My three geeky weaknesses in this world are Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures, Star Wars Action Figures and Fighting Fantasy Game Books. Ever since I picked up City of Thieves when I was a young boy and took my first steps down the streets and alleys of Port Blacksand I’ve been hooked. This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of Fighting Fantasy game books and with it the release of a new book, “Blood of the Zombies“, by Fighting Fantasy co-creator Ian Livingstone. I bought the book and had a go and here are my thoughts on this little piece of green backed zombie mayhem.
First off, I have to say that I loved the rules for this game. You still move around from paragraph to numbered paragraph, and you still have Stamina and dice rolls, but both Luck and Skill have been tossed out, making this feel quite different from the other books in the series. This is a good thing though, as the new rules do a great job of simulating zombie killing action while remaining simple enough so that you can just enjoy playing. Damage, which is a new addition, lets you roll dice and add or subtract a number to see how many zombies you kill (zombies have 1 point of Stamina). Different weapons let you do different amounts of damage and there are enough weapons to make you feel like a walking arsenal.
Overall combat is faster and probably a little more deadly than in previous editions. It’s also more modern and you’ll get the chance to use shotguns, pistols, grenades and even the old crowbar in your quest against the walking dead. I’d say that you can see something of how games have developed in how this book plays.
My only question regrading the rules would be if a new player would know how to read the book, since it’s never mentioned that you must move from paragraph to paragraph. I suppose it’s easy to figure that out, so maybe it’s not an issue.
I’ve only played the book twice so far. My first run lasted all of four paragraphs while the second felt like I was on fire, hitting all the sweet spots until I was blown to smithereens. In the second run I was able to get more into the story that’s introduced in the opening pages of the book. Given that this is a book aimed at 10 year olds and their 30 to 40 year old fan dads I’d say the plot can be forgiven for being a little childish. However, I never felt that other books in the series were as childish as this one. Perhaps the modern setting is the difference, since you can more easily suspend your disbelief in a purely fantasy story. I think the opening four pages that set the story failed to impress me, as did some of the interactions with characters I met during my adventure. The zombies, on the other hand, were fun and entertaining. The setting itself is great too, as you play you get a sense of the layout of the castle about you and it truly felt immense to me.
I’ve already mentioned the arsenal you’ll likely find, but there is also a mass of gear you can buy and pick up. I ran out of space. I had some 23 items after my second death, not including multiple boxes of ammo or any of the weapons I had. I’m interested to see how much of it actually gets used. I did like the fact that the items match the “zombie apocalypse” theme: tools, survival gear and more.
City of Thieves remains one of my favorites because, not only was it a great game, but it had great art that really caught the feel of the world it portrayed. “Blood of the Zombies” has great art too and much of the feel of the adventure for me came from the snapshots of the action drawn by Kevin Crossley. The art is gritty and yet at times comical and sometimes outright scary. Everything you’d expect from a Fighting Fantasy book really.
There are a couple of additions with this book that are worth mentioning. For one, you get to find out more about Ian Livingstone and what he did for role-playing and gaming in general, which I really appreciated. Secondly, this book comes with three character sheets, instead of just the one. I would have likes a link printed in the book to a download of the character sheet, that would have been nice to have. Lastly, the book will be available as an app for your iOS or Android device thanks to Tin Man Games.
It’s a little hard to tell how much of what I think of the book is just me being a fan boy. Certainly the book is exciting because it’s a new Fighting Fantasy game book, but then new additions have been coming out since as early as 2007 (see “Bloodbones“). The fact that it’s Ian Livingstone who wrote it may give it more credibility, especially amongst collectors, but is it a great game book?
I really enjoyed the fighting. Again, I haven’t finished the book, but I’ll give it another go soon and hopefully add some detail to my handy map as I go. The fighting is what I’m looking forward to most; because you can never kill enough zombies. Next on my list is meeting the big boss and seeing how much of my inventory I can throw at him before he goes down.
I was a little disappointed with the story, which I just couldn’t believe in, but a game book is more than just story, it’s about mechanics, the layout of the dungeon (or castle), the encounters, the equipment and weapons and your own perception of whats going on. So I don’t really think the story is so critical. However, Ian Livingstone wrote “City of Thieves” and “Blood of the Zombies” , at least story wise, is nowhere near the level of that book.
Everything said, if you’ve never played Fighting Fantasy then I’d recommend this book, the game play is faster and easier and you’ll be mowing down zombies in no time. If you’ve played Fighting Fantasy before then here’s your chance to kill zombies while reliving the good old days (of 2007?). You may find the story a little childish, but once you get past that this book is all the awesomeness that started back in the days of the Warlock of Firetop Mountain.