Armies of Death by Ian Livingstone

(7.5/10) So next time you're in the alehouse and a good-looking elf winks at you, just remember my fate.

YOU are the HERO!

Ever been tricked by a trickster hag? If not, you die a cruel and horrible arbitrary death. If you have, turn to paragraph 2.

I suffered this fate upon my first attempt. You think I might have been cut some slack after I saved a damsel in distress by a rather skilful (if I say so myself) spot of bag throwing. She wanted to give me a ring to say thanks. I accepted and then she peeled her face off and then started to eat mine! Turns out she wasn’t really an elf at all, but the afore mentioned hag. Now, I’ve been on some rough first dates, but that really took the biscuit.

Yes, it’s time for a Fighting Fantasy gamebook: Armies of Death by Ian Livingston. If you aren’t familiar with these, then I’d recommend picking up one of the classics first. “Warlock of Firetop Mountain” or “Citadel of Chaos”, are much better starting points. Not that this is a bad gamebook, it’s just a little different. This time around you lead an army of men as well as yourself, which means that there are skirmish battles to contend with as well as individual combat.

The story is that after completing the Trial of Champions (book #12 in the new Wizard Editions) and Deathtrap Dungeon (#3) you retire and commission a castle to be built (I’m guessing this is similar to an ex-footballer buying a pub). But you soon get bored, and upon hearing rumours of Agglax the Shadow Demon building an army to crush the people of Allansia, you decide to teach him a lesson. Using some of your hard earned cash you start an army. And thus you start your quest with a few hundred men and a similar amount of gold pieces with which to build your force to take of the Demon. That’s when it gets tricky. There are hundreds of choices to be made and many battles to be fought before you can take him on, every choice you make, fraught with peril.

This is a good, fun gamebook, with enough fighting and adventure to keep the average young adventurer happy. There are a few nice touches added in this book that help the gameplay. Items with numbers that must be added to current paragraph number to help prevent cheating are cleverly used (Moi? Cheat? Never!). The addition of skirmish battles help add variety to the gameplay, and although the combat system for these is about as basic as it could be, it probably couldn’t be much more complex or it would risk leaving younger readers behind.

Despite these useful additions there are just too many arbitrary deaths scattered throughout the book. I think I was killed three times by turning the wrong way in a maze. No hints about air going stale, no map I could have picked up earlier. I was just lead up the garden (dungeon) path and then a huge rock landed on my head.

So next time you’re in the alehouse and a good-looking elf winks at you, just remember my fate.

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