Sunday, May 2, 2021

Is it fun to die lots of times and have to replay a gamebook or is it better to be able to complete a gamebook in one go?

EDIT: I had the comments settings so that only members of the blog can comment. I have now changed them so that anyone can comment. Please, knock yourselves out (but comment on the blog first).

So, there are a lot of gamebooks where the choices you make could lead to your character's death. And some of those choices will be completely arbitrary where you have no idea that the choice will lead to your character's death.

Can that be fun?

The consequences of arbitrary choices

You know the kind of choice. The which door kind of choice. Do you go left or right? Do you go through the wooden door on the left or the wooden door on the right? Should you drink out of the left conical flask or the right conical flask?

In real life, neither of them, you maniac!

It's probably impossible to have a gamebook with no arbitrary choices. 

However, arbitrary choices can be find. The frustration arises because of the consequences of those choices. If the arbitrary choices mean the difference of a few stamina points or an extra combat or a few more gold pieces, then I'm not going to complain. If there's an arbitrary choice which results in you missing the vital item/clue and you have no idea that you needed it and there is no way of getting it again and there is no other item/clue that you can get that will take its place, then I will find that annoying.

But should it be? If I approached gamebooks with the philosophy that maybe they should be played through several times and the choices should be explored to see how to avoid the death and try a different option, then the gamebook is doing what it intended to.

What method provides more replayability? On the one hand, gamebooks that kill you arbitrarily are replayed to find the right path. Gamebooks that don't kill you arbitrarily could be replayed to see what the different paths do. I suppose it might not make much difference. If you succeed at the gamebook that arbitrarily kills you early on and know that it arbitrarily kills you, then I guess you won't want to bother exploring the other paths. If exploration is more of a fun option, then maybe you will. I guess it also depends on how you feel towards the game. If the gamebook is a challenge to be beaten, then I guess you will replay the book over and over until you win. If you look at it as something to kick back and explore with/create a narrative with then having arbitrary deaths would be a put off.


So which method is more fun? I guess that depends on your gamebook player type. If you like a challenge, then having arbitrary deaths due to choices would be fun.

If you are an explorer/storyteller, then you probably won't want your experience cut short by an arbitrary death.

What do you think?


  1. When I was a lot younger, I was a fan of extreme difficulty in gamebooks. Nowadays I'm much more into gamebooks that encourage repeat play by presenting interesting, explorable worlds, where turning right rather than left (or whatever) presents new challenges rather than guaranteeing failure.

    The mini-adventure I wrote for Fighting Fantazine falls somewhere between the two approaches. There's more than one way to win it (though one victory is 'better'), and I don't think there are any encounters in the adventure of which it could be said 'if you wind up here, you are sure to fail'. Each viable route through the adventure does require the reader to make the 'right' choice in places, and at times that choice is still arbitrary, but in other places there are definite rewards for intelligent gameplay.

  2. Hey Stuart, i really enjoy the blog.

    There are no hooks at the start of the book for beginning again. There is usually no clue along the way as to the misstep that caused your death. Without those it’s too tedious to begin again. Once you ignore the consequences and just keep going as if you won, the game is over and you’re just reading.

    Gamebooks keep the wargame element of hit points, but they drop terrain and enemy unit visibility, and those two things are important for determining strategy. The gamebook might as well be blackjack with a few die rolls to see how much more you lose. There are a lot of ways to shore this up, but it isn’t done because gamebook money is in quantity not quality.