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Item - House of Hell

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(Original (Zigzag), UK 1985 2nd printing (C&W) [3rd])
(Original (Zigzag), UK 1985 2nd printing (C&W) [3rd])
(Original (Zigzag), UK 1985 2nd printing (C&W) [3rd])
(Original (American))
(Original (Dragon, Bronze text, Number front))
(Wizard S1 (Standard), AU printing)
(Wizard S1 (Standard), AU printing)
(Wizard S1 (Standard), AU printing)
(Wizard S2 (Small))
(Wizard S2 (Small))
(Wizard S2 (Small))
(Scholastic (Standard))
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Combined Summary

Series: Fighting Fantasy (1982-1995, Puffin) — no. 10
Fighting Fantasy (2002-2007, Wizard Books Series 1) — no. 7
Fighting Fantasy (2009-2012, Wizard Books Series 2) — no. 9
Fighting Fantasy (2017-, Scholastic) — no. 5
Alternate Title: House of Hades (American edition)
Contained In: Fighting Fantasy Box Set 2 (Collection)
Fighting Fantasy Box Set 3 (Collection)
Translated Into: Az elátkozott ház (Hungarian)
La casa infernale (Italian)
Das Höllenhaus (German)
Jigoku no yakata [地獄の館] (Japanese)
Le manoir de l'enfer (French)
Mansão das trevas (Portuguese)
A mansão diabólica (Portuguese)
A Mansão Diabólica (Portuguese)
La mansión infernal (Spanish)
Pekelný dům (Czech)
Rædslernes hus (Danish)
Adapted From: The House of Hell (Mini-Adventure)
Adapted Into: House of Hell (Digital Gamebook)
Author: Jackson, Steve (United Kingdom)
Illustrators: Ball, Robert (Scholastic (Standard) - cover; Scholastic (Porthole) - cover)
Courtney, R. (Original (American) - cover)
Halliday, Nicholas (Wizard S1 (Standard), UK printing (C&W) - cover; Wizard S2 (Large, Embossed) - cover; Wizard S2 (Small) - cover; Wizard S1 (Special), UK printing (C&W) - cover; Wizard S1 (Standard), AU printing - cover; Wizard S1 (Standard), UK printing (Clays) - cover)
Krizan, Vlado (Scholastic (Standard) - interior; Scholastic (Porthole) - interior)
Miller, Ian (Original (Zigzag), UK 1984 1st printing (C&W) [1st] - cover; Original (Dragon, Bronze text, Number front) - cover; Original (Dragon, Bronze text, Number spine only) - cover; Original (Dragon, Black text) - cover; Original (Dragon, Bronze text, Unnumbered) - cover; Original (Zigzag), UK 1985 2nd printing (C&W) [3rd] - cover)
Sell, Tim (Original (Zigzag), UK 1984 1st printing (C&W) [1st] - interior; Wizard S1 (Standard), UK printing (C&W) - interior; Wizard S2 (Large, Embossed) - interior; Original (American) - interior; Original (Dragon, Bronze text, Number front) - interior; Wizard S2 (Small) - interior; Original (Dragon, Bronze text, Number spine only) - interior; Original (Dragon, Black text) - interior; Original (Dragon, Bronze text, Unnumbered) - interior; Wizard S1 (Special), UK printing (C&W) - interior; Wizard S1 (Standard), AU printing - interior; Wizard S1 (Standard), UK printing (Clays) - interior; Original (Zigzag), UK 1985 2nd printing (C&W) [3rd] - interior)
Dates: November, 1984 (Original (Zigzag), UK 1984 1st printing (C&W) [1st])
1985 (Original (Zigzag), UK 1985 2nd printing (C&W) [3rd])
June, 1985 (Original (American))
December 2, 2002 (Wizard S1 (Standard), UK printing (C&W))
June 3, 2010 (Wizard S2 (Large, Embossed))
September 7, 2017 (Scholastic (Standard))
ISBNs: 0140318313 / 9780140318319 (Original (Zigzag), UK 1984 1st printing (C&W) [1st], Original (Dragon, Bronze text, Number front), Original (Zigzag), UK 1985 2nd printing (C&W) [3rd])
0440936861 / 9780440936862 (Original (American))
1407182005 / 9781407182001 (Scholastic (Standard))
1840464178 / 9781840464177 (Wizard S1 (Standard), UK printing (C&W))
1848311222 / 9781848311220 (Wizard S2 (Large, Embossed))
Length: 400 sections
Number of Endings: 20
Special Thanks: Original (Zigzag), UK 1985 2nd printing (C&W) [3rd]:
Thanks to James Thompson for the cover scans.
User Summary: Your car breaks down in an isolated area on a rainy night, forcing you to take shelter at the nearest house, which unfortunately is brimming over with evil!
Darth Rabbitt's Thoughts:

