The Physical Gamebook/CYOA Thread


#1

Since I’ve been grabbing a few copies of the Fabled Lands books for myself I figured it might be nice to have a thread where we can discuss any physical gamebooks or Choose Your Own Adventure style books, old or current, which we might own or have read or want to read. Because I love the fact that we have apps now to read gamebooks and all but sometimes there’s something nice about having a physical book in your hand, and Choose Your Own Adventure and Fighting Fantasy is probably what got me invested in the medium in the first place and writing a old school gamebook for fun or profit is kind of on my bucket list so…

So I happen to have amassed a LOT of first edition Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was a kid, predominantly from seeking them out in charity shops and car boot sales (I assume those exist in the USA and that’s not just a British thing) back in the 90’s after having found a couple in my school library. I used to love reading them through and seeing all the different ways things could go, even though they were purely narrative driven unlike the Fighting Fantasy and Eternal Champions books I would find more later when I was older.

One of my prize possessions is a hardback copy of the original book of the series, The Cave of Time, which saw you zip about to different times and places after you found this cave in your uncle’s ranch. You could meet Abe Lincoln, join a tribe of cave people, seek out the Loch Ness monster of get forced to build the Great Wall of China. Something about the array of options in history probably helped to ferment time travel and historical fiction as one of my favorite story types. The Cave of Time got three follow up books written in the series - The Forbidden Castle (an all medieval tale), Return to The Cave of Time (lots of time periods again) and The Island of Time (not as connected as the others but still involving getting zapped to different times on the island you’re exploring). CYOA’s books are probably a bit simplistic compared to similar stories today but probably show nicely how Edward Packard and RA Montgomery - the two core writers of the series - helped to write and mature this new interactive fiction genre. :slight_smile:

Fighting Fantasy Books are another childhood fav of mine, though I was usually drawn more to the science fiction ones than the typical fantasy based quests the series tended to be like Warlock of Firetop Mountain, City of Thieves or Deathtrap Dungeon. Starship Traveller was a great Star Trek style one where your ship is ‘Lost in Space’ in a unknown quadrant and you must be a ‘Voyager’ and get back home through the correct wormhole. Other different books to the regular fare are Appointment with F.E.A.R (superhero, letting you pick your powers), Sword of the Samurai (Samurai, duh) Seas of Blood (pirates with a ancient greek vibe) and Robot Commando (mechs and dinosaurs, hell yeah). Fighting Fantasy books definitely helped to make gamebooks a popular genre and I was fortunate that there were lots of them in my school library.

Curious to hear what other people’s fav written gamebooks of the past might be! Anyway, I am pleased to see that the genre has made a comeback, likely I think because of apps like COG and people wanting a physical copy of some stuff. There’s Fabled Lands which I’ll talk about more when I’ve played enough of it but also things like Destiny Quest, Critical IF, Can You Brexit Without Breaking Britain (yes that’s a REAL gamebook), the return of the Way of the Tiger series and more. So I’m hoping to pick a number of those up in the future. :smile:


#2

I loved Fabled Lands when I was a child and teenager, and am so excited about their revival! I enjoyed the Lone Wolf, Goldhawk and Fighting Fantasy books, too, but the open-world nature of Fabled Lands always kept me coming back.


#3

I remember reading a CYOA which had a giant fly on the cover and a tiny human. I think the cover was “So you’ve been shrunk”? Is that a CYOA book, or am I just imagining it? I tried to read once “Choose Your Own Nightmare” but it wasn’t as interesting…

Also I loved the “Choose Your Own Goosebumps” series and my favourite edition was “Night In Werewolf Woods” which had an awesome cover of brown wolves prowling around with a giant wolf howling at the moon!


#4

Heh, I just recently did semi-detailed overviews on the first 21 books of the Fighting Fantasy series.

Fighting Fantasy series was my favorite of the gamebooks. I would have bought all of them except 21 only came out here in the US originally. Never knew there was 59 of them until YEARS later due to the wonders of the internet.

