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Corgi (Yearling imprint) -- United Kingdom
Complexity Level : Advanced (Full Game System)
Format : Paperback
Game System : Codewords
Game System : Inventory Management
Game System : Magic
Game System : Randomization Method : Dice
Game System : Scores
Genre : Fantasy
Licensed Property : Movie / TV Tie-In
Target Age Group : Older Children
Target Age Group : Younger Children
Writing Style : Present Tense
Writing Style : Second Person
These books tie in with a British TV game show of the same name. As in the show, players race through the dungeon of Knightmare Castle, attempting to complete quests before their Life Force runs out. In addition to its brief gamebook segment, each book contains a non-interactive fantasy novella featuring characters from the series. The ties between the novella and the gamebook are very loose, but sometimes reading the story will give the reader hints for the later adventure. The rules vary from book to book, but the essentials are fairly simple: the reader must keep track of life force, spells and inventory; some volumes also feature skills to choose from, additional attributes (Armour, Dexterity and Chivalry) or codewords for keeping track of past events. The first four books were published by Corgi's main imprint and had a somewhat gritty and historically-grounded tone; the last two adventures were published by Corgi's Yearling imprint and clearly aimed at a younger audience, featuring more fantastic stories involving modern-day children traveling back through time. A seventh Knightmare book by Dave Morris, entitled Lord Fear's Domain and illustrated by Fighting Fantasy regular Russ Nicholson, was published in 1994, but it was a straightforward puzzle book without a gamebook element and thus is not listed here.
I was quite fortunate to collect this entire series quickly and unexpectedly; an eBay win covered most of it, and the couple of books missing from that lot were easy enough to find. Excited by my acquisition, I had to make a priority of reading through it. I'm glad I did, though most of the good points of these books come from their novellas and not their interactive portions. It's interesting to see this much continuity in a series that had one-year gaps between the release of its volumes; one wonders if they were written more closely together than they were published. Also interesting is the fact that the advice given in the very first book holds true throughout the series even though not all of it is repeated -- most vital is the fact that one can rarely go wrong by taking a right-hand path; this certainly aided in my rapid completion of the series. Now I just need to see an episode of the TV show, since my curiosity has been piqued....
Ah, Knightmare, the medieval fantasy game show for children. I didn't watch it in its native England, but during high school I had a friend for a while who'd somehow acquired tapes of a few episodes and saw it that way. It kind of reminded me of the later Legends of the Hidden Temple, with more emphasis on adventure.
If you haven't seen the show, it's about Treguard, a knight or lord of some kind who is the gatekeeper of the Dungeon of Deceit. In every episode a team of four children would try to conquer the dungeon's perils; one would enter and the other three would stay behind with Treguard and tell their friend what to do. This was necessary because the one actually taking the risks, the "dungeoneer" wore the "Helmet of Justice" that kept them from seeing anything except what was right in front of them. Only their friends could see the dangers over a screen back in Treguard's room. Besides monsters and traps the team also had to contend with a "Life Force" clock which would also spell doom for the dungeoneer if allowed to run down, but could be reset by finding food (in all honesty I never saw anyone "die" from this; it was just one of several devices they employed to keep players moving). The challenges were hard, and from what I understand only a very few teams made it all the way to the end.
The books based on the show are each divided into two parts: one is a mini-novel about one of Treguard's adventures (which is to say it's not interactive), which usually but not always sets up the second part, where the reader takes over and goes on a quest of their own. These have a Life Force system and the Helmet of Justice like in the show, but don't work quite the same. Except in the first book your Life Force only goes down if you get hurt, and because you're reading a book by yourself the Helmet of Justice is only included because it's a hallmark of the show. Although in a few books it does function as a piece of armor.
Other than that each book has its own rules for the interactive part. In a few there's a skill system, in at least one there's a system where you can wear armor to make yourself a stronger warrior but trade off speed and agility.
Knightmare's approach to translating itself to the literary format was interesting, and the novel parts of the earlier books were generally pretty good. On the whole though the interactive parts I found to be pretty easy, possibly because they were so short, which may or may not be a turnoff to some people.
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