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Item - Monsters of the Marsh

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Series: The Legends of Skyfall — no. 1
Translated Into: Los Monstruos de la ciƩnaga (Spanish)
I mostri della palude (Italian)
Author: Tant, David
Illustrator: Smith, Duncan
Date: 1985
ISBN: 0006923852 / 9780006923855
Length: 400 sections
User Summary: Transport barges have been disappearing lately, and since your father was lost with one, you set off to find out what's going on.
Demian's Thoughts:

So far, I haven't been able to complete this book, but since I'm not feeling particularly motivated to, I decided to write a few comments now in case I never get around to doing it later. I wanted very much to enjoy this series, if only for the novelty of the coin system. It suffers greatly from uninspired writing and bad game design, however. As far as the writing goes, a lot of the text feels summarized; there's very little detail regarding characters and locations, so you never get much feeling that you are there. Since the game design mostly seems to involve wandering randomly around, this is a major problem. It's hard to remember where you are and where you came from, so you tend to go around in circles. Drawing a map might help, but it's quite difficult to figure out how to map what is presented by the book. As if this weren't enough, there are also problems with the rules (it's very unclear, for example, how and why timekeeping is supposed to be done) and the continuity (the book doesn't seem to account for the possibility that you'll inevitably return to certain encounter areas again and again). A good try, but not a success. Maybe the later volumes are better; I'm just not sure if I'm going to put the effort in to work my way up to them.

More reviews by Demian

Guillermo's Thoughts:

(review based on the Spanish translation).

This first book is one of the most interesting entries in the series, but like all of the others, it is also highly flawed. The story starts off on solid ground, giving you a mystery to solve as the final goal of the adventure, and a personal motive for wanting to solve it. You also get a detailed, but not overlong, description of the economics of the region which have caused the problem you set out to solve. This helps the plot seem a lot more realistic and interesting, plus less trife than the frequent "kill evil baddie who wants to conquer the world" plot which can be found in other gamebooks. The fact that much of the adventure will consist of navigating a maze of rivers also increases the appeal of this book, which indeed consists mostly of exploring an uncharted region and is devoid of linear paths (much like Scorpion Swamp, which incidently was illustrated by Duncan Smith, the person who did the illustrations for this book).

Unfortunately, you don't have to get very far into the adventure to realize what its flaws are. The first is that the early parts of the adventure include lots of choices that either lead to failure or to dead ends, forcing you to retrace your steps. The very first part of the adventure offers the player several options that sound like they would be interesting to try, but many of them lead to extremely dangerous situations or even to instant endings, without the player learning anything about the plot of the adventure which s/he didn't know from the start. Eventually the player will realize it would have been better to choose the same option that was being offered since the beginning of the adventure, but this makes the other paths look like nothing more than filler.

Even after that, exploring the marsh itself is more frustrating than exciting. The maze of paths through it is very complex, so making a map was essential for me. There are very few encounters to have in the early stages, most of them can be easily avoided, and way too many of the rivers just lead nowhere. All this makes the exploration part of the adventure seem like a wild goose chase. Just to add to the frustration, there are game rules that state that for every fourteen hours of travel you must stop to rest and eat, and while the text tells you how much distance you cover in each section of text, there are no rules detailing what happens if you go through a day without eating. This is more frustrating considering that it is possible to find a magical potion which will allow you to "survive without food or water for up to ten days, losing 1 Vitality point for every day you spend without eating anything." So what exactly is that implying, that you'll die if you spend a single day without food or water? Since that's doubtful, what penalties does an starving character suffer and how long can s/he survive? The lack of specific rules for this situation makes the simulation / exploration part of the adventure much less interesting than it could have been.

The editing is also among the worst you'll find in a gamebook. There are wrong section numbers, paragraphs without "go to" instructions to which you arrive without prior warning to note down your current section numbers, and sections where things that haven't happened are mentioned (just to name the ones I can remember off the top of my head). Although the book is not rendered unplayable because of the errors it contains, this coupled with the poor design of the early stages means that many players are likely to put the book down in frustration after a few games. This is a shame, since the book gets much better in the later parts.

There are two main paths that lead to the later parts of the adventure: one is very intricate, and requires the player to deal with a very difficult encounter, while the other one is pretty straightforward and makes one wonder what's exactly the point of having so many dead-end paths in the other parts of the marsh. After entering the region closest to your goal, the encounters begin to get more interesting and the choices to require more thought. Finding the hideout of the final enemy is not very difficult, but entering it with only your initial equipment will make it impossible to find and defeat him. Your character will need to obtain a set of magical items in order to power him / herself up, and finding these will require exploration of several interesting locations and facing many dangerous monsters and traps. The encounters do require a lot of logical reasoning, plus there are instant endings which will almost certainly force the player to explore this region several times in order to learn its secrets.

The final part of the adventure, which involves dealing with the villains behind the disappearances, is very well thought-out and requires lots of careful strategy to come out victorious. Being lucky with the coins is also a must, so this adventure will likely take several tries to complete.

Overall, I do believe this book can be recommended in spite of its many problems. This is not quick, light-hearted fun; I only suggest it for people with a taste for complex, difficult challenges like House of Hell.

More reviews by Guillermo

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