Grailquest Boxed Set (Collection)
L'Antre des dragons (French)
Caccia al drago (Italian)
La caverna del dragón (Spanish)
Doragon no doukutsu [ドラゴンの洞窟] (Japanese)
Dračí sluj (Czech)
Dragens grotte (Danish)
I had this book as a kid and managed to find an online copy to review.
This book continues to solidify the format, in which you are pulled, by Merlin's magic, into the body of Pip, a young lad, into an Arthurian adventure of the moment. In this case, you must defeat a brass dragon and close a gateway.
The book features some classic monsters, such as a Minotaur and Medusa, but also a running gag called the Poetic Fiend, of whom the less said the better. The combat system is much blander than I remember and there are a few things like magic and dreamtime which feel like distractions.
The main thing that stuck with me all these years was a keyed map of a village with different houses with numbers for where to go (a theme revisited in book 5). This felt very original and open-ended to me and still feels more interesting than a more linear progression. If only there was a bit more to help guide you as most of the houses offer no clues as to what they are, making it more random than it could have been.
Being a British gamebook, the only setting available is King Arthur's land. Of course, if I never have to read another "King Arthur" or "Robin Hood," I'll die happy. But this version is more like Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I can see how this felt a fresh take on the genre, but to me, it just made the book and choices irreverent. Even if you die, you just feel like it's a joke, taking away any sense of urgency or adventure.
On the heels of the very good Castle of Darkness, Den of Dragons was a bit of a letdown for me. The writing style remains essentially the same, but the humour gets a tad old after a bit. As well, I didn't find the adventure concept that much fun. At one point, you are wandering around and a magical village appears before you, which you can enter. Every building is numbered and you can visit them in whichever sequence you like. Entering at least one of these buildings leads to certain death as the cottage collapses on you.
You are also given the ability to purchase items, weapons, and armor early on, and practically every item comes in handy along the way. With the weapons, magic, and healing you have at your disposal, fights are no real threat whatsoever.
At one point late in the quest, there is a mistake as leaving the room in passage 139 by passage 157 takes you to a fight against shadows which you only encounter after opening a chest. Leaving by section 154 leads you to step over the body of a creature you have not yet faced or defeated.
At the beginning of the book, I was excited, as a new magic system is introduced, new items are available for purchase, and you can carry forward items from the past adventure as well as 10 life points from the first quest. However, I quickly became bored with the adventure. For me, it just had no spark or sizzle. Not a bad book for me, just not great. It has some great functional elements and ideas, but fights and healing seem a little unbalanced, and the story never really hooked me in.
Rating 1-10: 6.5
|Special Thanks:||Thanks to B. Banzai for the American front cover scan. Thanks to The Museum of Computer Adventure Game History for the American back cover image and to Ryan Lynch for the British cover images.|
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