This is one of the first two Fighting Fantasy books I got, the other being Beneath Nightmare Castle. I only recall one of those fondly, and I'll reveal right now that it's not this one. House of Hell frequently gets on the list of "best FF books ever," and while I would like to respect the opinions of other gamebook fans, I have to ask... why? Is it nostalgia? This was one of my first FFs and I don't feel that way about it. While I really like the concept of the book (I'm a fan different settings in FF than Titan, and I'm a fan of Resident Evil-style claustrophobic horror,) the execution is lacking, and "good concept, poor execution" gamebooks are a dime a dozen (most of which are much better than this one).

Like most horror gamebooks, you might imagine that this book is going to lead to lots of terrible deaths, but it's really just leading to lots of rather dull ones ("you are captured and sacrificed, the end"), some of which really just feel like UK Steve Jackson wanted to force there to be only one path through the house with no tolerance for failure (he seems to take the "One True Path" design philosophy very literally--too literally for my tastes. I prefer gamebooks to have multiple paths to victory, ideally of varying difficulty, but Steve seems to be allergic to that concept). There are entire rooms with multiple options that all lead to automatic death. Some others are just plain illogical; I'd be more scared of fighting two Dobermans with my fists than four men in goat masks with a magic demon-killing dagger, but the first is presented as a winnable fight and the second is presented as impossible to overcome. This book can also get insufferably smug at times, even by Steve's standards. I do not think that any book has the right to tell the reader that they "deserved to die," even a gamebook where you do something reckless for the genre. The biggest problem with House of Hell is the book's single new mechanic: the FEAR score. Basically, certain scary things give FEAR points (this isn't terribly consistent as to what is scary and what isn't--I don't think that I would find a talking painting as scary as even a friendly ghost) and if you go above your FEAR score, you die instantly. FEAR is rolled and despite the lying introduction claiming that you can make it through with minimum rolls, you need at least 10 FEAR to survive. It's a massive disincentive to going around getting scared, which seems rather unforgivable for a horror gamebook. (Technically there are opportunities to lower your FEAR points, but the only one you get on the One True Path is after an optional FEAR point; more opportunities to lower your FEAR could have made for a One True Path where even a FEAR 7 character could have made it through). Instead of "Scooby Doo adventures where the monsters are real and can kill you" you get "Ruh roh Shaggy, my FEAR score is at 9, if I see one more painting talk I'll literally die of fright!" Getting a creepy bad end would make up for this bad gameplay by actually providing scares, but you just get a game over with no accompanying text.

In the end, it's a dungeon crawl through a bunch of random horror movie clichés stuck together. That might sound like an insult, but I honestly could have enjoyed that. The real problem is that you can't have the haunted house adventures that this concept would suggest, because of the FEAR score and all the auto-deaths, which as mentioned don't bother to actually provide scares. It's a place of stupid grimdark where everyone and everything wants to kill you, except for those that are killed by someone else and you can't help them (or you get killed in the process of trying to rescue them and then mocked by the author). This book is really just the experience of being a Last Girl in a horror movie that happens to be directed by Gary Gygax, which isn't really that fun to play. I can't actually think of a worse horror gamebook out there that I've played. Not even the worst Give Yourself Goosebumps books leave as bad a taste in my mouth; at least they're quicker and don't take themselves too seriously, which makes the occasional smugness and random deaths go down easier. I give this book one ZOMBIE out of 10, and that's more than it honestly deserves.

