Review of Fighting Fantazine Issue #8
The Fighting Fantazine has been running since September of 2009, and it is the ezine to go to for all things Fighting Fantasy and gamebook related. Low production value and slightly amateur art is offset by an extremely high level of care and attention that's gone into creating a quality product, and the sheer amount of content is staggering--including two complete, original gamebook adventures!
[This is also my chance to field my new, "Reviews by Ash," review scheme: "Good, Bad, I'm the Guy with the Gun." Seeing as how my name is actually Ash... it seemed appropriate.]
This is the first time I've ever opened a Fighting Fantazine, and I was blown away by simply how much is inside. You're looking at multiple interviews with people in the gamebook industry, recent news of new releases and exciting products to look out for, nostalgic articles about gamebook lore and history, as well 70+ pages of original gamebooks, adventures, fiction and comics. Wow!
For myself, having already plowed through most gamebook material that is available today, it was an unexpected treat to find two new original pieces of gamebook fiction inside the Fighting Fantazine. That itself might win my loyalty as a reader. In brief, I found Vengeance at Midnight to be a delightful and action-packed sequel to superhero-themed Fighting Fantasy books, such as Appointment with F.E.A.R. I think the pacing could have used some work; I frequently found myself struggling a little to slog through the story, but I found the investigation system to be innovative and engaging. It provided a satisfying puzzle-solving kick.
The other thing that I found extremely useful was the news and updates on new interactive fiction coming out. I saw some titles that I hadn't known existed before, including the full line of Capstone educational interactive fiction, which is something I'm very interested in. What I thought was a second gamebook turned out to be an Advanced Fighting Fantasy adventure for 2-4 heroes, presumably to be run by a gamemaster. The comic was a little hard to get into without having read the previous issues, but had excellent art (random gargantuan boobs aside...) and an amusing premise of gaining power by defeating Fighting Fantasy books. There was also original fiction, yet more interviews, reviews... it goes on and on.
Overall, I would say the best thing about this ezine is the depth. Clearly a lot of work and love goes into producing it, and the amount of content it has to offer is prodigious.
As in many things, the greatest strength of the Fighting Fantazine is also it's greatest weakness: content. There's just so much of it. Don't get me wrong, too much is definitely better than too little, but a little more selectivity could have improved the final product, IMNSHO. Three interviews with gamebook industry insiders? That's great... but maybe they could have been spaced out, one in each of three different ezines. Just an example. I don't want to start pointing fingers at what should be in and what shouldn't. The fact is, almost all of it is good content, but part of the job of the editor is not just to rustle up lots of content, but also to make hard choices so that what remains is the best of the best--in an attractive, meal-sized package.
I also have to mention, for the sake of completeness, the art. While the back cover looked really very nice (if not work-safe), the front cover definitely had an amateur quality to the artwork. I haven't seen enough of FF yet to know if this is normal, but it gave the front cover a "home-brewn" feel that might turn off some readers. If there's a budget, it might be worth splurging on art for the front page, if anything.
I'm the Guy with the Gun:
I didn't expect to say this, but I absolutely recommend the Fighting Fantazine for any gamebook enthusiast. This definitely has a "by fans, for fans" feel to it, but if you don't mind the low production values, it's a great place to get news of the industry and even some awesome, original material. Your only challenge might be sorting through the voluminous content to find the bits you're most interested in. Go check it out! You won't regret it =)