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Of Trials, Tribulations and Long Journeys

(Vale Konrad, little buddy 1/4/2000 – 21/10/2016)

Journeys never end the way you imagined they might when they began. Journeys never really end anyway, they simply change through their various trials and tribulations, their experiences, learnings and joys.

I kinda knew at the time of my last post (a few days after the photo above) that it would be a long time before I would post here again… I faced a challenging period in this journey we call “life”, perhaps the most challenging I’d face, and I knew that had to be my focus. But part of me wanted to dream that I’d manage to keep the posts going here too, but it wasn’t to be.

My mother faced terminal cancer (with grace, wisdom and a determination to make the most of every moment left I might add) and I was her primary carer in that last period of her life, though supported by our (large!) family too. She passed late 2017, and this combined with working long hours as a developer/analyst and then taking care of her partner in the months to follow, and then also losing my father to terminal cancer in mid 2018, meant that I simply didn’t have the time or mental/emotional resources to maintain things here for a while…

But as I said back in my last post, barring death myself, I’ll always be back here to tell you about creative projects I’m working on… Creating stuff is what I do ?

And now, during this time of challenges different to those before, yet still challenging in their own way (as we all face), I’m coming to the end of another creative journey that began back in 2000. I think it’s fair to say it’s my biggest, most ambitious and complicated project to be released yet. A grand collaboration with world-renown musicians, vocalists, actors, artists and sound engineers, coming together to create a story set to music told over the course of an album…

The Dark Horde shall return!

So yes, you can expect to hear from me again with details very soon...

One long journey is about to end and new journey to begin.


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Express Yourself and Be the Star You Are!

Nice view huh?

(Here’s a random picture I took a while back, cos I like blog posts better with pictures)

Yes, it’s been a while… In fact it’s been almost exactly two years since my own blog post here.

It’s certainly not by intention, it’s just “stuff” comes up and directs my attention elsewhere (as it does for us all). And the longer I leave it to post back here, the less-pressing the urge becomes… But barring death haha, I’ll always be back here at some point to tell you about creative projects I’m working on, which I’ll always be doing too... Creating stuff is just what I’ve always done and always will.

And yes, occasionally I’ll even get around to publishing something from the shelves and drawers filling my room too ;)

So my plan now I’m back here is to share some of the things I’ve been doing and working on over the coming weeks and months, to finish some of the blog serials I’ve started here, and to share some other things of news and interest. (It sounds all great in theory!)

You may be wondering at the title of this post, since I haven’t actually addressed that yet… Sure it’s a great statement, and certainly something I believe in and (try to) demonstrate at all times, but the reason for such a title is that I wanted to share two radio interviews I’ve just recently done with the Voice America talk radio network, on their Express Yourself! Teen radio show, and their Be the Star You Are! show.

From the links below you can hear almost an hour of me talking about my writing, about Tin Man Games and gamebooks, about The Dark Horde, and even about Halloween. There’s a few too many ums and ahs haha, but hopefully it’s interesting for you nonetheless. I had a lot of fun doing the interviews, and the hosts, Cynthia Brian, Asya Gonzalez and Brigitte Jia were fantastic!


(My interview starts about 30:45 in, and runs to the end of the episode)


(My interview starts about 38:35 in, and runs to the end of the episode)



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My Favourite Turn-Based Computer Games – Part Two

So here we are again with Part Two of my favourite turn-based computer games… You might as well start with Part One if you haven’t read it, which can be seen here.

One of the things about doing such a list as this is that people will (okay *can*) be quick to mention games that you haven’t actually played (and know little about), games which a “true guru of this genre” surely would have played and know about… Well I guess I fail on that count haha, and so please accept my humble apologies if there’s something I haven’t mentioned (e.g. classics like Total War or Rogue). This is after all, just my favourite games in this genre, taken from my 30+ years of gaming experience on various computers – starting with the venerable Atari 2600 (that number seemed so significant back then – “2600!? Wow that must be a powerful computer!”), progressing to a Commodore 64, then a series of Dos/Windows-based PCs and including consoles like Playstation, Nintendo Wii and Xbox 360.

So without further ado, here’s my sixth to fourth favourite turn-based computer games. I do note some similarities among these three games, namely that they’re all “less well known than the classics” (but better IMHO), they all have a significant story element, and all fall under the “fantasy” banner more-so than they do under “sci-fi” or “horror” (or something else). But that’s about where their similarities end as you’ll see, for they’re all completely different games…


6. Etherlords II

One of the most addictive games I’ve ever played is the original conversion of the phenomenally successful collectible card game Magic the Gathering, published by Microprose in 1997 and featuring a “campaign mode” set on the plane of Shandalar. But as good as this was, imagine that Etherlords II is a very similar game, only better on every level.

If you’ve never played the Microprose game, and have never played Magic: The Gathering, then much of this review won’t make much sense to you. But if that’s you, let me summarise Etherlords II for you as a quest-based fantasy game, where battles are done via “card games” with a deck of cards that you are constantly adding to and improving. Etherlords II uses (a very) similar set of rules to Magic the Gathering, but one that is far more streamlined, accessible to new players, and balanced than Magic the Gathering has ever been. It’s also a significant refinement on the original Etherlords, which got many things right but had a lot of issues as well.

For starters, Etherlords II has taken the design of the way “card battles” are handled in Magic the Gathering and simplified and improved on them (well I think so anyway). First of all, mana generation is simplified. Instead of having to draw the right lands in order to cast spells, you simply need to have sufficient channels in order to cast the spells you want – channels which you automatically accumulate a rate of one channel per round. This neatly resolves the issue of drawing starting hands with either too much, or not enough mana. And yes there’s still plenty of “mana acceleration” cards to use if you want to build that kind of deck. Secondly the complexities of timing in games of Magic the Gathering are done away with – you only cast spells on your turn and there’s only three types: Summons, Enchantments and Sorceries. There are artifacts you can find in addition to this, as well as powers that your planeswalker, I mean hero, can acquire, further increasing the variety of strategies you can use. The way attacking and blocking is conducted is slightly differently too by giving advantage to the attacker (they inflict their damage first), which has the benefit of speeding games up and reducing stalemate situations where neither side can penetrate the others’ defences. Stalemates are also further discouraged by imposing a maximum of ten summoned things on your side at any one time. But it’s another tweak to the Magic the Gathering rules that is the most effective at speeding up games and stopping stalemates: after a certain number of turns (10-15 or so from memory – just enough to kick in if the battle is taking too long), everyone starts to take cumulative “ether burn” on their turn. Everyone takes 1 ether burn in the first round, 2 in the next and so on, seeing a quick resolution to games in all cases (life totals are comparable to that in Magic the Gathering, ranging from 10 up to about 50 or so). This ether burn mechanic also makes “lockdown” or “stalling” decks quite viable (and yet still relatively quick).