More reviews by Darth Rabbitt

Demian's Thoughts:

This is one of the first Fighting Fantasy books I ever read, and it made a strong impression. The modern-day horror setting makes it stand out from the pack, and the comfortably ghoulish illustrations give it a great deal of flavor. Needless to say, I greatly looked forward to replaying it after many years... and not too surprisingly, I was left feeling rather disappointed.

Atmosphere aside, House of Hell is not a story -- it's pure puzzle. There's no real plot, just random horror cliches that stagger out of the darkness at you. Tidbits of knowledge about the house and its occupants are revealed through exploration, but it never comes together into anything like a satisfying narrative. This would be okay if the puzzle underlying the book's semblance of plot were fun to solve, but it's yet another exercise in frustration.

The author deserves some credit for being merciful in terms of combat -- there are no insanely difficult fights necessary to win, so once you find the true path, you have a reasonable chance of succeeding. However, the problem is that finding the true path is incredibly tedious. The house is a spiderweb of passages, making it extremely difficult to map in any kind of methodical way... and a map doesn't necessarily help, because victory also requires a number of specific actions to be taken at specific times, some of them counterintuitive. As far as I can tell, the only way to solve this is to reverse-engineer the whole book... and by the time you've spent that much time and effort, you no longer have any interest in the paper-thin plot. At least, that was my experience -- after picking at this book on and off for literally years, I gave in to an Internet walkthrough just to end my misery. I could have solved it on my own eventually... but why would I want to bother?

There is one other thing worth noting about this adventure -- it's probably the most-censored gamebook ever published. In America, it was retitled to eliminate the word "Hell" from the title. In Britain, later printings of the book removed an illustration of a (tastefully positioned) naked sacrificial victim. Interestingly, this picture was included in the retitled American printing but remains absent in the recent Wizard Books reissue.

More reviews by Demian

drystan's Thoughts:

When I first read many years ago La Casa Infernale, the Italian version of House of Hell, I was really impressed.

Although I unsuccessfully tried to solve it two or three times (alas, at that time there where no Internet spoilers...) the whole book's atmosphere was weird and whimsical enough to touch with a faint scare even the gamebooks' devourer I was at those times.

But then... as I tried hard to finally solve the book I totally lost the sense of the story: in fact, House of Hell is so puzzling you can't concentrate on the storyline AND solving the book. There are so many actions you MUST perform in the unique right sequence in the UNIQUE right moment that it becomes somewhat frustrating, even for a standard FF gamebook, in which (unlike Joe Dever's Lone Wolf, for instance) collecting items and performing right actions is a sort of "brand" of the series.

Moreover HOH presents a major flaw, in my opinion: in order to solve the book, you HAVE, in first attempts, to choose wrong ways (leading you to death, sooner or later) to gather pieces of information and knowledge you need to succed.

Really a shame, because the book, and its great graphics, should have been a rare pearl of horror gamebooks.

My advice: throw away HOH and pick Forbidden Gateway instead...

More reviews by drystan

Fireguard's Thoughts:

Looks like it's my turn to be odd man out. I fault nobody for their opinions, but I liked House of Hell. For starters, it's a book set on modern-day Earth. While your skill rolls might make you a hardy warrior, because society as we know it isn't yet overrun by bandits and monsters you start out the book unarmed and unequipped to fight a cult of devil-worshippers. Right off the bat that prepared me for something different, and I'm of the unshakable opinion that different isn't always bad. I had some issues with the rules -- I thought the idea of a fear statistic was implemented much better in later books such as Beneath Nightmare Castle and Keep of the Lich-Lord, and the bonus for using a certain item during the final battle seemed to contradict the rules about exceeding your initial Skill -- but all in all things could've been worse.

