Video Game Review: Gamebook Adventures 1 Through 5 | Giant Fire Breathing Robot

Video Game Review: Gamebook Adventures 1 Through 5

I got no heart, but I has a brain! (Photo: Tin Man Games)

To commemorate the sixth release by Tin Man Games in the Gamebook Adventures series, The Wizard from Tarnath Tor, I’m going to take you on a journey through the series as a whole as well as prepare you for the adventure to come. For the uninitiated, the Gamebook Adventures series is a collection of iOS apps that are a perfect hybrid of fantasy novels and dice-centric tabletop RPG games. Basically, a “choose your own adventure” book with fierce, animated dice battles built right in. These really encapsulate the best parts of both reading high fantasy and playing Dungeons and Dragons, without the drawbacks. The games are easy to jump into and have a small learning curve for those new to fantasy, but are rich enough with the trappings of great fantasy to satisfy the hardcore junkies. More after the break!


The text reads like a lovingly crafted D&D adventure built by your favorite DM who also happens to be Michael Bay. Each gamebook plunges you on the front lines of the action very quickly. One does not have to wait long before the fantasy needle hits the vein, which can be a welcome relief to some current fantasy novels which have a long buildup to the action. You are often just settling in to the background of your new narrative when you will be forced to make crucial decisions or defend yourself against hordes of bloodthirsty goblyns. In short: they make sure you are never bored. As you play through these books you will find yourself flying through the pages and the hours with ease.

Lightning bolt! Sleep! Sleep! (Photo: Tin Man Games)


Part of the fun is that you are constantly being pushed up against many crossroads without knowing any of the perils or prizes that await you at the end. Do you want to: A) Fight the rotting zombie that just jumped in front of you. B) Set the curtains on fire with your torch. Or, C) Dash down the dark hallway? In this typical example of a “decision page,” you will only get to choose one of these, and any one or all of them could lead to your untimely death or untold riches. Either way, the choice is in your hands. If you are familiar at all with the MUD games of days past (like Zork or GemStone IV), or you just like a good fantasy romp through a well-crafted universe, then you will find yourself right at home within these books.

As a series, these gamebooks really stand strong. Each book has a commanding storyline that attacks the typical fantasy adventure from different angles. One thing to note, however, is that some of the “death scenes,” in which your character makes a wrong choice or fails a “Fitness Test,” can be quite graphic. This casts a pretty dark tone over the series as a whole, and ultimately, I cannot recommend them for readers under the age of 13. Of course, it is up the parents’ discretion. As a (relatively) well-adjusted adult, I took no offense to the descriptions. If the only drawback to the entire series is that the rating score is a little bit off, then I’d say that we’re in good shape.

Screencap from a battle in the third book: "Slaves of Rema." (Photo: Tin Man games)


Honestly though, there is not a huge difference between each installment of the Gamebook Adventures outside of the storylines, of course, but, therein lies their genius! Tin Man Games found a formula that works and they stuck with it, to their eternal credit. Lesser publishers could have easily ruined the spirit of the games by adding flashy graphics, or completely switching up the mechanics just for the sake of change. They held true to their belief that a good game is built on a foundation of storytelling, rather than flashy graphics, which is why we love fantasy in the first place, right? The result: Solid games that will keep you entertained for hours. If you are a frequent commuter on the bus or train, or want to visit a sprawling fantasy adventure during your coffee break, then by all means, give Gamebook Adventures a try.



Crib Sheet for Gamebook Adventures 1 through 5:


GBA1: Worth buying just to see how it all started. Still the best plot twist so far and a very satisfying ultimate ending. Some of the best illustrations in the series.

GBA2: Deeper story than the first. Narrative more fleshed out between action sequences, but still tons of fighting. Last boss fight is a marathon! Make sure you have the ultimate weapon and armor. No new features between books. Do not, I repeat, do not collect more than one ruby if you want the ultimate ending! That was not clear until about my 4th playthrough.

GBA3: Compelling, well-crafted story. They hit their stride here. Epic plot turns and a realistic learning curve. Really tell that they were working with new innovations in their storytelling. New Mechanic: text-based epic battles (like first gladiatorial battle and the sea monster battle) in which your decisions determine the outcome, rather than just another dice face off. My favorite in the whole series. You can marry a mermaid!

Typical layout of a few GBA pages from the first book. (Photo: Tin Man Games)

GBA4: First adventure where you have a partner…for a time. Betrayal and sorcery, oh my! They change up the game mechanics in a creative way about half way through the book. Without giving too much away, I’d say they are welcome editions. Get to fight in a huge, Helms Deep-esque battle against a horde of undead and wildmen. Get to fight a book-slinging poltergeist who taunts you by saying: “Bless my boots, you think you can kill me?” Priceless.

GBA5: Wrongly accused thief sentenced to death. Can recruit an actual companion. Different outcomes depending on your choice of follower. Hardest adventure so far. Most difficult to stay up at full health. Lots of options to get to end goal depending on how you decide to infiltrate the thieves’ guild. Fitness checks are toughest so far. Easy to lose fitness modifier early on in the book which can be problematic later on in the book. Fits in to the story line well though as you are an ex thief. Lots of boss fights and tough creatures to battle. Recommended for experienced GBA players!


There are 3 comments.

  1. Darci said on June 1, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    Wow, these sound amazing. I will be buying #1 tonight.

  2. Reggie said on April 2, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    Gah! Spoilers in the reviews. Come on man!

  3. Rotschild said on January 18, 2014 at 3:48 am

    I think this review is unfairly positively biased.
    For a start, the combat system is horrible. Completely random, can leave you crippled even if you win, and few of the gamebooks in the series have enough items that restore a barely sufficient amount of hit points. The result is: you are going to curse whenever you encounter combat, and try to avoid it at all cost whenever possible (often not).
    They included the fitness check in order to give a tactical element to the combat (it is directly copied from Fighting Fantasy’s Luck tests in combat), but the edge it gives is absolutely not sufficient to make the exchanges less random.
    On top of that, your strenght and defense depend on equipment. In the beginning you’ll almost always be EXTREMELY vulnerable and weak. This only leads to a very frustrating gameplay.
    The second adventure is so far the worst. It’s absurdly tough, especially because you have no health regain EVER.

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