Blood of the Zombies by Ian Livingstone reviewed by Elizabeth Vinton
As a fan of the 1980’s ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books I was very excited to get a chance to read/play Blood of the Zombies – I have heard of the Fighting Fantasy books but had never gotten around to giving one a try.
Most people I talk to recall one or more versions of such books that they once owned, and that they enjoyed the experience of them as a child or young adult. I recall those I read back in primary school being simple ones – you read part of the story, chose your path and nervously turned to the appropriate page to see the consequences of that choice. I feel this format is perfect for telling a horror tale in particular, as it makes it a bit more personal and the stakes are higher for the reader as they are making the choice of where the story goes – and that process of turning to the page you selected is a bit more harrowing.
From the start I was impressed by the presentation – the cover is striking, I have always liked ‘puffy’ text, (text that is raised on the cover that you can feel with your fingers), and the artwork is great.
I will warn you I approached this as a roleplayer/roleplaying game writer – so probably took the ‘system’ more seriously than most would!
I was surprised to find a character sheet of sorts at the back of the book, which I photocopied in preparation to play and quite liked the ‘virtual dice’ on the pages that you flick through to get a 2d6 (two six sided dice) result that affects combat. The book essentially is a ‘game pack’.
However it must be said that I would recommend playing with actual dice as the system does not seem to allow for the fact that there are two d6 on each page and some weapons are only 1d6 damage. There may be an errata sheet for this, I personally decided to use the dice with the highest number in determining the result of the roll. Also it is easier to keep your place in the book by using dice rather than marking your spot and flicking through the pages to get a die result.
After reading the introduction, I delved into the game – very gruesome story, modern horror but set in a medieval castle in Eastern Europe – Romania. You are a student of Mythology, your investigations into various dark creatures naturally getting you imprisoned by some un-savory types.
First game – I died within the first four page turns, having lost some stamina points early on. I would like to say making wrong decisions and ending up deceased so quickly is unusual for me, but it did bring back memories of other game books I read – I find I don’t play the ‘safe’ choice but the interesting one. So, I thought, this is not going to be easy, and perhaps I should have my character behave a bit more sanely for at least the first four pages…
So game two – learnt that a little caution goes a long way when you are just starting out and hence managed to survive past my previous mistakes!
The combat system is very easy to pick up and yet effective in keeping with the story’s tone – you basically choose which weapon you are going to defend yourself with and roll to see how many zombies you have killed: zombies only have one stamina each but tend to attack in large groups. Any surviving zombies automatically take one stamina point from you – in some unlucky cases more than one – so you want to kill as many as you can each round, because if you lose all your stamina, you die and need to restart.
I encourage you to explore as there are lots of items and pieces of equipment that can come in very handy!
The story that plays out reminded me somewhat of Xbox’s Kinect game ‘Rise of Nightmares’ modern horror in a very old fashioned gothic setting. As much as there are truckloads of zombies, this is not a zombie genre style story.
There are some in-jokes for fans of ‘Fighting Fantasy’, Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson fans on occasion pages.
I thoroughly enjoyed my journey, killing twenty seven zombies before bizarrely dying due to injuring myself opening a lock with my crowbar, losing my last stamina point!
As I went along I occasionally read out loud or explained what I was going through to friends who would warn me against or agree with my plans, which added a new dimension to the fun of it.
I hugely recommend this book to anyone who has a love of this sort of book/game, or to anyone who wants to try it for the first game, it is very beginner friendly.
I think it’s the perfect Halloween treat, read it out loud to a group of ghoulish mates and navigate the horror together, or read alone at night by the light of a candle = Can YOU survive?