(Example of one the “card battles” seen in Etherlords II – note that instead of showing cards in play, the game actually depicts the summoned creature with animations)

The cards themselves are also quite varied and balanced – giving if anything, a wider variety of viable decks than the Microprose game did even though that has more cards. In Etherlords II there are no “power cards” that every deck must strive to have, and most cards are competitive in the right deck. (This of course is in stark contrast to Magic the Gathering, particularly where the original cards are used as is the case in the Microprose game. Basically the more “power nine” cards a deck has, the better it will do).

(The deck-building screen in Etherlords II)

I also like the way the campaigns are designed (and there are five - one for each of the four basic magic types that are basically equivalent to Green, Red, Blue and Black in Magic the Gathering, and then a fifth “champions” campaign that I’ve never been able to complete cos it’s so damn hard). What I like about the way the campaigns are designed is their linear nature that only allows a “little bit of exploration and side-quests”. You won’t get lost on massive maps, get delayed on endless side-quests, be stuck for what to do, or spend days and days to finish a campaign. This also means you don’t get bored with the battles much either, since many opponents you’ll only fight once and few you’ll fight more than two or three times. The stories and the acting isn’t too bad either (but also nothing special)…

(The main view of Etherlords II – where your hero is wandering around the map to complete quests, find useful stuff and of course, find the next enemy to fight)

Lastly, this game features some attractive artwork and a very easy to use interface. So if you like Magic the Gathering at all, you really should check this title out, especially given there’s never been a sequel nor anything else that comes close (to my knowledge). You can grab a digital copy of this game for PC from the Good Old Games site for just $5.99 and from Steam for only $4.99


5. Fantasy Wars (and Elven Legacy)

I decided to group Fantasy Wars with its sequel Elven Legacy because (unlike say Etherlords and Etherlords II) they’re essentially the same game… In other words, you could play both with the same instruction manual and barely notice the difference (aside from the story itself). But from here on I’ll just refer to Fantasy Wars even though I’m actually talking about the sequel too.

The gameplay and concept are certainly nothing new, and yes, you can hardly say that the title is imaginative. (But let’s face it, neither is “Star Wars”). But it delivers what you expect it to – namely it’s a game involving “fantasy wars”, where you’re in command of various infantry, cavalry, archers, spell-casters, fliers, siege-engines, monsters and summoned beasts in a series of scenarios that comprise a campaign. In many ways a modern successor to the classic Fantasy General, battles are nicely rendered on a 3D hex map and the interface shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes or so to master.

(The main gameplay view – which can be customised in a number of ways and the camera manipulated very easily)

Getting the hang of the rules and the interface is quite simple – particularly if you’ve played any kind of turn-based war game – but the game itself is anything but, and this is actually what I consider to be one of the strengths of this game. You see even on medium difficulty the game is quite unforgiving and requires the player to carefully evaluate each move they make. It’s with some amusement that I read of critic reviews where they complain this game is too hard since to me, they’re simply saying something to the effect of “I like this game except that I don’t like that I actually have to think through my moves and plan my strategy carefully. It’d be much better if I could just quickly click my way through the battles.”

“Easy to learn, hard to master” is often a mantra cited as something it is desirable for a game to aspire to, and Fantasy Wars certainly achieves this. Not only are the battles difficult, where you are typically outnumbered many times over and facing an AI that will ruthlessly exploit your mistakes, death is permanent (except in the case of a handful of heroes) and significantly, you only have a limited number of turns in which to complete any scenario. Completing a given scenario yields you either a gold, silver or bronze award, depending on how many turns you took (and you fail the scenario if you don’t complete it in time to get even a bronze award). At first I didn’t like this so much, as it means that if you have any hope of getting a gold award for a given scenario, you typically cannot explore the entire map, clear the map of all enemies, or take an overly cautious and risk-adverse approach when advancing your forces. But it is in your best interests to try to get the gold award (or at least silver) in every scenario due to the rewards you get. A gold award will give you an additional unit that’s very useful, a magic item that’s also very useful and enough money to upgrade your units or buy/replace units to keep up with the scenarios that have increasingly tougher enemies. A silver award usually just gets you the item and some money, while the bronze award is usually only the money, so to keep ahead of the “game difficulty curve” you’ll need to keep getting silver or better on each scenario. And believe me when I say that even the most “expert” player will be hard-pressed to get gold in every scenario (especially in some of the scenarios in the sequel), and even more so without sustaining casualties. I know of a playthrough for the sequel where the author obtained a gold award in every scenario on the hardest difficulty, but I suspect that some scenarios took a few attempts this way and am pretty sure that they didn’t manage it without casualties either. Yep Fantasy Wars and its sequel, is easily one of the most challenging, if not the most challenging turn-based games I’ve ever played.

But if you like turn-based games with a challenge where you have to think through your moves carefully, I cannot recommend this game highly enough. The graphics while not “amazing” are very effective and certainly more than adequate for this kind of game, combined with an exceptionally easy to use interface, simple yet strategically complex rule set (combining different units that level up along different advancement trees, with skills, spells and magic items), and an engaging story. And the battles certainly get quite epic towards the end of each campaign where a scenario can easily take three hours or more to complete (given this isn’t a game you cannot ever afford to “rush”).

