Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Review of the Choice of Games gamebook house

Just when I think I've found everything related to gamebooks on the web, I stumble across something else. Apparently there's a whole other production house out there producing gamebooks. Check out Choice of Games.

I thought about doing a review of individual gamebooks published by them, but there's enough similarities in style and composition between them that I'll start by just doing a review of the whole lineup.

The Pros

* I really like the focus on story in the Choice gamebooks. They are less about adventuring and more about navigating political or social interactions. I found the intrigue presented in the "Affairs of Court" series (part 1: Choice of Romance, part 2: Choice of Intrigues) very compelling and fun--a great example of intrigue in the gamebook format (something TMG has promised us as well... hopefully?)

* Very high standards for the kinds of choices players are presented with

* Their books are presented free online, or for a very modest price on various digital platforms.

* There is an announcement on their website that they are currently looking for writers. (For all of us aspiring gamebook authors out there ;) In addition, anyone can write a game using their system and they will host it on their website and share with you a measure of any revenue it generates.

* Large selection! There are five officially published books, and a whole score of fan-made ones.

* Some nice art. Each game has at least one nice piece of artwork, if only for the title.

* Quick! This is also a con, but it is nice that you can bust through one in an hour or two.

The Cons

* The writing is a bit hit or miss. I'm not sure this should be in "cons" because sometimes the writing is very good, but, well... it's just hit or miss. Sometimes I'm very impressed, but other times I felt like it was a bit lackluster, both with overall plots and with the quality of the prose.

* Several of their games use a system where character attributes are inversely linked. For example, in the Choice of the Dragon book, Brutality is an important fighting score. But increasing your Brutality necessarily reduces your Finesse. They only have 100 points to split between them. Similarly, increasing your Honor reduces your Cunning, and vice versa. This makes it hard to feel very much like you're making any progress over the course of the game. You're just moving points about, and if you train one thing here and another thing there, then you end up not improving either. I found that very annoying.

* Traits occasionally available that aren't really relevant. I specialized in magic in my playthrough of the Affairs of Court series (starting with Choice of Romance) and it only really came up once. And it didn't really seem relevant then.

* Too Short: It's fun that they're quick, but I think if they were longer they could be built with more depth to really take advantage of the story-based system they're obviously striving for.

(I hate to belabor myself, but my example of excellent, relatively deep story-based gamebooks remains Endmaster's works on the Storygames website, Necromancer and Eternal. Let me tell you, I could not read through one of those in an hour.)


I have read... apparently all of the Choice gamebooks. Didn't realize I'd managed that yet. My recommendations:

Choice of Broadsides: This was my favorite so far. I'm not a special fan of "high seas" settings, but I though this one was very well put together. Mostly, it just lasted long enough for me to start to care about the character a bit and get invested in what was happening. It does suffer from the inversely related stat pairs, though.

Choice of Romance/Intrigues: Together composing the "Affairs of Court" series, I thought these were pretty fun. Mostly, they are a good example of political intrigue in a gamebook.

Choice of the Dragon: It was okay. I guess it's fun to be a dragon and pick on the little villagers, but I wasn't really sure what the point was.

Choice of the Vampire: *shudder* Despite a beautifully written beginning, the writing went on to completely lose me. Sections frequently had more choices than text. I had very little idea what was going on, and the options available were frustrating and pointless. By the time I got into the supposed "romantic" plotline, it had so completely lost my interest I actually stopped playing. It just seemed easier to close the tab in chrome than to make the next choice.

May the next player enjoy Choice of the Vampire more than I did. It's a shame, because I was all prepared to be really excited about getting to be a vampire in the New Orleans of the 1800s.

Above all, I'm just really glad to see someone out there experimenting with a different form of interactive fiction. As much as I love the Fighting Fantasy/Lone Wolf/Tin Man Games genre of gamebooks (and think the genre is making major improvements as it evolves!) my true passion is interactive fiction as a whole, not just this one, fantasy-adventure, interpretation of it.

Thank you, Choice of Games, for taking your own stab at expanding the boundaries of what gamebooks can be.

Hope some of you enjoy the links :) Happy reading!

Oh--one final thought! If you want more detailed reviews of any of the above, (or any other requests, for that matter) let me know ^^


  1. Hi Ashton, thanks for the reviews as I have had most of these games sitting on the bottom of my to read list. I have played choice of Dragon and have Choice of Broadsides waiting on my Android. I think the idea of having opposing characteristics is that you need to decide whether your dragon is a brutal beast or a cunning combatant. You decide on your dragon's characteristics and then you have to make the choices that fit your dragon's best characteristic (so fighting for a brutal dragon and being tricky for a cunning dragon.) I liked the concept so I should definitely get on the others.

    1. Thinking about though, there's no reason why the attributes should be mutually exclusive.

  2. I enjoyed reading them. I think you will too. But yeah, that's sort of how I felt about it in the end. I don't see why gaining one causes you to lose the other.

    One of the ideas of game theory that I didn't get to in the last article on that subject was the idea of the Challenge Staircase. You overcome challenges to get rewarded with power so that you can overcome bigger challenges, etc.

    I think there are arguments to be made on both sides of "what makes sense," but this system takes away one of the fundamental aspects of games that makes them fun: the ability to grow and learn with experience and get stronger to meet greater challenges than you could before.

    It's actually not a bad metaphor for life. The more time you spend doing something, the better you get at it. Take that away, and... there's a sense in which it's like, "what's the point?"

    A better system, I think, would be simply saying there are only so many cases where you can gain points, and each time you must choose one or the other. That would be more like real life, where the limiting factor on how much we can learn, or how skilled we can be, is not a fundamental limit on our brains (at least not one that's readily apparent at a young age) but simply how much time we have to put into learning.

  3. Up to now I'd only played Choice of the Dragon, which I thought was pretty good but I wasn't sure I liked the way the stats worked either. I just played Choice of Broadsides on your recommendation and really enjoyed it, so thanks :)

  4. Thanks for letting me know, Paul :) Glad you enjoyed Broadsides. Honestly, I think they're all worth playing. Even the ones I didn't like, somebody else might appreciate more than I did.

  5. Hi. Would love to discuss your Fortress gamebook with you. If you have time, please send me a mail (or direct me to some contact information).

    1. Good point, Michael--I seem not to have made contact information available. Oops! I'll put that up on my profile, and also send you an email. I'd love to discuss the gamebook with you :)

      In case you don't get my email, you can reach me at ashtonsaylor [at] google [dot] com.

    2. Edit: Actually, I wasn't able to find your email address on your profile either. Please feel free to drop me a line at ashtonsaylor[at]gmail[dot]com.