‘The Warlock of Firetop Mountain’ started OK. Well, you head immediately into a mountain and I do like being inside, so that was a plus. However, I was disappointed by the immediate ‘fall into pit’ if you take the right turn. Well, who wouldn’t be? I don’t like being funnelled in a certain direction. Dammit, I want to wander about aimlessly, however wrong it might be!
A little further along, past the ‘old, mad man, shout at him’ – well, if you insist – you open the portcullis and then it starts to get more interesting. There are 4 routes to the mid-game point and I really enjoy the intrigue of that. As you’re playing, there are red herrings; objects that you think must be essential but in the end, aren’t. This means that you’ve not really got a sense of whether you’ve gone the right way or not. Plus, they all end up at the river but not the lazy, here’s-one-paragraph-at-the-river – you arrive at different openings onto the river. I like that. It makes me reassured that the writer has really planned this world out and it will make sense.
The next little section is just the teaser – a choice of two routes which lead you to some stairs, a very important map clue and then you’re in. In where? I hear you cry. Aah, the infamous Maze of Zagor. Which on a normal read-through is endless wandering where your only instructions are ‘You are standing at a crossroads… To go West etc etc’. But no, you cry again, you have the very important map clue. Surely that will help! Oh yes. The map. Which tells you:
* * * G E R (in a room to the North) and
S M * * * P * * * L E ( in a room to the East)
Well, that’s a big help. So you now know that there is danger to the North and small people AKA dwarves in the East. Which is of zero use in getting you from one crossroads to the next. You’ll probably bump into the Maze Master who gives you what seem to be good instructions. Except when I follow them, I end up in a dead end, go dizzy and end up in a different part of the maze. A metaphor for life, perhaps…
When you actually map out the maze it isn’t a complex as it feels and the exit is a hidden door which lead to the final fight.
It starts with a dragon – need a spell for that; then a Warlock battle – need an Eye of Cyclops for that and finally the pesky last task of opening the treasure chest. You knew the keys would be handy at some point and here they are. You have to add up 3 key numbers and then turn to that total. There are by my count, 5 possible keys, so if you don’t have the right number, you either can’t do maths OR you need to play again and explore new territory. And what do you win? The Sorcerer’s riches AND the spell book. Lucky you!
Pointers for my own gamebooks: Don’t just have rooms that you go into, do/find something, then return to the same corridor. Have a secret passageway every now and then. I like to explore and be surprised.
Best map notation that I wrote: The award goes to the combination of ‘Goblin Battle Cheese’ ‘Giant Rats use cheese’ Because obviously.
Best image: It has the be the Warlock himself. Looking a little like Slender Man but in a paisley dressing gown. Nothing screams terror than a man who defies anatomical norms, yet craves comfy pants. He’s probably wearing a onesy underneath it!
Best death: There’s not a lot to choose from here. Maybe they were thinking that too much murder would be traumatic for kids. And yet, they have your arse being gnawed on by a ghoul. Yes, that’s right. Your adventure could end with being eaten alive by the undead.
End game rating: 7/10 I like the structure of the routes and the physical world but it was too easy for cheats. Too much ‘Does the name ‘Farrigo Di Maggio mean anything to you?’, which is obvious that it’s important, so I just say ‘oh yes, I’d never forget ol’ Farrigo’ and carry on. I prefer the trickier ‘If you know of a spell, convert it into a number and turn to that paragraph’ style of gaming.