Being as this is a Steve Jackson book, there's one "right" path to victory and lots of blind alleys, but unlike Magehunter or Crimson Tide I never felt like I played for ages and gained nothing except the knowledge the author didn't want me to go that way. At least this book and Appointment with F.E.A.R. take on settings nobody else ever did. I won't say I wasn't frustrated at times trying to find the "right" way through the house, but I found the setting effective and the tidbits gained on my failed attempts helpful or at least interesting, making it fun to explore the next room and forgive the book for killing me. I had to find the right items and clues to survive, as in a lot of other Fighting Fantasy books, but it didn't feel like a scavenger hunt. I never stopped feeling like I was in a haunted house, the book never seemed like nothing but a puzzle. That would be Curse of the Mummy, where I had to constantly stop and transliterate a name into numbers to be able to move on. And it's not as if the path to victory is piled underneath a plethora of cheap monsters like in Curse of the Pharaoh.

House of Hell is what it is, love it or hate it.

More reviews by Fireguard

hadlee73's Thoughts:

House of Hell by Steve Jackson (UK) is perhaps the only Fighting Fantasy gamebook set on what is probably our Earth, rather than the world of Allansia, Orb or one of the others not explicitly named in the series of books. This is a refreshing change, as being set in our own world adds to the tension as you explore a mansion filled with terrifying creatures and events.

Most Fighting Fantasy readers, including myself, have fond memories of House of Hell, though we remember it being difficult to complete; almost impossibly so (it isn't impossible though; with careful mind-mapping, I was able to plot the best route through the adventure, and it is entirely achievable). The structure of the house is smart, one of Steve Jackson's best map designs, though the inability to turn around and head back in certain directions does place some restrictions upon you that may lead you into premature failure. House of Hell also has one of the most satisfying endings of any Fighting Fantasy gamebook, being in part due to conquering the book's difficulty, but also just because the writing feels satisfying (which isn't always the case with the endings included in other books in this series).

House of Hell isn't perfect, sadly; not by a long shot. There are some genuine annoyances and pet hates of mine present:

  • There are times after you explore a room and wish to exit that the book will ask you which direction you came in to enter the room. While this is to determine which way you will naturally exit, it's a bit silly on two counts; 1) the reader isn't always likely to remember which exact direction (left or right) they came from because the descriptions on the upper floor of the mansion can get confusing as the paths turn around on themselves, and 2) there's no logical reason not to allow the reader to leave out of one door or the other by choice, rather than forcing them along a linear path.
  • You are forced to fight a battle at one point, but upon winning it, you then die in the very next section. Forcing a reader to perform a combat engagement and then killing them immediately afterwards could be seen by some as annoying and unnecessary.
  • You are asked to subtract stamina points or other attribute points, only to be killed immediately on the very next section. Perhaps it's just because I'm poor, but I don't really want to waste my pencil changing a stat that I'm just going to have to redo seconds later because my character was killed.
  • There is a statistic in the book called 'Fear' which will rise when your character experiences certain terrifying things. This is a neat mechanic, but I discovered upon mapping the book out that there is a specific minimum fear amount you need to finish the book, even if you take the best and safest route through. This means if you roll poorly for Fear when you roll up your character, you are basically dead before you have even started.
  • I spotted instances of glaringly-obvious 'padding' in the book, which is when the author doesn't quite have enough material to make the full 400 sections usually featured in a Fighting Fantasy book. For example, at one stage, you hear somebody approaching the room you are in and are asked if you wish to hide beside the door or do something else. If you choose to do something else, you are asked again if you want to hide beside the door (which sends you to the exact same section number as the previous option for hiding beside the door) or hide somewhere else in the room. This is basically a duplicate of the last option and appears to have been written this way to waste a section number deliberately. It doesn't ruin the book, and sometimes padding is necessary to round out the numbers in a gamebook, but there are a couple of other areas which could have benefited from that spare section number.
  • To defeat the final enemy you need to find a specific magical weapon. The book then tells you the weapon adds 6 SKILL during the final battle, but as you probably have a weapon by that stage which already has you at your initial/maximum SKILL, it means you get no benefit from this supposedly powerful item. I believe it may have been the author's intention that the weapon adds 6 to ATTACK STRENGTH instead, which would make more sense and make the weapon less useless in the final battle.