(From the army management screen – here we see some new units that are available after a completed scenario)

Some players will find this simply “too hard” though, but if you apply the below tips, you’ll find you’ll fare A LOT better:

  • ·        Take note of the Sight ranges of your enemies. Typically enemies won’t move from their starting positions if they can’t see you. Most units only have a Sight range of 2 hexes, while scout and flying units will have a Sight range of 3 hexes. Use this to your advantage and stay out of sight until you are ready to hit the enemies with your combined forces, lest you find that the enemy suddenly mobilises to crush your vulnerable units.
  • ·        Invisible scouts that can see far and can see invisible are a life-saver. They enable you to see the enemy before it sees you and plan your attacks accordingly. Without them you’re really quite blind on the battlefield and often only one false step away from disaster. Plus scouts are great for quickly reaching locations that may contain magical items or yield you more gold, which are crucial roles when your number of turns is so limited.

I could go on, but I’ll let you figure out the rest for yourself (that really follow the fundamentals of good strategic turn-based play anyway). But the above two points in particular will make a big difference to your game if you’re struggling…

(The world map can be seen in the background with a list of some of the one-off scenarios in the foreground)

With the original game you get three campaigns of about ten scenarios each (one for Humans, one for Orcs and one for Elves) plus a few one-off scenarios. Then with the sequel and its three expansions you get a lot more – including new units, spells, enemies and magical items.

You can download Fantasy Wars for PC from the Good Old Games site for $9.99, Gamers Gate for $9.95 or from Steam for $14.99. The sequel Elven Legacy for PC can be downloaded from Steam for $4.99 and the Elven Legacy collection (containing Elven Legacy plus the three expansions) is available from Gamers Gate for $14.99 or from Steam for the same price.


4. Gladius

The last one I’m sharing today is this remarkable gem that’s only ever been released on Gamecube, PS2 and Xbox. Already having a Nintendo Wii, I went out of my way to get a Gamecube memory card and controller just so I could play this, and I’m glad I did. (There are ways of course to experience this on PC, but they’re not legal so I won’t publicise them here). Gladius is quite possibly the greatest turn-based computer game I’ve ever played and easily one of the most unique and innovative ideas I’ve seen (I’ll get to why it’s “only” fourth on my list in due course). It’s a crying shame that there’s unlikely to ever be a sequel (it doesn’t help that Lucas Arts that produced it have stopped making games) and it’s not really that surprising to me that those who’ve been fortunate enough to play it regularly cite it as not only the best turn-based console game but the best turn-based computer game ever made…

In Gladius you manage your own school of gladiators – including spell-casters and beasts – training them in different skills and improving their equipment as you lead them around the fantasy world to compete in different tournaments that each have their own arenas, rules and opponents. The better your school becomes, the bigger the tournaments you can enter. And with each tournament featuring a different arena (each varying in size and layout), different rules (tournaments are often restricted to certain types of gladiators and battle rules might be a battle to the death say, a “capture the flag” scenario, or something else) and a wide variety of fantasy opponents, no two battles are the same.

(The gameplay screen where gladiatorial battles are fought – the example seen here is one of the simpler arena layouts)

The sheer variety in the gladiators you can acquire, their skills, items and subsequently the differing strategies you can employ is quite staggering… And overwhelming. Having finished the game once (which will take quite a long time!) I still feel like I’ve hardly scratched the surface of all the different possibilities here. I could play the same campaign again with a completely different team. It does have a campaign story as well, which is good for what it is, but you won’t be focused on that so much as you’ll be trying to figure out which tournament you should compete in next and which gladiators you’ll use for it. Oh and you can get into battles outside the arena too (but try to avoid these where you can since death is permanent here, unlike in the arena).

(An example of one of the screens where you manage your gladiators, equip them and recruit new ones)

There’s also a less strictly turn-based mode which uses dexterity-based tasks with timer bars to determine the strength of your hit. But I don’t think any “true fan” of turn-based strategy would use this (and in fact it actually undermines the strategy element of the game since you simply need to get good at the timing and use heavy-hitters to cruise through the game in this way). In proper turn-based mode you’ll find this game a great challenge (and some tournaments you may be unable to win and need to find easier alternatives). Not to mention this game is quite addictive…

(Another example of one of the screens where you manage your gladiators – here you can change what equipment is being used and also purchase new items)


Gladius also has some other innovations that make for interesting strategies, such as moves that take more than your current turn to complete, meaning that gladiators can be moving on another’s turn if they’re running from one position to another. This is in addition to hundreds of items, skills, enemies, tournaments and places to explore on the world map. It’s just a shame it’s not available on PC and that it didn’t achieve the sales to justify a sequel as there really isn’t another game even remotely like this (that I’m aware of anyway).

(Here’s a view of the world map you’ll be exploring a lot too. It’s hard to find many screen shots of the world map but hopefully this gives you an idea…)


So that concludes Part Two. The forthcoming Part Three will cover my top three picks, which you may be wondering about given how much I’ve raved about the above titles… Well to give you a hint, I am influenced by nostalgia when it comes to my picks, and if there’s a computerised version of a game that I already know and love, then I’m sold… My top three picks are all based on games that are at least twenty years old and there’s a good chance you’ll recognise their sources. But even if you’ve actually played the conversion, you may find out something new about them – for all three are still being modified and improved upon to this day J


But that’s for next time!

