This article was previously published on Ferretbrain; due to the imminent closure of that site, I’m moving it over here so that it can remain available.
Alright, fine, the next part of my Fighting Fantasy reviews has been a long time coming. I’m working on it, OK? As a matter of fact, I’ve been prodded into getting back into a gamebook mood over the past year by two things – the first being the Fighting Fantasy-themed podcast Kyra, Dan, Shim and I did a while back, and the second being Games Workshop getting back into the gamebook gig with their new Path to Victory line. Although Games Workshop strictly speaking weren’t the actual publishers of the Fighting Fantasy books, there’s little doubt in founding the series Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were at least partially hoping to provide a gateway drug to gaming in order to cultivate a new generation of customers; equally, since the Fighting Fantasy setting and Warhammer‘s fantasy world developed in parallel, both game lines ended up influencing each other a lot. And yet, at the same time, Games Workshop never seemed to realise that a Warhammer gamebook could be really popular with its customers – until now, that is.
Black Library have been running a print-on-demand sideline for some time now, but they’ve mainly been using it to make long out-of-print material from their back catalogue available when they don’t think there’s a sufficient market for it. (Or, in the case of Space Marine, where the naughty non-canonicity of it all makes them all flustered and swoony.) The first Path to Victory gamebook, C.Z. Dunn’s 40K-based Hive of the Dead was to my knowledge the first all-original print-on-demand title from them. Presumably, part of the reason for making the books print-on-demand was that they didn’t seem sure there’d be a market for them at all. In fact, when I bought the book at least the term Path to Victory didn’t appear on it (due to it being print-on-demand they may have updated that at some point) – evidently it was successful enough to convince Black Library it was worth doing a whole series of them, and so the Path to Victory logo proudly appears on book two in the series, the Warhammer fantasy-based Beneath the City of the White Wolf by M.F. Bradshaw.
In a way, gamebooks for Warhammer and Warhammer 40000 are a perfect fit for the POD side of the business – they might only appeal to a subsection of Black Library’s readership, but they’re an easy sell to those readers of an age to have lived through the Fighting Fantasy craze, as witnessed by the fact that when I got the e-flyer announcing Hive of the Dead I forwarded it to Dan yelling ZOMG 40K GAMEBOOKS!!!!! In a way, the books also represent Black Library sneakily getting back into the RPG business, if only in the form of solo adventures as opposed to fully-featured RPGs; their Black Industries subsidiary had successfully overseen the resurrection of WFRP (that’s Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying in case you didn’t know) and had produced the first 40K RPG Dark Heresy in house before Games Workshop shut them down and outsourced the RPGs’ development to Fantasy Flight Games (who have done a credible job with the 40K RPGs but made a complete hash of their new editon of WFRP). Evidently there’s still an appetite for crossing the book publishing and gaming streams at Black Library, and gamebooks seem to be the perfect way for them to scratch that itch.
Now that the second book, Beneath the City of the White Wolf, has come out and made it clear that Black Library are in this for the long haul, it’s about time I reviewed these things. I’ll be sticking with the format from the Fighting Fantasy reviews, with the odd tweak as I’ll explain as I go along.
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