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Piers Anthony's Bio of a Space Tyrant: Cut by Emerald

Series: Combat Command #1
Author: Kramer, Dana
Illustrators: Dixon, Don (cover)
Hamilton, Todd Cameron (interior)
Clouse, James (Jim) (cartography)
Release Date: 1987
Length:105 sections
User Summary: In the world of Piers Anthony's Bio of a Space Tyrant, you play Commander Emerald Sheller on a mission to outflank a pirate fleet hiding in the asteroid belt. If you cannot reach your attack position in less than twelve hours, the Jupiter fleet will lose.
Guillermo's Thoughts: In the United States, the publishing of full-system gamebooks never did develop into a specialized industry like it did in the United Kingdom. Most people who wrote such books in the USA were freelancers who were commissioned to write gamebooks between other jobs. One mistake made by using that approach was that gamebooks in that country were ferociously marketed not at children, but at role-players and readers of sci-fi and fantasy novels (many members of these audiences would, naturally, scoff at them). In spite of this, I don't think American gamebooks sold that badly, considering how many were done. The Combat Command series, with nine titles in total, is one of those efforts.

The common element of the series is making the player the commander of army units, and thus all the battles are resolved with a simple mass combat system (not individual combat as is usual in other gamebooks). Each title in the series would be set in the world of a science-fiction or, on occasion, fantasy novel. The first title in the series, as mentioned before, is based on a science-fiction saga written by author Piers Anthony. I haven't read the series this is based on, but the book claims to be based on events described in the second book of the saga. It became something of a custom to ask the writers of the original novels to write introductory essays for the gamebooks based on their worlds, and Anthony does deliver a lot of background in the five pages he is given. After eleven more pages of rules, the adventure begins.

The book will provide a very different reading experience to what is usually found in the British gamebook tradition, with tiny print, several paragraphs which are so long as to span several pages, and a somewhat stronger emphasis on characterization. Since I don't share the common idea that gamebook sections necessarily have to read like telegrams, I found this to be an entertaining, supermarket-stand-novel quality read. The setting is like the world of the eighties transplanted into space, with Jupiter representing the US (in this book, of course, they are good guys) and Saturn the Soviet Union. Again, I can't judge the original series this is based on, but taking only into account the material presented here, the author seems to take an even-handed approach by describing abuses of power and corruption within both superpowers. That's quite a feat considering it was done during the Reagan years (and it also means that this is not a book for children audiences).

On to the design and gameplay. This is actually quite a good game, with the player receiving just enough information to make decisions without being overloaded (the beautiful maps by James Clouse are a big plus). The player is offered a choice of tactics for several starfleet battles that take place during the adventure, which is quite nice. The only thing which may be something of a problem is that the reader must be prepared to do a lot of bookkeeping, since there a lot of units with different strengths to keep track of (even so, the system never reaches the level of madness found in the Car Wars Adventure Gamebooks). The adventure always follows the same general path, which for some would be 'too linear,' but there's enough variation in the outcomes of choices to make this meaningfully interactive, which I suppose is what counts. Completing the adventure successfully is not easy - even after having figured out the correct path, the time window to reach your goal is very narrow, and a single failed check can mean defeat. It's not frustratingly difficult, either. Overall, an entertaining and engaging book which is a nice change of pace.

More reviews by Guillermo

Special Thanks:Thanks to Guillermo Paredes for the plot summary.
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