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My Favourite Turn-Based Computer Games - Part One

Well it’s been a hectic few weeks/months and what I haven’t managed to get done is much in the way of any writing / editing work… But excuses are like arseholes (everyone has them) just like opinions are haha, so let’s not dwell on that…

What I have managed to do of late, in fragments of “down time” is re-experience some of my favourite turn-based games from over the years, and being somewhat renowned (among those who know me personally) for loving such things and being a little bit of a connoisseur in this area, I thought I’d share my favourites. -If you like your turn-based games and haven’t heard of/played some of these, you’re missing out! (A completely subjective opinion of course)

So what I wanted to do first, is to list some of the games that did NOT make my favourites list, many of which are considered the “greatest of the genre” and have achieved far greater popularity than most, if not all, of the ones I’ve cited as favourites. But then it’s not really a new insight that the most popular/recognised aren’t necessarily the “best” is it? (And this applies to any creative field)

I can’t claim this is a comprehensive list, or even that I’ve been fair/unbiased in my judgements (and I know that some of the games I’ve dismissed as “not as good as others” will cause great disagreement). So before I start arguments over “why I didn’t rate X game so highly”, let me just reiterate that these are just my favourites… So there :p


The Games that didn’t make my favourites list (and a brief explanation of why)

(1) The Civilization series. Alright let’s get this one out of the way first, as (one version or another) seems to regularly top “best ever turn based games” lists. I have the world of respect (and thanks) for what Sid Meier has done for games, and this game in particular (the original version from the early nineties) was a time-sink for many of my friends back then… So much so that they named our roleplaying group “The Jamestown Lumber Party” after the game, and I even had aspirations at one point to write a book based on the group… I’ve dabbled in a few iterations of the Civilization series (most notably Civilization Revolution for Xbox 360) and while they are great, they’re far from my favourite and I’ve never really had a desire to come back and play these again. To me there’s only so many times you can run through the whole “4X gameplay paradigm” before it becomes boring (once or twice I find is about where the boredom kicks in). Differing scenarios to me tend to amount to simply having different starting conditions, where the rest of the game plays out the same (and in my case, with the same strategy of military domination). The lack of actual story, specific events or a sense of connection with the game also contributes to my lack of enthusiasm (as does the lack of a punishing AI through means other than handicapping yourself). Note that I’m not a fan of “4X games” in general (which incidentally is what many, maybe most, of the top metacritic-rated turn-based games are) and none of these kinds of games make my favourites list… For the record, I much prefer these kinds of games in board game / tabletop miniature format, where your opponents are all human.

EDIT: Actually as my friend points out (who coined the term "The Jamestown Lumber Party" so he ought to know), this moniker actually came from the (somewhat similar) game Colonization, also by Sid Meier, that came out three years after the original Civilization. (See my memory really is quite fallible haha - nevertheless I think the general points I was making here still stand)


(2) The UFO/XCOM series. Okay so having offended the Civilisation fans I might as well offend the UFO/XCOM camp now as well haha (and there’s more to come!) Again I’ll admit I’ve only dabbled in a couple of these (playing the XCOM: Enemy Unknown iteration on iPad in particular quite a bit before getting bored) but the reason that I didn’t like these so much comes down a few things: the lack of an overall story (rather than a series of random encounters), lack of sufficiently different scenarios (they’re mostly takes on the same objective, using similar or same layouts and even the enemies don’t seem to vary that much apart from weapons), random events that can ruin your game (just because you were unlucky), and “real time” events (that I dislike in “turn based” games). That’s not to say I didn’t find a lot to like in these games, I did, they just weren’t among my favourites… In fact I think I even preferred its Commodore 64 predecessor: Laser Squad and the slightly later Jagged Alliance series (which didn’t make my list either).


(3) The Final Fantasy series. Again I’ll admit I haven’t played much of these as they didn’t really grab me (likewise the Chaos Rings series by the same publisher). Pretty graphics aside, the strategic combat (turn-based in some of the series but not all as I understand) wasn’t really there (IMHO), compared to other games, and as for Final Fantasy Tactics that I played on my iPad, well that for me probably had too many rules, creating a steep learning curve that overshadows engagement and gameplay. I’ll also concede that the “cutesy” art style didn’t appeal to me. But I can’t really say much about the story (that I understand is quite deep) as I didn’t persevere with these enough to find out.


(4) The Heroes of Might and Magic series. Okay so that’s perhaps the three biggest turn-based games I just marked down, so let’s add this one that’s another giant of the scene. These could probably grow on me if I played them more, but to date I haven’t as I suspect they’ll end up like as simply another “4x borefest” for me, without any real story and insufficient differentiation between one combat and another. For the record I also played (and completed) the more recent King's Bounty: The Legend reboot that had a similar way of handling combat (and played its sequel Armored Princess a bit too). Nice graphics and addictive for a time, but I’m not actually sure why I played these so much considering to finish the game requires you to replay a similar combat on an essentially similar layout oh a thousand times or more?


(5) The Galactic Civilizations series. Very good at what it does: deliver a 4X game in a space setting with varied events, and the best AI I’ve seen in a game (not only do different alien races play according to different strategies, but they learn from your strategy and adapt such that the same trick may not work twice on them). And it does have a lot of variation in scenarios too. But the reasons why I don’t consider this (and their predecessor, the “original 4X series” Master of Orion) among my faves is that these games take too long and are mostly bereft of story in a significant sense. That and certain random events can really shift the whole balance of the game (such as an enemy discovering an ancient alien battleship from a deceased race that they proceed to annihilate you with) – though I read that Galactic Civilizations II addressed this (not that I’ve played it).


(6) The Fire Emblem series. I played a couple of these on Wii and Gamecube, and they are pretty awesome, almost enough to put them in my favourites. But ultimately they miss out for a couple of reasons: insufficient variation in types of enemies (mostly you fight different infantry and archers, with the occasional aerial unit thrown in – the Laguz, aka lycanthropes, featured in these games, to me are simply variations of the human units), and the fact that once you finish the game (with its walls and walls of text that can’t be easily skipped) there’s not much incentive to play through again. Still I thought these were very good and the stories are great (and I like the idea of permanent death as that forces you to be more cautious with your moves). I should note I haven’t played the most recent and highly-rated (according to metacritic) title: Fire Emblem Awakening (it doesn’t help that I don’t have a Nintendo 3DS), and nor have I played any of the related Advance Wars titles.


