by Jonathan Green, fantasy (2011)
Tin Man Games, $5.99, ISBN N/A
It is only after I had downloaded Temple Of The Spider God into my iPad did I realize that it was designed by Jonathan Green. Wait, someone is still letting this sadistic fellow inflict his brand of torture on unsuspecting people everywhere? With his brand of sadistic campaign-setting and brutal lopsided gameplay system of this gamebook line, this particular gamebook is like a vicarious experience in sadomasochism.
Your character is this adventurer who had recently cleansed some regions in Orlandes from verminous scumbags, and now the ruler, Duke Rodrigo, is about to felicitate you with rewards untold... until you manage to thwart an assassination attempt on him and are consequently sent off to locate and take down the villain behind this plot. That villain is said to be Cesaro Cortez, an explorer-conquistador who sailed off with three ships over three years ago, in the usual quest for gold, gospel, and glory. He was said to be MIA, but it seems like he has now resurfaced to cause some mischief.
This campaign has spiders in abundance, and it's business as usual as Mr Green introduces a new score to roll. This time, it's Phobia, just another excuse to stack the odds against the player character. The innate system is already stacked against the player character, so of course there is a need for yet one more way to brutalize the poor sod! The opponents easily out-damage and out-defend you from the get-go, despite the fact that you are supposed to be this hardened and skilled warrior. The first opponent you encounter rolls three dice to attack you, for example, while you only roll two. Why? Because it's more fun that way, that's why! And failing a Phobia check forces you to roll attacks and saves with 1 die, which almost always guarantees an automatic miss on the opponent and an automatic hit on the opponent's part.
And the damage in this system is insane. In my several attempts at overcoming the first combat encounter, I've had the opponent hit me for 16 - 16! - Vitality points with a single hit, leaving me with only 4 Vitality points left. And it's always having to meet two or three opponents at one go from the start. It doesn't make sense for a stupid mook character to inflict so much damage from one hit, and this stupidity turns every combat encounter is a life-and-death matter. There is no balanced gameplay here at all. And to make things better, it's often - too often - that I am made to roll a Phobia Check before every combat encounter.
And before you ask, I have learned my lesson after my disastrous foray with a previous gamebook from this publisher and now played at Novice difficulty. So yes, even at the supposedly easiest level of difficulty, this gamebook delights in making you play and replay the first few insanely difficult combat encounters until you feel like screaming. And if you forget to bookmark the gamebook before a combat encounter - and it's easy to forget, considering that there is a combat encounter every few turns of the pages - you will have to start all over again and read the same paragraphs again. Absolutely painful.
Things may not be so bad if it's easier to get opportunities to heal. But with a limited amount of money to start with, it's a tough choice between getting a weapon for increasing opportunities to land damage or a potion to heal. Since the whole campaign boils down to kill before you are killed, it may be tempting to say to hell with potions and get the most expensive weapon your money can buy. But because each attack takes out huge chunks of your Vitality points, so much so that a stupid spider alone can leave you with 3 Vitality points left after just two or three attacks, and because you tend to meet two or three opponents (either at one go or consecutively), there is really no point in getting the weapon or healing. Everything is down to luck, thanks to this infuriatingly stupid in-built game system.
Oh, the setting is interesting, but why do you want to torture yourself when you can just get Mr Green's Bloodbones? That one is in many ways similar in feel and atmosphere to this one, but you can always cheat when the going gets tough. Here, you can't cheat, you just have to keep bashing your head against an innately unfair gameplay system until you pass out from pain. Why even bother?
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