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Item - Curse of the Pharaoh

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(British cover)
(American cover)
Series: Golden Dragon Fantasy Gamebooks — no. 5
Translated Into: Farao no nori [ファラオの呪い] (Japanese)
Faraos forbandelse (Danish)
La Malédiction du pharaon (French)
La maledizione del faraone (Italian)
Author: Johnson, Oliver
Illustrators: Elettori, Bruno (original cover)
Dunn, Mark (interior)
Dates: July 11, 1985 (original)
October, 1986 (American edition)
July 15, 2013
ISBNs: 0425088863 / 9780425088869 (American edition)
0583307639 / 9780583307635 (original)
1490996397 / 9781490996394
Length: 301 sections
User Summary: You travel to an Egypt-like realm in search of a Pharaoh's tomb which is rumoured to contain fabulous treasure.
Fireguard's Thoughts:

Curse of the Pharaoh is another one of those books I liked as a child but found the illusion marred when I came back to it years of gamebook collecting later.

Curse of the Pharaoh is another dungeon crawl adventure, but I didn't find it as dry as I do most such gamebooks. In fact, atmospherically this game is only rivaled by Eye of the Dragon in its series. While I'm stumbling through the desert looking for the pyramid, I can feel the heat and I'm desperate to get there before it does me in. The monsters in the pyramid itself are perfectly in synch with the atmosphere they're going for. Especially, of course, the giant snake.

But that brings me to the book's big problem. The monsters are cheap. Ridiculously so. In roughly a third of the battles in this book, if you roll snake eyes, you're dead. Just like that. It's not that it's the first time Golden Dragon's included battles where that was the case, but it was one or two per book. Almost a third of battles? That's just nuts. As befits such lethal opponents, high rolls are required to make any sort of impact on them as well, and healing is hard to find. I don't mind a challenge, I really don't, but it's not a challenge if an hour of progress is completely flushed just because I rolled double 1's.

The threat of the monsters is offset by the non-living perils of the tomb, which are all in all pretty easy to survive if you use some smarts and buy out the merchant at the beginning of the book. Since you'll find very little use for gold elsewhere, it doesn't make any sense not to.

There were also hints of a group of rogues trying to beat you to the treasure, but the idea of ongoing rivals was forgotten as soon as the character left the city walls, disappointing considering how well the idea of an archenemy was used in The Temple of Flame. Something similar probably would've have done a lot to make Curse of the Pharaoh a more tolerable experience.

In the end the book is too unbalanced to provide much entertainment. Try Eye of the Dragon or The Temple of Flame instead. If you're the patient type though, go ahead and give this a spin. You've been warned.

More reviews by Fireguard

Guillermo's Thoughts:

This is by far the worst book in the series. The real curse here seems to be that gamebook writers seldom seem to be able to get an Egypt-themed book right (Terrors Out of Time in the Forbidden Gateway series being one notable exception).

The writing is very weak, even for a gamebook, and Mark Dunn's artwork is very inferior to that done by Leo Hartas and Russ Nicholson for other books in this series. Adding insult to injury, the book has typographical, ortographical and even grammatical errors which are unforgivable in a professional publication. Things wouldn't be so bad if this adventure were at least mildly interesting, but it's not. It's the first book in the series to really experiment with a variety of settings (city, desert and the dungeon-crawl inside the pyramid), but none of them is really well-done. Only three or four encounters in the whole book were at least somewhat exciting or required some thought, and there are lots of very obvious clues scattered through the book, so that avoiding most dangers and completing it won't be too hard at all. There do not seem to be any attempts at characterization, and so the dialogue feels extremely dry and the adventure as a whole is not memorable.

There's a lot of space devoted to the city and desert parts of the adventure, but things always resolve in more or less the same way no matter what you do, so it isn't very interesting to explore them several times. However, a result of this design is that the part of the adventure that takes place inside the pyramid is very short, and it's a very uncreatively devised dungeon to boot. Like in The Lord of Shadow Keep, the difficulty level of combats is rather high, and you're very likely to die until you figure out a way through the adventure which minimizes the number of fights.

In short, you can avoid this book without regret and stick to those books authored or co-authored by Dave Morris, which make this series worthwhile.