(7) Other games. There’s a bunch of other turn-based computer games that didn’t make my list, but I thought are still good for what they are. This includes The Battle for Wesnoth (great variety of scenarios and perhaps the best game of its type for iOS platforms, but a little-known PC game I’ll get to I found much better than this), Warhammer Quest (great at first, but quickly becomes a “rinse repeat” affair with fighting the same enemies in similar dungeons for the sake of getting some new item), Shadowrun Returns (very good but too easy and short, and didn’t inspire me to play again upon finishing), the Europa Universalis series (I have the first of these but hardly played it due to too much micro-management complexity and “real time” aspects), and recent indie games like Star Hammer Tactics (which I enjoyed a lot but it lacked sufficient variety in enemies and scenarios to keep my interest) and The Banner Saga (which starts very well and has some great ideas, but became too much of a “rinse repeat” affair fighting the same enemies on basically the same combat area). There’s also at least a couple of free online games (based on two classic tabletop games from the eighties) that I’ve yet to check out that could well be as awesome as they sound, namely Mechwarrior Tactics (turn-based BattleTech apparently still in beta) and Dark-Wind (a turn-based “Car Wars” style game).


(8) What’s not included in this comparison. I wanted to restrict this list to purely turn-based strategy games, so that means other “turn-based” type games weren’t included – this includes point-and-click games (and their text-based predecessors) as well as digital gamebooks (which I’m not in a position to make an objective evaluation of anyway).


So you may be wondering, if these are the games that didn’t make my list, what did then? Well read on and you may discover some relatively obscure gems that (I think) you should check out. I’ve selected eight games/series in all for my faves, so I’ll start from #8 and work up to my favourite:


8. Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land

I’ve long been an enthusiast of H.P.Lovecraft and co’s Cthulhu Mythos, and spent a hell of a lot of the last, er, twenty years running Call of Cthulhu role playing sessions (someday soon-ish I’ll do a post on my favourite Call of Cthulhu modules, given I have and have run most? of the official ones and a ton of “non-official” ones, but I digress). Not only that, but my own horror novel The Dark Horde is more than a little influenced by the ideas of the Cthulhu Mythos (but not Lovecraft’s writing style I might add, which I must say I think is quite abysmal in many respects – particularly characterisation and dialogue). So naturally I was quite excited (and somewhat sceptical) about a turn-based squad computer game based on the Cthulhu Mythos. I mean it sounded awesome, but would it actually deliver a horror experience and be true to the concepts of the Cthulhu Mythos? Well with Chaosium’s endorsement I had few doubts about the later, but making a turn-based game actually scary/intense is… well virtually impossible I think. But geez this comes close at times.

Released in 2012 on iOS, Android and PC, The Wasted Land by Red Wasp Design is a dark and at times quite intense and difficult turn-based squad game. Death is permanent (forcing you to redo the current scenario if any important characters die), but insanity is not (probably a good thing and certainly merciful considering how much your characters will bleed sanity in the later parts of the game). It does break some conventions of the role playing game, notably sanity and how easy it is to recover it, but that’s basically essential considering how much sanity you are primed to lose. The art style, sounds and atmosphere are terrific, the story/writing pretty good, the scenarios and enemies varied and the tactics required vary “a little bit”. I particularly enjoyed the earlier scenarios where my team wasn’t yet “tanked to maximise carnage and sanity resilience”, meaning that I simply had no option of trying to “clear the board” – no, the best I could do in these earlier missions was simply to try staying alive and keeping my guys together long enough to complete the mission… I wish the rest of the game had stayed like that, but alas it didn’t as I maximised my gun and airstrike skills, and my sanity-recovering skills. From about half way through the game, it became a breeze and nothing really threatened my team (which has to be a significant downfall in a “horror” game) – I simply kept a couple of guys with big guns on overwatch at all times, hit threatening far off enemies with the most powerful airstrikes I could muster, and maxed out on sanity-regaining magic to keep my team sharp and deadly. The much vaunted conclusion against a Great Old One and its supreme minions was over in um, a couple of rounds I think it was.

(From near the start of the game – before things get really messy)

It’s certainly shorter than say, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and with a smaller development team (and consequently more criticism of bugs on release – but I know all too well how difficult it is meet what I would call the public’s unrealistic expectation that indie games can be as bug-free as major productions when there might only be one or two people coding/fixing them). But I prefer this for a more clearly defined (and better) story, a greater variety in scenarios, personally more preferable “dark” artwork and sound, and for just being based on the Cthulhu Mythos. And there’s now another campaign available as well, where you play the bad guys J


7. Rimelands: Hammer of Thor

Most turn-based games developed for the iOS platform (and I would presume the Android platform as well) are really only suited for tablets where there is more screen space, and this includes every title mentioned above for iOS (with the possible exception of Chaos Rings). But here is a turn-based game that is actually designed to work well with a smart phone – you only play a single character and your movement is quite restricted, which combined with simple (but detailed) mechanics, makes it quite a perfect fit for smartphones I think. And it’s an awesome game.

Released in 2010 by Crescent Moon Games for iOS platforms, Rimelands: Hammer of Thor is a post-apocalyptic steampunk-ish kinda game where movement is real-time only until you reach combat, where-upon it becomes turn based (like Kings Bounty: The Legend for example). Maps are relatively linear, meaning that you can’t really get lost, and the story itself isn’t particularly memorable (well I can’t recall much of it anyway), but the graphics are excellent and the gameplay simple, strategic and addictive.

It is somewhat short (or so it seemed from memory) and the ending quite abrupt and unsatisfying (you get little more than “You win!” for overcoming what is easily the hardest battle in the game – though I read this has been addressed since). But for a cracking good turn-based game that doesn’t get boring and works well on a smartphone screen, this is the best I’ve seen (by far).

Battles are handled with dice and utilise a range of skills that you choose as you advance and level-up along three different skill trees (melee, ranged and magic). Combats are often quite difficult (and sometimes to be avoided!) and it does strike me that perhaps the skill trees aren’t completely balanced (ranged struck me as better than the others since I could defeat enemies from a distance without risking hits) but I could be wrong in that since I didn’t actually specialise in the others.

I just hope the developers get around to doing that sequel one day (this title being supposedly the first in a series) but maybe it didn’t make enough money to justify that…



This being only Part One means I’ll leave the rest for Part Two (and probably Part Three as well). My top six turn-based computer games are all games that I not only think are awesome, but they’re all games that I have enjoyed coming back to and playing again (and in some cases, again and again and again) – which for me is one of the ultimate tests of whether a game is truly great or not. Stay tuned!


