Paulson’s Peak — A Masterclass in Gamebook Writing!
This gem was published back in March by Mantikore, and so far is only available in German, but hopefully, they soon realise what a huge market of gamebook aficionados could be reached by translating it. Fingers crossed!
The premise is that ‘you’ have been invited to an empty, old mansion by your friend, Sid. The past owner liked to invent ‘Toybots’ and had a tragic history with his wife dying young and the strange disappearance of his maid. Seeing as the mansion, the eponymous Paulson’s Peak, sits on a cliff edge, it will soon be lost to the sea as the ground erodes underneath it, so this is the last opportunity to discover some of its secrets. Especially why it still consumes such a large amount of electricity despite no one living there…
Is there a hidden room?
And who doesn’t love a ‘find the secret room’ story? Gamebooks should have a solid end-goal and a robust tale to hang the gameplay on — Paulson’s Peak delivers this in spades, with a gradually revealed back-story that allows you to discover the truth about Henry Paulson. But of course, we came here for the gameplay and here is where Jörg Benne has excelled.
Most of the book is based around the floor plan of the mansion. Each room has its own number — so if you want to visit the bedroom, you turn to 180 — and it’s completely up to you in which order you explore the mansion. Initially, you are limited to the lower floor, but after a pinch point, the upstairs is opened up too. This gives it a more ‘Escape Room’ vibe and definitely gives the reader more autonomy with the game. It also places the onus on the reader to be on the ball! Instead of gently leading you through the story, as more linear books do, it simply sits back and says, ‘So where do you want to go next?’ For example, one of the first rooms I went into was the guest room en-suite, in which I was told that there was nothing much here, unless I had status A2. Naturally, I hadn’t — I’d only just started — but much, much later, I found a dirty object (no spoilers, don’t worry) which triggered me to update A’s status to 2. It was totally my responsibility to recall that A2 was used in the guest bathroom and when I went back, lo and behold, there was a brush that I could clean the object with.
Part of the joy with Paulson’s Peak is that it evolves with your own unique pathway through the story. The main mechanics are the alteration of the room number once you’ve achieved something significant in the room AND the status check boxes. With these, you can track the discoveries and subsequent actions taken, such as looking at the bookcase (B0), finding a lock behind some items on a shelf (B1), then finding the key (B2), then using a chisel to open the warped, secret door that you've just unlocked (B3). Each of these steps might require you to go away to different rooms to find the key and the chisel, but the updated statuses allow you to return to both the room and a logical place in the story, rather than rehashing the same sections.
And hopefully, I’ve not made it sound complicated, because it's not. It's really easy to navigate. The record sheets are in place and you are clearly instructed when and how to make alterations to the floor plan and statuses.
So not complicated but definitely challenging. It’s jam-packed with an inventive array of puzzles — indeed, there’s one I still haven’t managed to work out — but there are clues to be found all around which nudge you in the right direction, although again, you are left to your own devices to make the connections. This book makes you work for each success! And if that fails, the character, Sid, can act as a walkaround. Often, he can be called upon to work it out for you, but naturally, this is at the expense of losing points, so there's a limited amount of times you can do this! You have to choose your battles wisely...
There’s plenty of excellent visuals in this book too — clues are found (or missed, if you scan it too quickly like I did!) in the sketches of desks and drawers, so a nod must go to the artist, David Staege.
Paulson’s Peak is a clever gamebook that hooks you, reels you in and doesn’t let go until the last puzzle is solved and the last page is turned. It leaves you feeling a great sense of achievement and satisfaction when you’ve finally finished the exploration.
And yes, I did find the secret room and the reason for the excessive electrical consumption, but I’m not telling you…