More reviews by Guillermo

Johnny S Geddes's Thoughts:

Option 1 of reference 179... should have read 'turn to 74'. I agree - sloppy, sloppy... sloppy. The cost of correcting things once they have gone past galley proof stage is ghastly - if indeed the error was even seen at that time. Who knows...

The Oasis monster, Ipo the Shadowy Horror and the Eater of Hearts are extremely formidable opponents indeed. Fact is, by the time you've started rolling against them, chances are you'll have also started making a painfully fast bee line toward the end of your adventure.

There is a great deal that makes Oliver Johnson's Curse of the Pharaoh unsettling, frustrating... even toss-asideable when you've been killed for the fifth time in the same day...

But isn't that the hallmark of a good gamebook - the 'trying' part - the bit that keeps you from having a satisfying adventure that begins and ends the same evening, even if the truly only lethal bits are in combat or the odd trap?

I think this was indeed a needed entry in the series. You have to remember that the only signature more deeply engraved by Golden Dragon than the novelty of a simplified combat system was its attention to scenario generation.

And the scenario flow in Curse is certainly strong. The writing that supports it does the job, as do the illustrations, which seem oddly apt for this book. Indeed, there is quite a build-up to the actual breach of the pyramid, but then doesn't that add realism to the quest - all that raking about in the dust, trying to find the way ahead? Aside from which, the reader is exposed to the colour and verve of life in pseudo-Mediaeval Egypt, replete with its '1001 Arabian Nights' range of trappings, such as a flying carpet.

The game itself is definitely broken up into a tripartite entity. But then, aren't Castle of Lost Souls and The Lord of Shadow Keep? Eye of the Dragon is very disparate in its playing areas and both Crypt of the Vampire and The Temple of Flame have their 'build up' areas that segue into the 'true' core of the action after some background-building 'lead-ins'.

In Curse of the Pharaoh, you must find friends in the old town with its bazaar, its inn... its charm. You have assassins on your tail; and charlatans offering a way to the tomb...

But you still have to find your true way to the great tomb of Kharphut, traversing burning, jaguar-ridden miles of sand - the second phase of the work. The idea of the old man (ambivalent) mentor is ingenious, as is the incalculable peril of carrying (or not carrying) an urn around him.

The pyramid's dungeon is realistically sized. How could it possibly have hoped to grasp for the scope of Firetop Mountain? Remember - it's a tomb, not a serried system of defences to protect a living despot.

And would it not make sense, then, for the guardians of that tomb to be that extra bit more powerful - given the centuries they have had pent up, ready to dish out punishment for sacrilege? Shouldn't they, having been invoked by the priests of old, therefore be a few notches above the odd mummy or tomb trap? Because the tomb segment is of a size that is realistic, why shouldn't the author have moved to get the greatest mileage out of its defenders? This sort of 'dungeon' implies a mix of static defence (traps) and occult-invoked guardians (demons and phantoms) and that's what Johnson has in this book.

All things considered, Curse of the Pharaoh is a better-than-decent entry in the series, and it certainly can give The Temple of Flame a good run for its money. It WILL take a few times to 'get' it, but there is an adventure here that is worryingly accurate in how it portays how one might have gone about monarchic burglary in the age of leather armour. Take it at face-value - there are enough hidden meanings programmed into the mostly authentic Egyptology.

There is a progressive element - you have a proto-laser weapon. You have to record a number in a reference that stands about an empty box and then come back to it. You have illusions to overcome, mannequins that come to life, crocodiles... more traps - traps that can be sprung by the slightest blunder.

Any way you slice it, you have in this book a first rate quasi-Egyptian adventure that is truly worthy of standing alongside Temple of Terror both in complexity and challenges. This has the energy of first-person shooter Exhumed but the soul and shape of a true adventure novel.

I think you're 'Indiana Jones' in this one... it's that good, and that's as good as the gold you may yet survive to walk away with at the conclusion.

More reviews by Johnny S Geddes

Errata:The first option in 179 doesn't tell you where to turn. It should lead to section 74.
Special Thanks:Thanks to Guillermo Paredes for the plot summary, to Fireguard for the errata, and to Ben Nelson for the character sheet scan..
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