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Item - Hive of the Dead


Series: Warhammer: Path to Victory — no. 1
Author: Dunn, C. Z.
Date: September, 2011
ISBN: 1849701636 / 9781849701631
Length: 288 pages
Number of Endings: 45
User Summary: You awaken in a prison cell in a damaged, zombie-infested building and have no memory of who you are.
Demian's Thoughts: Given the close relationship between Games Workshop and gamebooks (both in terms of overlapping talents and things like Fighting Fantasy adventures showing up in White Dwarf), it is surprising that it took so long for an official Warhammer gamebook to come along. Still, aside from the Lost Worlds-style Warhammer Warriors a few years ago, this seems to be the first.

Fans of British gamebooks will be pleased to see that this is an adventure in the classic tradition: 400 sections, gruesome artwork, lots of dice-rolling. However, you might be surprised to find that the style is probably a little closer to Joe Dever than Jackson and Livingstone: rather than being a brutal "one true path" puzzle, this is more narrative-oriented, with various parallel story threads offering the reader different ways of navigating the same basic series of events (culminating, in typical gamebook style, in a series of gruelling battles).

In terms of story and artwork, the book delivers adequate but unexceptional results. The plot is full of zombie movie clichés and won't win awards for originality, but the amnesia theme adds some useful motivation (even if its conclusion is a bit weak), and the occasional inclusion of non-player characters successfully livens up what could otherwise have been a tedious plod through the ruins. As mentioned earlier, the artwork captures some of the flavor of eighties British gamebooks, though there aren't any particularly stand-out pieces.

Where things really fall down is in the game system. What works as part of a tabletop miniatures battle game is tedious in a gamebook. While the reader gets to choose between basic and advanced rules (lots of dice rolling vs. even more dice rolling), there are few meaningful choices built into the game's systems. There is no character creation, so you don't get the benefit of trying different options each time you die. There are no real tactical options during combat, so it's just a matter of rolling lots of dice. The only thing that might require a little thought from time to time is managing inventory, since you have a limited backpack capacity, but even this isn't really very significant. I understand that this is a Warhammer 40,000 gamebook, so some Warhammer 40,000 mechanics should be expected... but the rules should have been adapted in a more interesting way. As it is, the rules get in the way of the adventure by introducing tedium when they should be adding tension and giving the reader more tactical choices.

Bottom line: there are definitely some things to enjoy here -- it's not every day that you get a brand new series from a significant publisher which embraces the old school gamebook feel. It's just a shame that the mechanics bog the whole thing down. Fortunately, rules are easy to change or ignore, and this first entry is good enough that I plan to look into the rest of the series when time permits.

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