I’ve acquired some of the others since then, and a few others for the iPad. Related to FF, I enjoyed the original Sorcery! series. Though I think the Inkle version did a good job at updating it.

Still, those weren’t my first ones. The first ones I played were the lesser known Be An Interplanetary Spy series. They made 12 of them.

Every page was fully illustrated and was almost attempting to go for a “video game” feel. You’d get some story text of what exactly you were doing and what was going on, then you got a puzzle you needed to solve and you got a choice of usually two possible answers, (Sometimes more) If you got it right, the story continued.

If you got it wrong however, you most often got a gruesome death. Since these books were illustrated, you got to see your character actually getting shot, burned alive, frozen to death, chopped up, blown up, poisoned, eaten, and worse!

Along with the FF series, these were probably the biggest influence in my own approach to writing CYOAs. Horrible deaths are fun.

The Lone Wolf series was cool, though I sort of lost interest in it after 6th book. I got to the 8th book and I think due to a printing error I turned to a passage which then suddenly led to the winning ending! I didn’t really bother getting anymore after that, though I liked the Freeway Warrior series by the same author.

One series that doesn’t get mentioned much was the Golden Dragon series. There were 6 of those and they were sort of similar to the FF series books. Usually a bit easier, though in some ways a little harder too, so it balanced out.

As for the original CYOA books, oddly enough I didn’t really get into those. I had a handful of them, and I played the ones I had, but I never felt compelled to really get them (Let alone all of them). I have noticed though that the reissued versions have toned down some of the illustrations in the originals since there were some pretty horrible deaths in a lot of the earlier books that actually got drawn.

The most memorable one I had was House of Danger, which was just batshit insane. The story didn’t really have proper consistency of events. While there were more than a few CYOA books that were like that, House of Danger felt like it out did itself.

I mean at one point you can accidentally turn yourself into Ghengis Khan. Lol.

There were other gamebooks I played back then (The D&D ones, Grail Quest, Star Challenge, Which Way? etc.) but those were the main ones.

Never did get to play the original Fabled Lands. Not sure if it ever came to the US, or if it did, I never saw it. Much later played a digital version of a few of the books and I definitely liked them a lot. I guess back in the day, they were pretty much the gamebook version of something like the Elder Scrolls games.


#5

Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf… loved them as a kid! As a result I always dreamed of writing my own… My last game Highway Wars was based on Fighting Fantasy Freeway Fighter (I re-read it for inspiration, though it ended up going in a pretty different direction). Also, Starship Traveller inspired my WIP “The Nebula” (need to update and put another link up for that…)

Otherwise, I owned and read tons of others, which used to be in my mum’s loft but now sit close to my desk… for inspiration!

:slight_smile:


#6

Yeah I only got to read the first one when I was younger and loved the concept, so I was sad I couldn’t locate anymore. I’ve just ordered all seven existing books in large format, including the new seventh book The Serpent King’s Domain which was done as a Kickstarter. Since I have the first three books arrived already I’m starting an adventure as a Mage and just seeing what I can get up to in Sokara and beyond.

I really hope the remaining five books will get funded/published and complete this ambitious projects the original writers started twenty five years back. Part of me is interested in trying to write a sci-fi or time travel themed version of Fabled Lands (where each book is a different alien world or sector of space, or a time period such as Victorian London or 20’s Chicago for a time traveler to explore).

