Knuckleduster Interactive Western Adventures

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These are among the most expensive gamebooks ever published, costing nearly $20 each, but their high-quality, large-format production seems to justify the cost. Each book has a different set of rules. The first volume uses a very simple dice-based system in which the player only needs to keep track of money, points and bonus rolls (which can be used to roll extra dice at strategically critical moments). The second book retains this system but adds optional rules which allow the reader to create a character with eight aptitudes (Intelligence, Detection, Agility, Strength, Toughness, Luck, Persuasion and Speed) and seven skills (Gunfighting, Quick Draw, Sneaking, Brawling, Survival, Tracking and Horsemanship). The books both appear to still be in print.

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 1. The Devil's Addition
Author: Forrest Harris
Illustrators: Mark Bulmenshine (cover), Forrest Harris, Rick Harris and Chuck Quilty (interior)
First Published: 1998
ISBN: 0-9667046-0-6
Length: 136 pages (400 sections)
Number of Endings: 1 (led to from 54 different sections)
Plot Summary: The reader controls the actions of Red Lewis, a lawman in search of a murderer in the town of Abilene, Kansas.
My Thoughts: While Westerns don't really interest me very much, I still quite enjoyed this book. It's one of the few gamebooks I've seen that fall into the Western genre, and one of the even fewer gamebooks that are aimed at a mature audience. The "adult content" isn't too gratuitous, and it does give the story a gritty feel which nicely complements its great attention to historical detail. This historical detail is also aided by the footnotes scattered throughout the story which are interesting, if a bit distracting. Gameplay feels fairly similar to the Boot Hill solitaire module since a lot of it involves wandering around town, but this adventure is a lot less aimless (and much more interestingly-written) than its predecessor. Still, the game design isn't perfect; successfully completing the story isn't very hard, and while there's a lot to be gained from replaying the book, the fact that you must often remember who you've talked to and where you've been makes playing without cheating increasingly difficult with each subsequent reading. Of course, this is only a problem if you play many times in the same day; I imagine that players who return and attempt to beat their high scores after leaving the book on the shelf for a few months won't get too confused... Actually, I may have to try this myself!
My High Score: 20 (1/13/2001)

 2. Raining Hammers: The Ballad of Johnny MacDonald
Author: Forrest Harris
Illustrators: Forrest Harris and Rick Harris
First Published: 1999
ISBN: 0-9667046-1-4
Length: 144 pages (400 sections)
Number of Endings: 1 (led to from 50 different sections)
Plot Summary: The reader follows (and controls) the adventures of Johnny MacDonald, an innocent man accused of murdering his brothers.
My Thoughts: While the previous book was quite good, this volume is superior in nearly every way. Its story is a bit more linear (but not too linear), meaning that completing the adventure successfully takes quite a while and yields a number of interesting plot twists. The historical footnotes augment the story excellently, and the more advanced game system works quite well, giving the reader more of a sense of control over the random elements of the adventure. My biggest complaint is that it is possible to get stuck wandering aimlessly, trying to avoid returning to events that obviously couldn't happen more than once; the fact that this possibility is acknowledged by the rules doesn't make it any less frustrating when it happens. A lesser complaint involves the game's gambling -- while it is nice to have games within a game, the rules are presented somewhat ambiguously, making betting a little confusing. Still, these flaws are easily overlooked, and this is a worthwhile read -- a well-written, interesting and challenging gamebook. I can only hope that more Knuckleduster adventures will be forthcoming...
My High Score: 121 (1/14/2001)

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