Back… to Adventure Game Books

Waaay back in 2013 in the early heyday of Australian Tabletop Gaming Network, I did a piece that looked at the digital revival of adventure game books.  A little taboo for the ATGN website as we try to stick primarily to the physical play space, but as a big fan of adventure game books I thought ‘what the heck’ at the time.  I touched on the subject again last year with a piece looking at the tabletop gaming of my youth.

Are they simply books with no place here or are they games?  I’d wager the latter; if we consider them ‘just books’ then we’d have to surmise that Role-Playing Games such as Dungeons & Dragons are ‘just books’ as well.  As soon as there are decisions to be made and dice to roll it’s a game as far as I’m concerned.

When I wrote on the topic five years ago it appeared to me that the adventure game book scene was (apart from some avid collectors) largely dead.  In my more recent piece I had just joined a few Facebook Groups in the hopes of expanding my collection of books by trading off some of my spares.  Since then I’ve learned just how gravely wrong I was. Adventure game books (much like text adventure games on PC) are enjoying a strong and keenly supported scene.

For starters, just take a look at this international group with over 2,200 members.

Looking for something more local? An Australian group fired up not too long ago as well; it’s still small but growing.

Why do we collect and trade these books?  Well, as I explained in my more recent article about my childhood, a lot of us were collecting and playing these books in the 80’s when they were in their prime.  Whether it was a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ from the school library or the latest ‘Fighting Fantasy’ from the book store, adventure was never far away.

It’s not just my generation either, Felicity spoke about introducing her kid to adventure game books recently and just how much fun they were having together.

It seems that there is still plenty of room in this digital age for adventure game books.  Whether it be those unable to attend a regular role-playing session with friends, or perhaps those that like adventures that don’t require the battery to be recharged.

While the digital games have continued to do well, with many thanks to Australia’s own ‘Tin Man Games‘ with both their adaptation of the original Fighting Fantasy stories as well as conjuring original adventures of their own, it’s important to note that the physical scene is still alive and well.

While the Fighting Fantasy books get a reprint every now and again, much like video games we’ve now seen the rise of the independent creator with the aid of self-publishing websites like ‘Lulu’.

Check out Malice From The Middle Vale from David Sharrock, Tales of Quahnarren from Michael Reilly (Australian!) or James Schannep’s series of books.  I’ve yet to pickup one of these myself, but I’ve been eyeing a few of them off.  All of them appear to have a level of polish at the very least equivalent to that of the 80’s game books.

The professional writers are still at it as well.  The legendary Ian Livingstone recently published a brand new Fighting Fantasy story entitled ‘The Port of Peril’ which was released in both a regular and limited edition.  Megara Entertainment are also producing amazing books with their Fabled Lands series, with enough titles available that they are even starting to eclipse other game book series of the 80’s in terms of number of books available.

Consider too that this is just physically printed media. If you wanted to delve into the digital realm there is an incredible wealth of material available.

It’s not just writers either. During my time inside these groups I’ve been exposed to some fantastic artwork as well.  Artists like Johan Tieldow (who did the art for Malice From the Middle Vale) are producing exceptional artwork with an uncanny resemblance to the original Fighting Fantasy artwork.  Huargo Illustrador has also created many stunning pieces that hint at memories from an 80’s childhood.  Both of these artists and many others (along with their artwork) can be found in the international group I linked above.


Artwork by Huargo Illustrador.

Artwork by Johan Tieldow.

I recall making my own game books as a child. A friend of mine and his brother were also heavily into them and were working on their own books as well.  We’d swap them amongst ourselves to see how far we could get.  We’d do all our own artwork as well, spending hours on hand writing and drawing these things.  Sadly, I have no idea what happened to my creations; presumably lost at some point in the many house moves over the years.  I’ve dabbled with Interactive Fiction or ‘Text Adventure Games’ as a teenager, managing to complete at least one game, though it was on a 5.25″ floppy disk and is also now lost to time.  If I wasn’t busy with a couple of websites, I feel I’d probably take a crack at my own game book.  After all I’ve been a Dungeon/Game Master for near on 30 years.  That doesn’t mean it would be a particularly good game book though; a lot of planning and thought must go into these books I’m sure, pacing in particular would be an interesting issue to tackle.

A quick look reveals that several online book stores are still stocking Fighting Fantasy books, proof enough that there is still a demand for these.

Angus & Robertson, Boomerang Books and Booktopia all had several of the new cover Fighting Fantasy books for sale.

Regardless of your age, or your experience with non-digital adventuring, it’s never too late to get involved with adventure game books.  Pick up a few reprints on the websites I linked above, or if you are lucky enough to still have a physical store near you, pop in for a look.  Check out the new books such as the ‘Woven Paths’ series I linked above.  Or for an extra dollop of thrills-a-minute adventure, head down to your local thrift store or book fair and have a fossick about for some of the classics.  You’ll likely struggle to find any of the big name stuff, such as Fighting Fantasy or the Joe Dever series of books, but there are plenty of diamonds in the rough to be found.  And if you do find one of those big title books for only $2 there is a huge rush that goes with it.  Already got that book? Snap it up anyway, and join those groups I mentioned. You can always trade it off for a book you don’t have.

It doesn’t hurt to keep extra copies for trade. Picture courtesy of Ryan Lynch.

There is a lot of information to absorb if you’re diving into this world, two websites you should definitely add to your bookmarks are Game Book News and Damien’s Game Book Page (which sadly appears to be down at the moment). Both are invaluable resources.

I’m really pleased to see that such an important part of my childhood has continued to exist, with like-minded passionate people at the helm.  I think it might be time to re-visit the House of Hell or Port Blacksand, otherwise known as ‘The City of Thieves’.

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One Comment
  1. February 9, 2018 | Reply

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