(Click here for Part Two)

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A humble gift...

Humble Bundle Gift - Infinite Universe


So free stuff is awesome right? Well right now, I have a bunch of free Humble Bundle copies of Infinite Universe to give away, that'll let you experience this epic mind-bending adventure through space-time for yourself on PC, Mac, Linux or Android platforms!


Sounds good right? Here's what you need to do then to get yourself a copy:


(1) Either post a comment below, tweet or share this on facebook.

(2) Send me an email or PM on twitter.

...Then I'll send you a copy to enjoy! All you'll need to do is post the link into your browser and viola! the wonders of the Infinite Universe will be yours to explore :)


This offer will only last for a short time and while I still have copies to give away, so be quick!

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Brewin needs YOUR vote!

Need argue with a man, er alien, holding a gun ;)


So I’ve managed to get Infinite Universe nominated for Best Dice Game in the Best App Ever Awards… Now I just need YOU to click the button below to register your vote! (Voting ends March 15 2014).


Is it worthy of your vote? Well I think so ;)


 Vote for Gamebook Adventures: Infinite Universe for Best Dice Game


And while you’re there, why not vote for the Pocket Gamer 2014 Awards too… Tin Man Games is nominated for Best Developer, and Trial of the Clone is nominated for Best Adventure/RPG Game – just go HERE to register your vote (voting ends March 7th 2014).


Many thanks to all those who vote! (Your reward is in the life after this one haha)

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The Dark Horde... Now for just a dollar!

Do you reckon you will?


So in my crazy scheme to kick the number of downloads along more, I've made The Dark Horde ebook available to download on Amazon for only $0.99! This won't be forever, so if you haven't got a copy yet you may wish to...

You're already here so you can read plenty about The Dark Horde by browsing the blog or by going to the Works page, but there's great page here put together by HERE which neatly summarises everything you need to know; links, trailers, reviews, awards, it's got it all! :)

...That's all I wanted to say for today. But tomorrow I think? I'll be back to share some more big news (and not to do with The Dark Horde either) !


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Brewin's Gamebook Combat Simulator!

Brewin's Gamebook Combat Simulator Screenshot

Well this is something I put together for another gamebook system EDIT: which I can now announce is none other than J.H.Brennan's classic Sagas of the Demonspawn series, that is to be digitally released through Tin Man Games as announced HERE. An experience that is quite surreal for me since J.H. "Herbie" Brennan is my favourite gamebook author and a childhood idol: to say it's an honour is a massive understatement! ...So having done this work, it was a "relatively" simple thing to adapt it to other gamebook systems that I know others are/have writing/written for: namely the Fighting Fantasy and Gamebook Adventures systems. (The GA system involves quite a lot more calculation though, although from a player point of view, it's only slightly more complicated than the FF system).

So if you're ever writing for either of these systems, and want a tool to help you determine how hard a particular combat is, how long it will last for etc, then this is what you need... Or maybe you're just curious to know what your chances are of surviving a particular combat or series of them in XYZ gamebook. This tool will give you a pretty definitive answer... And yes, it also demonstrates points I've made before about how well balanced (or unbalanced) these gamebook systems can be.

I'll spare you the detailed analysis, as you're now able to crunch out the numbers yourself. With this tool, you can set Player and Enemy stats yourself, or use Max/Min/Average/Random Player stats, set a number of other variables for the combat, and then run 10, 100, 1000 or whatever number of trials you want and get a stats summary that can also be written out to a report as well if you wish.

Hopefully you can figure out how to use it (I've tried to make it a simple as possible). All you need is Excel 97 or later (maybe Open Office will work too, I haven't tried) and to enable macros...

Let me know what you think (and if you'd like additions)

Happy number crunching :)

Download Brewin's Combat Simulator - Ver 1-0

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Freeplay 2012 - Some personal reflections

Freeplay 2012
Yeah I know, I look pretty unhappy about only getting a top three finish don’t I ;)

Yes the subtitle is needed, as I’m not going to pretend that these reflections are in any way representative of the festival or the experiences of others… I managed to attend only six talks/panels/workshops on the last two days, and was briefly at one of the after parties, so I did but take a small sample of what was on offer…

Freeplay is Australia’s longest running independent games festival exploring the intersection of indie development, culture, arts and education.

This was my third Freeplay festival. I’ve previously spoken on the topic of “story design” at one of them (a spot I really only got because Neil Rennison of Tin Man Games recommended me), and for this one my Gamebook Adventures title Infinite Universe was nominated for best writing in a game, from out of 115 entries no less.

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News from the Land of the Brewin'

Yep... I can relate to this ;)

…I think one of my issues to address is that I don’t talk enough about what I’ve done, I am doing now or will be doing soon… I’m too busy actually doing it rather than talking about it.


So dear reader, I shall endeavour to tell you more about what’s been happening in the “Land of the Brewin”, which is quite-a-bloody-lot haha:

  • Gamebook Adventures 8: Infinite Universe gets Freeplay 2012 Nomination for Best Writing in a Game:
    This is news is actually a week old now, but it’s the biggest news of the moment for me. “Freeplay is Australia’s longest running independent games festival exploring the intersection of indie development, culture, arts and education.” (That’s the description from the Freeplay site). And each year they give awards to what is judged the best game in a variety of categories. Only three entrants are short-listed in each category, so out of 115 entries for the Freeplay awards (more than triple the previous year), it is a special honour to have my Infinite Universe gamebook nominated as one of them… (I think I’d be a shoe-in to win the award if it was “Most Writing in a Game” haha but unfortunately “Best” and “Most” are two quite different things).
  • The Dark Horde October promotion for Fiction Frolic / All Hallow’s Read:
    In order to boost the profile on my horror novel, The Dark Horde, I’m doing a lot of things over October, including the above promotion and many of which I am (somewhat frantically) organising now. In conjunction with hundreds of other blogs, there’ll be book giveaways, t-shirts, a book trailer, and hopefully a few blog articles about The Dark Horde, and some of the amazing reviews thus far. But before then there’s a few things to still get finalised, including distribution channels and newsletters, so stay tuned on that one.
  • 2012 Windhammer Prize for Short Gamebook Fiction:
    One thing I’ve gotten around to this year is to write an entry for the annual Windhammer competition, which as far as I’m aware is the world’s biggest gamebook competition. Competition is fierce with 22 awesome entries: more than double last year. Anyone can vote up to October 30, so check it out!

