Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Beggars of Blacksand review

Our first Lone Tiger Review starts with Beggars of Blacksand by Al Sander, writer of the sixth Gamebook Adventure - The Wizard from Tarnath Tor (you can find an interview with Al Sander here).  He is also the winner of the inaugural Windhammer competition  with the brilliant Raid on Chateau Fekenstein.  You can download Beggars of Blacksand for free here or you can play an interactive version here.  It is hosted on that treasure trove of amateur Fighting Fantasy books, www.ffproject.com where you can also find another gamebook by Al Sander - The Cold Heart of Chaos.

Blacksand always offers
a warm welcome.
Beggars of Blacksand combines several Fighting Fantasy tropes in one place and provides quite a cunning mystery all in a short 64 paragraph gamebook.  It's brilliance is in the fact that none of this is obvious straight away.  You begin living as a beggar in Port Blacksand.  As time goes on, you get more and more clues indicating that there is more to your life than this and you need to pick up on them to get to the winning paragraph.

Right, have you read it and got to the winning paragraph?  Are you sure?  We'll see.  Let the review begin.

He's happy because
he's in a spin off.
Theme - 4/5

Port Blacksand is always an exciting place to set an adventure and this book capitalises on its location.  You meet all sorts from rats to imps to thugs to the man orc shopkeeper from City of Thieves.  The book also manages to have big ties to other Fighting Fantasy books and if you work out which ones then you will have a clue as to how to win the book.  Almost every paragraph has a reference to the world of Titan and very cleverly fits the material together. 

This gamebook packs a lot of Titan into 64 paragraphs including the location, the people and the use of the days of the week.  I'm giving it a 4 as it is a short gamebook but makes good use of its paragraphs.

Illustrations 2/5

There is only one illustration, the cover illustration, which is also a clue as to what might happen in the book.  Bonus points to Al Sander for putting the time in to hyperlink the paragraphs. 

Immersion 3/5

The style certainly brings out the squalid life of a beggar in Blacksand with all of its trials and tribulations.  The cover illustration has an unkempt figure (presumably you) watching as a building burns - a clue to what might happen, perhaps?  Also, Al Sander gets bonus points for hyperlinking all of the paragraphs.  That certainly makes things more convenient.

Gameplay 4/5

Cheer up.
At least the property
prices are low.
I’m a big fan of starting the player off in as bad a situation as possible and Beggars of Blacksand does not fail to disappoint.  Before you even turn to paragraph 1, you have to reduce your skill and your stamina and then when you turn the page, you end up getting thrown out of your hovel by Big Dave and his cronies and left with a blunt knife and 1 gold piece.  Even the hero in Master of Chaos, who started off as a galley slave had 2 gold pieces.

Despite having a weakened character, combats are still fair and you can find items that can increase your skill and stamina.  However, thriving in this game requires more than just fighting enemies and getting items that increase your stats.  The aim of the gamebook is not just about surviving on the streets of Blacksand.  You need both a good knowledge of the Fighting Fantasy series and an ability to pick up on the clues in the text to achieve victory.  For example, why does the power of the spell gem get sucked into you?  What are your dreams all about?  Where does the sword with the S on it come from?  If you can work out the answers to these questions, then you will get a clue as to what very special item you will need to win. 

The climax results in you facing someone who wants you killed, but defeating your opponent is not the only thing that you must do.  There is more at stake than just your life...

Exposition 3/5

The book does a good job of describing the characters that you encounter and Al Sander ‘writes big’ with over the top people, crazy dreams and dangerous enemies.  All of the characters, even the minor ones have some traits that make them more than just stock characters or nameless mooks.  The locations also get some decent description.

No time for sleeping.
Rules 3/5

The book follows the standard Fighting Fantasy rules where you have skill, stamina and luck but skill and stamina starts off lower than their initial scores due to the ordeal of living on the streets of Blacksand as a beggar.  You also need to keep track of time.  The book is split into seven sections which are represented by part of a day.  The time means that you can do the same things in a different order rather than missing your chance if you don’t do them at the first opportunity and also introduces the chance for you to brush up on your time management skills.  You also get the chance to do some begging which involves taking your chances on whether you will get money or get mugged. 

It's all packed in there.
Total 16/25

Total 17/25

Beggars of Blacksand packs a lot into a small 64 paragraph gamebook – tons of Fighting Fantasy canon, lots of interesting encounters and a challenging puzzle.  It’s length is its major shortcoming (pun intended) and I would love to see this as a longer gamebook.  

In tiger terms, this is a decent snack.  It is the equivalent of a few small bites brimming with flavour and protein.

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