Despite the shortcomings I have rumbled about above, this is still a fantastic (and classic) Fighting Fantasy book with a unique theme and setting. If you collect gamebooks, make sure this one is in your collection, especially if you like a difficult challenge!

More reviews by hadlee73

noonxnoon's Thoughts:

This is my first Fighting Fantasy book, and needless to say, I am glad I learned about this series from this site!

Quick background, back in the '80s, I was deeply involved with game books and spent countless hours reading & rereading them.

In my adult years, I had forgotten about them and grew on to other things.

I found this site and reading all the reviews, good & bad, has reenergized me and brings me back to some of the happier times in my childhood.

On to the review!

I am quite pleased with my initial foray into the FF series. I have to concur with another reviewer's comments about it being more 'reality' based -- you are just somebody that got caught in a storm driving and happened to knock on the wrong door for help!

It was fun to take my time with this book... first doing basic read through until dice rolls were needed to get a feel for the book.

Then during my 1-hour lunch breaks, I'd break out the book, dice, paper & pencil and foray into the House of Hell.

This was a quite enjoyable approach compared to my early days of gamebooks of spending a complete day or two doing nothing else but trying to finish the book.

Each day was an interesting challenge and intrigue of mapping the house... passing by some doors in one setting... then the next day evaluating the map and figuring out where to send the next 'victim' to learn more about the House and the events going on.

While most of the side stories & events are not required to complete the book, I am glad the author went the extra mile to give more backdrops into the dealing of the house. It provided more depth and made me want to explore more of the house... even though it might have been a dead-end... it made things all the more colorful.

Just an odd aside... but I always wondered how a 'Satanist' could wear a severed goat head? The logistics are practically impossible... animal heads are much smaller then an adult head... and what are the people looking out of? Popping the goat eyes out and after the ceremony, they all take baths to wash off all that dried blood caked into their hair?

Well, back to the book... game play was good... wasn't too excessive of 'random monsters' to fight. Fear is a nice touch, and a few times I was frightened to death. I like how FF has Luck involved... where eventually you will run out of luck.

I felt the story was well written... frustrating at times to map when things would lead back to other areas you had been before.

I have to admit... I did require an online walk-through to help me finish the book. I had been so well trained with the other gamebooks that if a choice wasn't obviously stated, I never would have guessed about how to figure out the secret passage trick. Plus my mapping wasn't detailed enough to catch another trick the author used to hide the iron key. Makes me realize there is more thinking I need to do when reading other FF books... which I find as a great plus. As an adult, it is harder to be as captivated as I was before reading some of those fantasy books.

All in all... I highly recommend this book and suggest taking your time to take nibbles when adventuring... make a map... explore around a bit... then come back the next day by reviewing your map and then figuring out what is important and what isn't.

Have fun and stay away from the white wine!!

More reviews by noonxnoon

Special Thanks:Thanks to Ryan Lynch for the Scholastic cover images.
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Users with Extra Copies: badboybaggins
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twar - (UK) second cover with yellow dagger logo. Basically mint copy. One small crease on back cover. Old owner penned name on back of front cover.

Known Editions

Original (Zigzag), UK 1984 1st printing (C&W) [1st]
Original (Zigzag), UK 1985 2nd printing (C&W) [3rd]
Original (American)
Original (Dragon, Bronze text, Number front)
Original (Dragon, Bronze text, Unnumbered)
Original (Dragon, Bronze text, Number spine only)
Original (Dragon, Black text)
Wizard S1 (Standard), UK printing (C&W)
Wizard S1 (Standard), UK printing (Clays)
Wizard S1 (Standard), AU printing
Wizard S1 (Special), UK printing (C&W)
Wizard S2 (Large, Embossed)
Wizard S2 (Small)
Scholastic (Standard)
Scholastic (Porthole)

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