I’m a papercut-scarred veteran of those choose-your-own-adventure gamebooks. From the first Fighting Fantasy title in the 1980s – The Warlock of Firetop Mountain – to the more complex solo gamebooks for RPG Tunnels & Trolls: I spent many a happy hour of my youth flipping through pages and rolling dice, lost in lands of adventure.
With a series of brand-new titles set in the fantasy world of Orlandes, Tin Man have recreated the solo gamebook experience for the 21st century: adding a few modern twists on the way.
An Assassin In Orlandes is their first title in the series, and is a great introduction to the dark world of Orlandes – and to the genre itself.
It begins, as so many tales do, in a tavern
In An Assassin In Orlandes, you are a world-weary adventurer, looking for solace at the bottom of a tankard. As you leave the tavern, you witness a brutal murder on the city’s shady streets, and are soon in pursuit of the perpetrator – who has also captured someone you hold dear.
The well-written tale takes you above and below the streets of Orlandes: questioning nobles, escaping suspicious guards and stalking your prey in dark catacombs beneath the city’s ancient burial grounds.
And just when you think the tale is going to be confined to the maze of city streets and tunnels, it opens up into the wilderness, as you find yourself pursuing your foe through mountain ranges and lonely monasteries.
Written by S.P. Osborne, the story you find yourself at the centre of may be classic fantasy fare, but is well-written and dripping with atmosphere too – aided no end by the moody illustrations from Pirkka Harvala. Some suitably mysterious music which plays throughout also helps to set the mood (though this can of course be disabled if you wish).
Your fate is in your hands
The style of gameplay is well-suited to a touch-screen device. Laid out like a novel, the numbered pages are punctuated by decision points, choices and other events. By clicking on your desired choice, the narrative continues down a certain path – not all of which lead to victory.
Indeed, as your adventure progresses, the difficulty factor ramps up accordingly. This is unlikely to be a game you emerge triumphant from after one go. With challenging combat and a few genre-typical sudden death choices, you’ll be retracing your steps and making different decisions several times before you reach the climax of your tale.
Three levels of difficulty are therefore offered to cater for all levels of players. These effect the number of ‘bookmarks’ available, which are used as an in-game save system. On the hardest level, you have only 3 of these at your disposal, meaning you need to use them sparingly before what you anticipate to be deadly encounters or life-and-death decisions. The other two difficulty levels give you 10 bookmarks; and the easiest ‘novice’ level also gives you a bonus to your starting stats.
Before the game starts, in keeping with RPGs from which gamebooks are inspired, you create your character. After naming them, you roll six-sided dice to determine your Vitality amd Fitness scores. The first represents your health points: should these drop to zero during your adventures, then you’re dead. The Fitness score is called upon at various points during the course of the book: roll less than its value on a pair of dice and you pass whatever check is required; fail and you’ll suffer some penalty.
Similarly, Fitness can be used during combat to raise the odds in your favour. You – and the foes you meet – have Offence and Defence scores, determined by the type of weapon carried and armour worn. The scores dictate how many dice you roll when attacking and defending, with the highest value thrown determining a hit or a dodge. Fitness can be checked against to add one to your highest roll: but each check reduces your Fitness total for the duration of the combat, making successive attempts to use it more challenging – and a failed check subtracts one from your highest dice score instead.
A successful combat hit deducts the total of your dice rolls from you or your opponent’s Vitality score – meaning combat can often be deadly, with high value rolls resulting in hefty health losses. If you’ve picked up or purchased a healing potion or similar, you can use it before each round of combat to restore your Vitality – essential for facing down those foes with high Offense values.
On the whole, the system works well – and is implemented in a visually appealing way using the virtual character record sheets and 3D rolling dice. The Fitness check adds a little tactical element to an otherwise random mechanic; and the stakes are suitably high to make every combat important and tense.
A whole new world
Tin Man Games have put a commendable amount of effort into creating a well-realised fantasy world in the shape of Orlandes. On the main menu screen, you can view a zoomable map of the world, where future adventures await in other gamebooks in the series. The ‘Orlandes Uncovered’ tome is also accessible, where the developers have written the history, geography and bestiary of their imagined world.
All of this adds to the atmosphere of your adventure itself, bringing depth and colour to the world you flip your way through.
In a nod to current gaming trends, a series of unlockable achievements and a gallery of discovered artwork is also included. The inclusion of these is a nice touch, and encourages you to replay the title to uncover all its secrets, even if you’ve successfully beaten it.
Tin Man Games have done a superb job of recreating the solo gamebook experience and updating it for the modern gamer. The story is perhaps surprisingly well-written; the monochrome artwork adds to the atmosphere; and the gameplay and combat mechanics feel fresh and keep you coming back for more: all without the risk of papercuts.
With an ever-expanding series of gamebook adventures which allow you to adventure deeper into the world of Orlandes, and the promise of other franchises to come (Judge Dredd, anyone?), An Assassin In Orlandes has successfully established Tin Man has masters of the gamebook genre – from cover to cover.