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Overlord!

(British cover)
(American cover)
Series: The Way of the Tiger #4
Translated Into: Gran señor (Spanish)
Le Grand maître d'Irsmun (French)
Härskaren (Swedish)
Signore supremo! (Italian)
Vlastelin! [Властелин!] (Bulgarian)
Authors: Smith, Mark
Thomson, Jamie
Illustrator: Harvey, Bob
Release Date: 1986
Length:420 sections
User Summary: As Overlord of Irsmuncast, you must govern your city wisely before embarking on a perilous mission.
dArtagnan's Thoughts: When I first played Overlord!, I thought I had discovered the holy grail: the greatest gamebook ever. After a couple more tries, I concluded that perhaps it wasn't quite that good. And then a few more tries after that, I came to the depressing realization that Overlord! isn't very good at all.

Essentially, it's a book of two halves. The first half sees you trying to govern the city, choosing members of your privy council and then deciding whose advice to follow on administration matters such as how to raise taxes and who should form the city watch. I was greatly impressed by this concept at first (a fairly unique one in gamebooks as far as I'm aware), but repeated playthroughs revealed its flaws. For a start, you get little freedom in your choices. Most of the options presented to you lead to failure very fast (and your actions in Book 3 may limit your options even more). Another problem is the effects your choices make on your popularity often make no sense: you can behave in a prudent manner and see your Popularity score drop, or you can cause riots and mass unemployment only to see your Popularity soar. Yet another niggle is that your decisions barely have any long-term effect at all - events always proceed in the same linear progression. And most annoying of all, there are quite a few bugs. For example, at one stage, you're asked who makes up the city watch and are given three options. Two are fine, but the third is an option you cannot have if you've made it this far. And even more annoyingly, a legitimate option isn't presented, rendering the book even more limited than it is already. There seems to be some problems with carrying over characters from Usurper!, too - you may find yourself scratching your head as the authors refer to events in Book 3 that never happened to you. I get the impression the first half of the book was barely play-tested at all.

The second half seems less buggy thankfully, though it sees you walking more familiar territory searching for some magical items stolen by evil ninja. It's well written and has some likeable monsters and locations, but it seems mundane compared to the more interesting first half. The main problem however is the excessive difficulty of this portion of the book. It's riddled with instant failures and requires ridiculously unfair dice rolls to succeed. Again clearly there was little to no play-testing here.

So is Overlord! worthless? No. The writing is excellent and the characters, particularly the various privy council members, are top-notch. There's also more complexity in how Orb and its people are presented. In previous books in the series, characters were presented as black and white - good or evil depending on which god they worshipped. In Overlord!, some "good" characters are presented as vindictive while some "evil" characters seem quite reasonable. The first half is also an excellent concept despite it not coming off. If the authors had got rid of the second half and had expanded the first half to allow more freedom and impact in your decision making while eliminating all the bugs, this could indeed have been the holy grail of gamebooks. But as it stands, it's very disappointing.

More reviews by dArtagnan

SilentGunman's Thoughts: Overlord throws some interesting changes into the series by allowing you to govern the city of Irsmuncast (choosing your advisers, setting taxes, etc.) before shifting into a more conventional adventure. There are a lot of options that get you killed instantly, which can be frustrating. But if you've read the previous three books, this shouldn't be a surprise at this point. An interesting new direction for the series.

More reviews by SilentGunman

Special Thanks:Thanks to dArtagnan for the plot summary and to Brett Easterbrook for the British cover scan.
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Ian2405 - 1988 UK Edition (4th Impression)

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