, but if you wanted to read it I wouldn't try to convince you not to.
Two stars means that the book was below average. In some way the book was seriously flawed; either it was too easy or too hard, or way too short, or some other flaw that should have been caught before the book went to the printer. A flawed product that I don't recommend.
One star means that the book stinks, and stinks really bad. The book is basically trash with almost no or fully no redeeming value at all. I do not anticipate giving out many of these at all, if any. However, I haven't read all gamebooks ever printed, so I'm sure somebody wrote a real stinker. If you can avoid it, don't read a one star book.
The following are links to gamebook sites on the web that I recommend to gamebook fans. I just cleaned this up, so there aren't as many links here as there used to be, but I like to think the ones left are of actual quality.