You might be thinking of You Are Shrinking, which was one of the Skylark editions for younger readers with more straight forward text and choices, and there was I think You are Microscopic in the regular series. I loved the Give Your Goosebumps books I did read, which included Curse of the Purple Peanut Butter (also involving shrinking and also growing) Trapped in Batwing Hall (where you got turned into a Vampire Bat in one story thread), Zapped in Space (which had two different virtual reality adventures) and Little Comic Shop of Horrors (where you could get zapped into a comic book and be either a Superman or Spider-Man parody). You’re definitely right about those very distinctive and awesome covers, though I think the UK ones looked more akin to the classic Goosebumps books with the slime and stuff. Maybe that was just me…

I had no idea only a few were released in the US compared to hear, my library at school had loads of them. Sadly I think most of the non-fantasy ones haven’t been redone, though I gather Starship Traveller might have been turned into an app, and I know Appointment with F.E.A.R was. I think I read the first two Sorcery! books as a kid, though I found the Cretan Chronicles as a complete series more interesting, and I would love Inkle to adapt that series in the same way as they seem to have with Sorcery!. You basically get to be Theseus and travel to fight the Minotaur, with book 1 being getting to Crete, book 2 finding the maze and killing the beast and books 3 getting back home.

Oh I remember reading the first one as a kid! There was this alien who was giant compared to one and at one point you had to battle a giant alien kid with a tennis racket in your tiny spaceship. I do remember the death endings being suitably dramatic. I think today it’s probably good to not go overboard with the death endings in IF but the ones you do can be suitably epic. :wink:

I never found any of the Lone Wolf books or Way of the Tiger books when I was little, maybe they didn’t published many of them in the UK? I saw a review of the first twelve books which said Lone Wolf is the longest running gamebook series with the same story (30 books by now?). I think the only Golden Dragon book I read was Curse of the Pharaoh, which as you say was quite Fighting Fantasy like. There’s a group who has republished a lot of those books with new covers here.

http://www.sparkfurnace.com/collections/

I remember one called Horror on High Ridge which had some pretty nasty pictures with ghost Native Americans and cowboys and lots of blood, so perhaps you’re right. Oh yeah, House of Danger was one of the kookier ones - you could also get turned into a baby or become frozen Grade A meat for aliens. Most of the early CYOA books tended to have lots of shorter open ended stories compared to the later ones which had stronger narratives but less choices, presumably because the writers figured the original readers had grown up and wanted something more mature.

I read only one of the Grail Quest books which was actually I assume the only off topic one since it involves your character getting zapped back to Ancient Greece instead of Arthurian England due to a mistake by old Merlyn. Which Way? were good alternatives to CYOA, they actually had some good ones with established universes like DC Superheroes and Star Trek. I read two great DC ones as a kid with Supergirl and the Justice League. The former put Kara in some very wacky adventures like going back to Arthurian England (I sense a pattern here, lol) or even getting trapped in the Wizard of Oz story.

Apparently only the first two books got adapted brought to the USA originally before the series was sadly cancelled here in the UK with Book 6. I think it might have had a different name in the US? I think it’s fair to say that gamebooks fell out of popularity because computer games became more popular with kids in the 90’s, but it is definitely like having Skyrim in a book. Would be awesome if Todd let those writers do a Fallout or Elder Scrolls book in the same open ended format, or Bioware with Mass Effect or Dragon Age.

Glad to see I’m not the only one who is crazy enough to want to try writing one! :wink: I think I remember Highway Wars, you had to keep fueling your car and tuning it up with these special rules and no doubt every Mad Max fan loved it, so I’m glad it gave you good inspiration. My poor mother probably still has tones of CYOA books stuck up in her loft…


#7

Just a quick mention for anyone interested, Kickstarter has a great gamebook up to invest in which is book 2 of The Steam Highwayman, which effectively is a steampunk version of the Fabled Lands books - open ended and with plenty of options for adventure! Planned to be a six book series you play as a heroic rugged highwayman in an alternate 19th century as you use your steam powered bike to rob the rich, help the poor, choose alliances with numerous factions, battle air pirates on dirigibles, drink beers and play croquet! The writer has the book ready but is funding for publishing and including some lovely artwork (which backers can pick which sections to illustrate).

There’s still a few days left to be involved so I figured I should give the author a shout out. You can read more about it here.