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Book Sale!!

Ignis Book Covers

If you’ve yet to get a copy of either of my books THE DARK HORDE or EVERMORE: AN INTRODUCTION, now is your chance as they just been reduced in price by 50% to 65% !

Available through Amazon in paperback and Kindle, this offer won’t be around long, so grab yourself a bargain!

The Dark Horde (Paperback) for £2.99

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Conversion of the Gamebook Adventures system to a 2D6 system

Fitness checks can made during any particular round to add 1 to your roll or deduct 1 from your opponent’s roll (and having the reverse effect if you fail the roll).

This article is even more esoteric than yesterday’s topic on probabilities in the Gamebook Adventures system, but it’s related and to those that are designing and writing gamebooks of their own, this may prove useful for their own designs…

Or at least give them ideas. There’s a few things happening in the “gamebook world” at the moment that could benefit from this, and so having done this conversion for a new project I’m working on, I thought I’d share my work, and to kinda follow on from my article yesterday.

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Probabilities in the Gamebook Adventures system

Probability Meme
Odds Meme
Chance of Success (not including FIT checks)
Average Damage when hit (not including FIT checks)
Average Damage per Round (not including FIT checks)
Chance of success for consecutive FIT checks
Chance of Success (including FIT checks)
Average Damage per Round (including FIT checks)
Impact of Fitness Checks on Chance to hit and Average Damage per Round
Adjusted Average Damage per Round (factoring in consecutive FIT checks)

Today’s article is all about probabilities in the Gamebook Adventures system (with some limited comparison to other systems, particularly Fighting Fantasy). Statistics can be a bit of a dry topic haha, so I’ll try to reduce it to the important elements for you… Well important that is if you’re writing for such a system or are interested to know what the game odds are… Beware though, there’s a lot of tables and charts incoming :)



Calculating probabilities for a system such as Fighting Fantasy is reasonably straight forward: (In a typical battle) you roll two six-sided dice for each combatant and add a given Skill score to each combatant’s roll, with the highest score dealing 2 Stamina damage to the other combatant. Use of Luck rolls makes it a little more complicated but not by much. You can “Test your Luck”; by attempting to roll two dice equal to or under your current Luck; in order to do one more Stamina damage, but failing this roll means you do one less Stamina. Skill and Luck scores vary, resulting in an exponential scale where even a few points of Skill difference make it unlikely for one side to win, even with far more Stamina.

For example, if your Skill is 3 lower than your opponent’s, then your opponent is roughly five times more likely than you are, to be the one making a hit in a given combat round, not including the Luck factor. In other words, if your hero has Skill 9 Stamina 24 and your opponent Skill 12 Stamina 5, then you both have about the same chance of winning…



The Gamebook Adventures system is considerably more complicated to calculate probabilities for (even though the rules themselves are of a similar level of complexity) and shares a similar but less extreme exponential scale, such that the outcome of a combat is not as much of a sure thing. Combatants roll between one and six six-sided dice to attack (as determined by their Offence rating) and between one and six six-sided dice to defend (as determined by their Defence rating). If the attacker’s highest roll is higher than the defender’s highest roll, then they do damage equal to the sum of all their dice. (And in the case of tied rolls, the two tied dice are removed and the next two highest rolls are compared, until no dice are left). In addition, the hero can make a “Fitness check” on any given combat round by rolling two dice under their current Fitness. This is similar to “Testing your Luck” in the Fighting Fantasy system, except that the advantage given is to add 1 to their highest roll, significantly increasing the chance of hitting or defending.

In the extreme case of 6 dice in Offence against an opponent with 6 dice in Defence, and including the two additional dice rolled for a Fitness check, there are 6^14 possible dice combinations for any given round (that’s 78,364,164,096 combinations). And to calculate the highest roll and damage inflicted for each of these combinations, is quite a task… But I’ve done this (well kind of; I had to take some short cuts, but the end conclusions are about the same) and this is what I present below.

This isn’t meant to be a rigorous statistics paper, so I’ll spare you comprehensive details of how I came up with these numbers… But basically I listed every dice combination out on a spreadsheet, so that I could be sure I was calculating correct averages etc, until the number of possible combinations became too unwieldy. I listed all combinations up to seven dice, which is 6^7 or 279,936 combinations. The numbers for the remaining eight to fourteen dice combinations I estimated using a “best fit” exponential regression equation. In other words, I took the half-finished set of values I had manually calculated and used them to apply a formula to estimate the rest…

First of all, we’ll ignore the impact of Fitness checks, and just focus on the chance of success (success being an attack that hits the defender) for each Offence / Defence combination:



So to interpret what these numbers mean, it’s saying that if your Offence value was 6, and your opponent had a Defence value of 1, then (not including Fitness checks) your chance of success (i.e. hitting) is 76.00%, and if their Defence was 2, your chance is *about* 57.77% and so on…

The yellow cells in the above table are where I had to cut corners as the number of combinations was too large to individually analyse. These are the values I extrapolated based on the trend already shown. This trend (as you can see in the above graph) is an exponential decline, where the degree to which your chances drop lessens as Defence values increase.

Here are some interesting conclusions from these numbers:

  • Even at maximum Offence (6) versus minimum Defence (1), you have at best a 76% chance of hitting. This compares to a 100% chance for a similarly extreme matchup in the Fighting Fantasy system, and to many other dice-based game systems where the best odds tend to be 95% (anything but a roll of one on a twenty-sided dice), 97% (anything but double-one or double-six on two six-sided dice) or 99% in percentile-based systems.
  • Conversely though, even at minimum Offence (1) versus maximum Defence (6), you still have a 7.33% chance of hitting (more once you consider Fitness checks), which typically compares to between 0% and 5% in other systems.
  • Typically your chance of hitting; without including Fitness checks; is lower in the Gamebook Adventures system than that for other systems such as Fighting Fantasy, Lone Wolf, Dungeons and Dragons and the Basic Role Playing system. (However when you do hit, your damage is typically higher than what occurs in these systems).
  • Increasing Offence or Defence has an increasingly smaller impact. For instance, you’ll see that Offence 6 is only slightly better than Offence 5, particularly against high Defence values. (Although I suspect it’s not quite a close as shown, since the values in the yellow cells were those obtained from extrapolation).

Now let’s look at the average damage inflicted when you hit:


It’s actually difficult to draw much from these numbers since you need to factor in the chance of hitting to say how much damage is done on average each round… The amount of damage done for any given Offence rating only increases slightly with increasing Defence (based on the fact that the higher the Defence value you’re trying to hit, the more likely that a successful hit was based on a high roll).

By multiplying the chance to hit, by the average damage done when hit, we come to this table (which is very useful from a design / game-balancing point of view):



So now we can start to see exactly how hard any given combat is. For instance, if you have an Offence of 4 and a Defence of 2, and are fighting an enemy with an Offence and Defence value of 3, then you inflict an average of 6.08 damage per attack, whilst your opponent inflicts an average of 5.44 damage per attack… Pretty useful huh?

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Post-mortem of a Book Launch

The latest covers for my three published works

On Saturday the 28th of April 2012, I held my “triple book launch” at the Royal Hotel in Clifton Hill. The video of my speech (which included me reading an extract of The Dark Horde that contains swearing and graphic content) can be seen here:

Attendance and sales for the day was broadly comparable to the “book launch gigs” I held (for the then-released versions of my Evermore novel) in 2001 and 2003. Well when I say broadly comparable, it was actually less. Here’s a reasonably accurate breakdown and comparison of my three book launches:

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The Dark Horde: The unreleased prologue...

The Calling Image 1
The Calling Image 2

Some readers have expressed an interest in knowing more of the back-story to The Dark Horde... If this is you, have a read of the complete prologue below that wasn't in the released book. Even if you haven't read the book yet, it's fine to read this prologue version if you want first...



I was once an avid believer in many things…

I believed in love, in compassion, in hope. I even believed in a God watching lovingly over us and that somewhere within the mystery of it all, there was a special place for us.

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(Click here for Part One)

So where was I? Ah yes I was telling you about who I am, well at least in terms of my history. Why am I doing this? Well aside from it helping you to understand my works I’m promoting through this site (and hopefully being an entertaining read!) it also helps you understand who I am. Which is in short, a freak haha…


A “limited” edition version of the cover for one of my books; limited to one copy!


I can actually recall thinking at the age of eight that I wasn’t remotely like anyone else and that what’s more, I didn’t want to be. Being “normal” or “like others” seemed so boring, the internal universe I predominantly lived in creating stories and games in my head, was so much more interesting… And in many ways, I haven’t really changed; I’m still the kid wrapped up in his world creating stuff, it’s just that I’m starting to release some of it now.

But rather than attempting to qualify the above statements much for now (that can come later maybe if there’s sufficient interest), I’ll just tell you about some of the cool stuff I’ve created over the years and post some interesting pictures:

This is a review of one of the more popular games I made (in the style of the Zzap 64 magazine) from 1989… It featured robot ninjas!


My childhood, like my life, was anything but normal. By the time I was eight, I was devouring gamebooks and role playing games and had started to write my own. Before I turned eleven at the end of 1985, I was running RPG, gamebook and “creepy-crawly” clubs, had written many stories (some over a hundred pages long albeit smaller pages than a typical book), gamebooks, games, club magazines and was selling and distributing them.

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Well telling you a bit about me seems as good a place as any to start for my blog. Some of the things mentioned here I’ll elaborate on over subsequent posts, but for now, here’s (the start of!) an overview of who I am and how I came to be here writing this post that you’re now reading:

Most people I guess, take a while to find their calling and some never do. This wasn’t my experience however, in fact I was only seven when I decided I wanted to be a writer, and this ambition has shaped my life ever since…


The face of genius? ...Nup, it's just the brewin :)

I was born December 1974 into a large family of Brewins but my childhood was more like that of an only child, as I was the only child of my mother’s second marriage (hence why I am Andrew Drage rather than Andrew Brewin) and most of my five older siblings had already left the nest by the time I was born. This environment lent itself to spending a lot of time on my own creating stories and games from about the age of six. My mother was awarded first class honours in psychology the day I was born (a story that was featured on the front page of The Age newspaper at the time but I’m damned if I can find this article now) and her love of knowledge and reading was fostered in me from as far back as I can remember.

I’m quite proud of the fact that the first story I wrote at the age of six was a horror story called The Dangerous World where everyone died, and it didn’t take long for my older brothers to notice my fascination with “imaginary worlds”; be that fantasy, science-fiction or horror; and they gave me this for my seventh birthday:

From the era when “role playing games” had nothing to do with computers and were supposed to teach you about the occult and make you want to kill yourself or other people haha


However it was all a bit much for me to understand at that point (that would come a couple of years later) but it contained a TSR catalog called Gateway to Adventure that I still remember fondly to this day. You know how you have those pivotal moments in your life where everything was different from that point onwards? Well this was one of those… And by the glory of the modern internet, I’ve not only found the catalog cover, but the entire document in pdf format as well:

I can remember looking at this catalog for the first time and thinking “Wow, there’s a whole world of stuff out there for me to get into!”


A trip down memory lane with all the awesome games and accessories that were in this catalog is now just a click away!

Sometime in the following year (1982) saw the next pivotal moment in my reading/writing/playing life. I was in a bookstore (as I often was in those days) and a new book had turned up that immediately caught my attention:

You mean it’s a book where I get to be the hero, fight monsters and collect treasure? I’m so in!


Suddenly “normal” books had lost their charm. This was a type of book where I was the one fighting monsters and exploring fantastic worlds… And best of all it was only number one in a brand new series!

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