Friday, May 1, 2009

1 on 1 Adventure Gamebooks: Castle Arcania

While unpacking more boxes after my move I came across a few of the classic TSR 1 on 1 Adventure Gamebooks sets including Castle Arcania, the first of the series.  Flashback!  I hadn't seen these books in years, and immediately flipped through them.  Most of them were given away to buddies as gifts after this discovery, to share in the mutual nostalgia kick.  

These books were the logical extension of the Choose Your Own Adventure kick - stat up the protagonist and his/her enemies, put an illustration on each page, and add an element of random encounter resolution.  The Lone Wolf books accomplished something similar, frankly to a better result.  But the 1-0n-1 books had an interesting kick to the young gamer in training circa mid-1980s - you didn't play these alone, you played them with a friend.  For me, that friend was more often than not my older brother, Chris.  Many a long car trip or rainy Summer afternoon were spent flipping through these books together, asking each other "What location are you in?"  You see, in order to allow the players to compete with one another, each story set had an artifact or ability of some sort that allowed the players to somehow detect where the other player was at all times.  Through the use of a map in the book, you could essentially chase the other player, and confront them once you had amassed enough loot or information to defeat them.

Castle Arcania's plot was essentially a "valiant knight versus evil wizard who has kidnapped a princess" old saw.  For me, it presented a first, though.  The "good" character embodied by the Knight looked like a jerk on the cover of the books - to me, he looked pissed off an angry, not heroic.  And Neves, well, he just looked badass.  Evil wizard or note, he rapidly became my favorite to play between the two characters.  (The random elements allowed massive replay for a product of its time.)  

This was a first attempt by TSR to really expand upon the success of their Endless Quest choose-your-own-adventure-style books, and it's amusing to see the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach that was employed.  The setting is massively inconsistent, with the princess' bodyguard being termed an "Amazon", conflicting with some elements of Western Europe ca. the Dark Ages, and with a dash of Egyptian imagery (fight Anubis, kids!) tossed in for (good?) measure.  That said, being thrown into the deep end of the mixed-campaign-and-monsters pool made for a fun ride.  Further books (Druid's Grove, and others) got a bit more consistent and developed more interesting plots, making them almost grow with the players who had bought this first book set and moved on to the rest.

If you can find any of them up on ebay or at used shops, grab one set - it's worth the ride.  If you want to join in on the nostalgia, post any comments here or visit this site that has a bunch of reviews of these books up:  

No comments: