Published Gamebooks I've worked on:

Some writing communities I'm involved with:

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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Announcing the winners of the Coffin Hop 2014 giveaway!

Coffin Hop 2014

(Image design by


And so another Halloween is over and with it, another Coffin Hop where horror maestros from around the world combined to celebrate all things horror and host some great giveaways in the week leading up to Halloween and where I teamed up with the Kintsugi Poets Societysharing their dark and delicious poetic delights. A busy time (again!) for me, but was great fun and a privilege to be involved! 

So without further adieu, here's the winners of my giveaway:



GRAND PRIZE: Signed paperback copy of The Dark Horde and digital copy of Gamebook Adventures: Infinite Universe – goes to Brandy Blake!

RUNNER-UP PRIZES: PDF copies of The Dark Horde and digital copies of Gamebook Adventures: Infinite Universe – go to Julianne Snow and Heather Powers!


Congratulations to the winners and thanks to all those who participated! Hope you had a great Halloween!

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Coffin Hop 2014 Day Seven - Hush My Little One

Coffin Hop 2014

(Image design by


There's just over twenty four hours left of the annual COFFIN HOP where horror authors and artists from around the globe come together to share their dark works and giveaway great prizes for just a few mouse clicks... So there's still time to win some really cool stuff if you're quick!

Right here, you can win free copies of my horror novel The Dark Horde - 3 copies in ebook (pdf) format, and if you win the grand prize, I’ll mail you a signed copy of the paperback version completely free! Or if you'd prefer, you can get a ebook (pdf) copy of Evermore: An Introduction instead (or a signed copy of the paperback version mailed free if you win the grand prize). 

Want more? Well I'll also throw in a free copy of my gamebook Infinite Universe (published by Tin Man Games) that you can read and play on PC, Mac, Linux or Android platforms for every winner!

(The free copy of Infinite Universe will come via a link that you copy and paste into your browser - I'm fairly sure this link will still work for you, but in the event it doesn't, let me know and I'll give you another free PDF copy of your choice of one of my books instead).

You can enter any time, as often as you like up until midnight on the 31st of Oct (US EST time). In the event a winner doesn't claim their prize within 72 hours of being notified, another winner will be drawn in their place.


*** Click here to enter Brewin’s 2014 Coffin Hop Giveaway ***


And continuing the "Terrible Myths & Legends" theme for the Kintsugi Poets Society where myself and fellow poets are sharing their dark, delicious delights as part of COFFIN HOP, here's another Arabian legend (that also appeared, albeit quite differently, in the gamebook Sultans of Rema I worked on, that was written by Gaetano Abbondanza and published by Tin Man Games)... Enjoy!




photo credit: 尽在不言中 via photopin cc


Hush my little one, dry your tears

Sleep my child, forget your fears


Mummy’s here now, you’re safe and sound

The ghūls are far away, underground


The graveyard’s their home, and there they stay

So you’re safe from them, if you keep away


They need to feed, do beware

So let another, find their lair


Let their sacrifice, feed their lust

And give their life, for someone must


Else the ghūls will stray, into town

Choose a target, and strike them down


When they come, they’ll cause no fuss

Because they’ll change form, to one of us


They lure their victims, with such disguise

So remember this trick and don’t trust your eyes


The one way to tell, if it’s a ghūl

Is by their hooves, that’s the rule


What’s that you say? You see my feet

Yes they are hooved, but there’s no retreat


Your mummy’s already dead, I drank her blood

It tasted delicious, a warm dark flood


And as her life, began to fade

I thought of you and my mind was made


I’ll eat you first, and then the rest

Because I like… Children best


So be still my dear and don’t you cry

Your tears won’t save you, it’s time to die


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Coffin Hop 2014 Day Three - Beware the Sandwalker

Coffin Hop 2014

(Image design by


It's day three of the annual COFFIN HOP where horror authors and artists from around the globe come together to share their dark works and invite you to join in the fun and win some great horror prizes, all for just for a few mouse clicks!

And right here, you can win free copies of my horror novel The Dark Horde - 3 copies in ebook (pdf) format are up for grabs, and if you win the grand prize, I’ll mail you a signed copy of the paperback version completely free! Or if you'd prefer, you can get a ebook (pdf) copy of Evermore: An Introduction instead (or a signed copy of the paperback version mailed free if you win the grand prize). 

Want more? Of course you do haha... Well how about I throw in a free copy of my gamebook Infinite Universe (published by Tin Man Games) that you can read and play on PC, Mac, Linux or Android platforms for every winner? Done!

(The free copy of Infinite Universe will come via a link that you copy and paste into your browser - I'm fairly sure this link will still work for you, but in the event it doesn't, let me know and I'll give you another free PDF copy of your choice of one of my books instead).

You can enter any time, as often as you like up until midnight on the 31st of Oct (US EST time). In the event a winner doesn't claim their prize within 72 hours of being notified, another winner will be drawn in their place.


*** Click here to enter Brewin’s 2014 Coffin Hop Giveaway ***


And continuing the "Terrible Myths & Legends" theme for the Kintsugi Poets Society where myself and fellow poets are sharing their dark, delicious delights as part of COFFIN HOP, here's another Arabian legend (with a little inspiration from the gamebook Sultans of Rema written by Gaetano Abbondanza and published by Tin Man Games)... Enjoy!





Beware the great hunter of the desert, the Sandwalker

Huge and terrifying its visage, a tireless stalker

By day it sleeps, concealed beneath the sands

By night it awakes, hungry, to patrol its lands


Deadly its venomous sting, crushing its mighty claws

Prowling the sands for victims, hunting without pause

A blackened, scorpioid beast the size of a horse

Wielding a beak so sharp it can slice steel with its force


And if this terror you should ever meet

Know that it will never relent nor retreat

Unerringly, methodically, it will follow your trail

Cover your tracks as you might, to no avail


Can this nightmare be slain? No one knows

Where it is said to dwell, no one goes

Of those that crossed its path, none have returned

Beware and avoid, only this has been learned



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Coffin Hop back for 2014!

Coffin Hop 2014

(Image design by


Been a bit quiet around here hey? Never mind COFFIN HOP is back once again, showcasing the dark wares of hundreds of horror authors and artists from around the globe. So come and join the horrific blog hop where each participating blogger is giving away prizes! Win heaps of awesome free horror stuff and all just for a few mouse clicks!

This year I'm combining forces with the Kintsugi Poets Society where myself and fellow poets are sharing their dark, delicious delights for your enjoyment on the theme of "Terrible Myths & Legends". And here too you can win some more great prizes, including dark poetic works and an Amazon gift card :)

And right here, you can win free copies of my horror novel The Dark Horde - 3 copies in ebook (pdf) format are up for grabs, and if you win the grand prize, I’ll mail you a signed copy of the paperback version completely free! Or if you'd prefer, you can get a ebook (pdf) copy of Evermore: An Introduction instead (or a signed copy of the paperback version mailed free if you win the grand prize). 

You can enter any time, as often as you like up until midnight on the 31st of Oct (US EST time). In the event a winner doesn't claim their prize within 72 hours of being notified, another winner will be drawn in their place.


*** Click here to enter Brewin’s 2014 Coffin Hop Giveaway ***


I'll leave you now with my first poem for the Kintsugi Poets Coffin Hop... With a little inspiration from the gamebook Sultans of Rema that I worked on (written by Gaetano Abbondanza and published by Tin Man Games), I've decided to share some terrible myths & legends with an Arabian theme... Enjoy!




It was I thought an abandoned tomb

An ancient relic, in eternal gloom

But within this eldritch, slumbering womb

Lay an imprisoned terror… And my doom


I found it as I crossed this lonely desert land

It was but a stone wheel, buried in the sand

Perplexed by this discovery, I knelt to uncover it by hand

Revealing an archaic portal, whose purpose I could not understand


Gripping the wheel, I struggled to wrench it free

Eventually succeeding, and opened this portal of mystery

Before me stretched steps untouched since antiquity

Obscured by a foul darkness, through which I could not see


Curiosity ruled my thoughts, and so I began to descend

Holding a flashlight anxiously, wondering where they’d end

Down a hundred steps I went, before reaching a bend

And came to a cavernous expanse I could not comprehend…


Strewn across the floor were artefacts of stone and clay

Smashed and left to lie for the ages to this day

Yet over the remains hung the heavy stench of decay

More recent, undiminished, filling me with dismay


As I stood in silence, puzzling over what I’d found

There came from the hidden depths, a tortured sound

An inhuman groan, so intense it shook the ground…

Then I realised, something fearful towards me was bound


My trembling torch cut a swathe through the dusty air

But where I’d heard the noise, there was nothing there

Overcome with horror, I mouthed a silent prayer

But my fate was already sealed – I would die in this lair


Then from the dancing shadows, it began to appear

Half a torso, one arm and leg, hopping near

Its head half a mouth and nose, a single eye and ear

It was only half a man, but twice the fear


Faced with such nightmare, I strove to disbelieve

But it was the dreaded Nasnas, I failed to conceive

Spawn of a demon, my flesh it began to cleave

Ignoring my cries, my slayer, its domain I would never leave…


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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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Visions of Madness

Artwork for The Calling - illustration by Bobby Mcglone

Today I’m giving you a sneak peek at some of the (pre-final) artwork for The Calling – a musical prequel to The Dark Horde

What you see isn’t the front cover (that’ll be revealed in due course!) but I love it. Bobby Mcglone, renowned Melbourne “heavy metal” artist, has done an amazing job I think, in capturing so many aspects of what The Calling is about: the final recording of Henry before the events in The Dark Horde begin.



I wrote about what The Calling project was in more detail HERE (where you’ll notice I’m talking about things for “2013” but let’s just pretend I said “2014” haha), and even better you can actually hear some of the music and narration from The Calling on the promo trailer that can be seen below:



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2013 Windhammer Prize reviews - Part 3: The Cream

Windhammer Prize


So here at last we come to what I judged to be “the cream” of this year’s Windhammer Prize for Short Gamebook Fiction. This part covers the entries that I ranked from 5th to 1st on my list. For my reviews of those I ranked 14th to 11th, see Part one and for my reviews of those I ranked 10th to 6th, see Part two.

These five entries below I considered all brilliant in their own way, eminently readable and more than compare favourably with published titles, some of which are considered classics in their own right. That there are so many amazing works coming out of the Windhammer competition I think is testament to how good writers in this scene are getting at delivering quality stories, compelling gameplay and pushing the boundaries of what gamebooks can be. I heartily congratulate you all (and just maybe, might be a little jealous haha).

But of course, as I’ve stressed before, these reviews represent just my (humble?) opinion. And I think it is certainly true that for any work, any work, they’ll always be someone that loves it and someone that hates it. So just because I didn’t rate your work so highly, doesn’t mean that someone else didn’t, so take heart! Just by being willing to enter and share your work with the world (and expose it to the judgement of others), puts you ahead of all the others who wanted to do such things, said they were going to do such things… and didn’t. (And that includes me!) So gamebook writers be proud of what you have achieved! J


Moreau (Zachary Carango)






MY OVERALL SCORE: 79% (5th place)


What I liked: Excellent writing with interesting, distinctive characters and situations refreshingly without a moralistic overtone. A fun adventure using a diceless system.

What I didn’t like: System itself is unclear in its implementation and has a weapon table that makes no narrative sense. Railroading of choices make adventure arbitrarily difficult.


As many (most?) of you probably know, Zachary’s Final Payment entry won last year’s Windhammer competition, and I quite agree it was astoundingly good (I gave it 88% overall with 9.5 for Story and Writing, and placed it third overall – only because I voted for my own entry and Paul Gresty’s Ookle of the Broken Finger got my other vote).

So I was expecting great things from Zachary this year, and he did deliver… Well mostly. The writing is as excellent as ever (as I’ve come to expect from Zac) and virtually faultless (not sure why I *only* gave it 9 for Writing now, but it mustn’t have blown my mind to quite the same extent as the masterpiece he produced last year I guess), and there was only a single typo I noticed. The story is well introduced (Zac sets the scene before introducing the rules which is also a very effective way to draw the reader in), and has an excellent mood/tone with interesting and distinctive characters. There is also a great sense of fun/abandon in some of the situations (e.g. the drinking game on Section 12) which is a refreshing change from what I would call “overtly moralistic” themes where you are penalised for not following the “righteous path” (for instance a particular gamebook I may have happened to edit comes to mind where you are heavily penalised for having a drink or two).

I really like the idea of a diceless combat system too, and whilst it does “work” and seemed sufficiently balanced for the most part, it’s not without (what I perceived) to be significant issues. One of these issues, namely the weapons table, I found to be so ridiculous that it made no sense to me at all and actually broke the immersion of the gamebook for me somewhat. To discuss why I had such an issue with this weapons table, let me paste it here:


Weapon Listing:

Machete ($0 Damage 5)

Magnum ($500 Damage 10)

Assault Rifle ($1000 Damage 15)

Rocket Strike ($2000 Damage 20)

Mortar Barrage ($4000 Damage 25)

Napalm Inferno ($8000 Damage 30)


Now for some reason never really explained you spend money for each attack (and it’s never explained when you are supposed to spend this money nor whether a spend is only for one attack, one battle, or permanent). -The only explanation given for why you spend money for each attack isIn addition to the machete and guns you carry on your person, the Vulture is equipped with a variety of powerful support weaponry. The stronger the weapon, the more expensive each use will be.” (The Vulture mentioned is your salvage ship). How this money is spent, nor why it should be on such a ridiculous scale in the first place is never explained, and I’m talking ridiculous in terms of both comparable costs and damage (as I believe will be quite obvious to anyone looking at the above table).

Now consider that each round you choose what attack to employ (e.g. I may have chosen to spend $1000 to do 15 damage with an Assault Rifle in the first round, to then choose to spend $8000 to do 30 damage with a Napalm Inferno in the second round), and then consider that this system is supposed to somehow be applicable in such situations ranging from stamping out a nest of fire-ants, to fighting a lobster man inside a restaurant, and you can hopefully appreciate why I had such a problem making sense of this table in any fashion. I understand that it was probably meant as a parody but even then it still made no sense, even to how the money was spent and affected ammo. I should add that Zachary had similar mechanics (consuming limited resources to influence damage inflicted) in his entry last year, but that made narrative sense there which here I found to be absent… So I found myself reimagining what the rules meant to something like this:

You have a supergun, but it has limited charge (measured in units equivalent to whatever your money is at the time). When attacking with your weapon, determine how much charge you wish to use at the start of each round by consulting the following table:


Weapon Charge:

Rifle-butt (0 Charge, Damage 5)

Single Shot (500 Charge, Damage 10)

Burst Shot (1000 Charge, Damage 15)

Spray Shot (2000 Charge, Damage 20)

Super Shot (4000 Charge, Damage 25)

Super Mega Shot (8000 Charge, Damage 30)


…At least then I could imagine that it was somehow meant to be a “possible sci-fi” world, as opposed to I dunno, a dream or something where I alternate between firing gun shots and launching explosive onslaughts of mass destruction (that only do slightly more damage) against opponents including ants of all things. Anyway I think I’ve harped on about that point enough (but it really bothered me Zac! What were you thinking mate!?) so I best move on…

Whilst it really was the weapon table that disrupted the experience for me, I did have another issue that comes up as a common gripe for me in gamebooks: The “you can only check one place at a given location before the narrative forces you onward” convention. For me, unless there’s a very good narrative reason (there usually isn’t), this convention only serves to make a gamebook unrealistically and arbitrarily harder, not to mention more frustrating when you know you’re probably going to get screwed over later because you weren’t allowed to check the other places at a given location. (My point of reference is always to imagine it like I’d GM a role-playing session: if I tell my players something that they would complain is unfair – such as being told they can look in the chest or under the bed but not both – then I don’t do it without good reason. Anyway I digress…) So anyway, this gamebook does a bit of that too, and all of these things resulted in me only giving this 7 for Design (despite liking the innovations for diceless combat).

Somehow though, through sheer luck in choosing the right locations in the right order, I did manage to complete this gamebook successfully on my first go. And despite my rants about the design (and in particular the weapon table) I did have a ball playing this because the story and in particular the writing and characterisation were so good…

I never could figure out the safe solution though, even after doing a search for the phrase “The safe clicks open” to see if I could decipher the solution after knowing the answer… Fortunately I didn’t need to open the safe to complete the gamebook (so long as failing to open the safe didn’t kill me, which it nearly did but not quite!)





‘Normal Club (Philip Armstrong)

DESIGN – 8.5





MY OVERALL SCORE: 82% (4th place)

·         Winner of the 2013 Windhammer Prize


What I liked: Well delivered humourous story with great innovations including team selection and integration of various character interactions using “filters”.

What I didn’t like: Quite difficult to obtain some clues, requiring luck and/or guesswork.


I actually wavered with this entry a bit. To begin with I thought “this is awesome!” but then settled with “this is very good but has some aspects I don’t like so much.” I mean I can certainly see why it won (having a pretty map and some eye-grabbing diagrams I think helps!) but in the end I decided I preferred the three entries I rated above this. Anyway it is a well delivered story that reminded me of something like Scobby-Doo crossed with Maniac Mansion with a very endearing funny tone throughout (even the rules, with comments like “If you don’t know what a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure is, it looks like you’ve got a cave to spend some time in and also a shark to be.” and in explaining clues: “They are mysterious and wonderful.”) The writing was solid, and well edited, but did strike me at times as repetitive or rushed and not particularly evocative. (For instance the phrase “hang out or whatever” comes up four times at differing points). I also thought that the clarity (rules and writing-wise) was fine, all things considered.

This entry features a simple design with a number of innovations I’d rate from “meh” to “amazing”. At the “meh” end for me is the inclusion of achievements that are only mentioned when you acquire them in the text that don’t seem to serve any purpose (while others are listed at the end), and a couple of puzzles that I thought were unnecessary – one is the “mindbending maze” (which is obviously a joke since the maze is so simple, leading me to question why it was even needed aside from “looking cool”), and the other is the block puzzle on Section 3 that I felt I’d wasted close to an hour of my life to solve for nothing other than a Delicious Chocolate achievement (that does nothing anyway). The use of the map (which is interesting, cartoonish and matching the “vibe” of the gamebook) and being able to select the characters for your team were good innovations, but the innovation I’d call “amazing” is the integration of various character interactions using what I call “filters”.

To elaborate on this point about “filters”, I’ve never seen a static (i.e. what is typically paper-based) gamebook do this, and I’m not sure if Philip realises just how significant this innovation is…  You see there’s a recent innovation that Tin Man Games have started to employ for their digital gamebooks called “filters” (I’m also aware that the excellent digital gamebook Star Breed did a similar thing back in 2010 but on a much smaller scale, and I think quite possibly Inkle’s recent eye-catching digital conversion of Sorcery! has been using a similar idea). In a nut-shell this idea is that you “filter” the text displayed at a given section depending on certain criteria. It’s a great idea for digital gamebooks, meaning that you can do a lot more with the same number of sections, but it always struck me that this was a step away from static / paper-based gamebooks as it couldn’t be done in such cases… Then comes Philip Armstrong’s ‘Normal Club to dispel that concern, because that’s exactly what he’s done. (It just means, by necessity, that he’s listed the various “filters” at the bottom of each section, with icons to mark where they appear in the section text). Wow.

Mind you, Blood Sword (which I feel compelled to add is I think easily one of the greatest gamebook series of all time) written by Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson between 1987 and 1988 kinda did a similar thing with its four different player characters – it just had to split the “filters” across different sections given these could be being played by different players, and so limits the cheating (at least in theory anyway haha).

Anyway the further I got into this, the less sold I was on its design. Initially for instance you are travelling to various locations to gain clues figure out where the rival paranormal Academy has made their discovery, but it turns out that many of the clues aren’t obtained through good detective work, so much as being lucky on the dice (which I wasn’t really) or making lucky guesses on where to look, all of which took some of the shine off this work for me. I wasn’t able to get many clues and those I did get were mostly red herrings, leaving me with a case of pretty much having to guess out of nine possible locations, since you aren’t allowed to visit a given clue location twice (on a sidenote, check-boxes are used to track locations already visited which probably isn’t necessary since it’s quite easy to remember where you’ve already been). So I failed my guess and that was the end of my adventure, but I cheated onwards a bit to see what happened then: and it seems to me that the trend of needing luck over good decisions continues…

Overall this work does have numerous innovations and highlights and is supported by an endearing story with humourous writing, but the weaknesses I perceived in its design and writing weren’t enough for me to put it in my top three this year. But perhaps I’m in a minority in this regard as it won this year’s competition… So hey, just ignore me J


Gunlaw (Nicholas Stillman)

DESIGN – 8.5

STORY – 8.5




MY OVERALL SCORE: 85% (3rd place)

·         Winner of one of the three Commendation Awards


What I liked: Good simple character generation and diceless system. Compelling, darkly hilarious, action-packed and deliciously gruesome story, with a hero who has all the attitude and survival instincts of some kinda badass movie (anti-)hero. Strong efficient writing that is imaginative, colourful and sets the mood excellently.

What I didn’t like: The jumpy nature of the story, from often one ridiculous situation to the next, and between differing character perspectives, can at times make things hard to follow. Story seemed to be over quite quickly considering there's a hundred Sections (but maybe that’s because I enjoyed it so much!)


Nicholas Stillman did an entry called Swordplayer for last year’s Windhammer competition, which I was really impressed by, not for its writing so much (although it still held up reasonably well on that front I thought), but for its design. It was complicated and amazingly innovative but I considered it lacked story, significant characters and often seemed bereft of detail. Anyway I’m here to talk about Nicholas Stillman’s entry this year of course, but I mention his previous entry because I did not see anything like this coming from him. Not only has he delivered a simple, elegantly designed gamebook that needs no dice, but one backed up by an incredible action-packed story, detailed world, distinctive characters and what I consider is perhaps the best writing of the competition: it couldn’t be more different from what he did last year… Is this even the same Nicholas Stillman!?

On a different day / mindset, it’s possible I could have even put this second on my list (maybe even first if I was drunk enough). This entry just oozes style and to me is a perfect demonstration of what you can achieve if you just “throw caution to the wind, trust your instincts and let your individual voice shine through”.

The design of this entry, while simple and incredibly effective (including being able to play as a male or female which is a plus), doesn’t even matter so much, because the writing and the story is so good (albeit at times difficult to follow but I’ll get to that). And in many ways this is a gamebook for the “non-gamebooker” who likes action movies and games, but gets bored with reading gamebooks, having to manage rules and trying to figure out a way to the end. It’s darkly hilarious, action-packed, features one of the coolest (anti-)heroes you’ll ever see and is deliciously violent. I listed that it was over so quickly as one of its “flaws” but that could just be because I was enjoying it so much that time just flew. In any case, I can always read it again can’t I? And again…

Certainly this won’t be to everyone’s taste (if games like Carmageddon and MadWorld didn’t appeal to you this may not be your thing) but so many passages in this I thought were just, well, awesome. Here’s just a tiny selection:


The mafia cops fire a shotgun through a senior citizen's rear windshield; his brains splatter on the front windshield like cherry pie.


Canfield enters a bar called The Hellhole. Nothing ever happens there except liver damage. Apart from the aging slobs embalming themselves, the place looks pleasant with its decor of houseplants. Lisa canes and cacti sit in a bath of techno music, wanting to die.


“Y'all look like turds,” Canfield says. The ranger puts a hole in five men at the table and kills the last one barehanded.

Reload. Travel. Like always.


Before Ray can flinch, a bullet hits his chin catapulting him over the table without his shoes. Maybe after surgery he'll have a cleft chin.

The city council would have goosebumps for a week, if Canfield let them live. Instead, they all get shot into a slump, spilling their brains on the tabletop. All goes quiet except for a moan from the floor and the patter of dripping blood.


Like I was saying, this won’t be to everyone’s taste (but what gamebook is really?) Oh and apparently he’s thinking of doing a graphic and disturbing horror next year (that presumably is a lot darker and more graphic than Gunlaw since he’d been reluctant to inflict it upon the competition yet).

Look out.

(But honestly, I hope he does! I won’t feel so bad being the only one then haha).

The only (minor) criticism that I can offer here is that sometimes the action is coming so thick and fast, and jumping around between different perspectives so much, that it can be difficult to follow just exactly what is happening. That and occasionally I thought the intentionally ridiculous descriptions went so far as to become a little contrived (but that’s a personal judgement more than anything I think), for instance:


Canfield's gut doesn't bother tightening up anymore. This posse amounts to short stature diabetics with gynecomasti.


Oh and maybe it is a little difficult to get the ultimate ending? To be honest I’m not really sure… I didn’t get the ultimate ending but was having an absolute blast with this anyway so it didn’t matter. Definitely a fun gamebook that’ll leave a lasting impression for a long time. Highly recommended.


The Independence Job (Marty Runyon)






MY OVERALL SCORE: 88% (2nd place)

·         Winner of one of the three Commendation Awards


What I liked: Awesome Wager system that is simple, strategic, rewards risk and fits in with the world. Compelling story with interesting characters and interaction. Very clearly laid out and hugely replayable.

What I didn’t like: Action seemed a bit rushed on occasion (description too brief).


This was another entry that surprised me in that I wasn’t expecting the author, Marty Runyon, to produce something this good. You see I didn’t rate his entry for last year’s Windhammer, Academy of Magic - The First Term, that highly (I rated it only 70% overall – which equated to 14th of 22 entries on my scale). But this same entry was one of two entries that won a Merit award last year (meaning that it’ll also be produced as an app by Tin Man Games soon) and I’ve heard from a number of people about how much they loved this entry… Anyway after reading/playing The Independence Job and how much better the writing seemed, and in particular the overall design, I have to concede that I may have misjudged Marty… Either that or he’s gotten a lot better (it’s a shame that he didn’t win a Merit award this year, as to me, his entry this year was a lot more deserving than last year’s, but oh well…)

This entry features one of the coolest innovations I’ve ever seen in a gamebook, and that alone saw it shoot up my rankings. This together with a compelling story, interesting characters and solid writing delivers an awesome gamebook experience.

To address this innovation first that impressed me so much, Marty has used what can only be referred to as “the Wager system” where you as the player accumulate Fortune points depending on how much you “wager” on a particular skill check. Each check specifies the minimum number of Fortune points you must wager; where what you wager determines the difficulty of the roll you must make; as well as what you stand to gain in Fortune points should you make the roll. (E.g. a particular check against a particular skill may have a high ante –that is to say a high minimum Fortune points wager, but “pay 3-to-1” if you make the check, meaning you get three times your “bet” in Fortune points).

What is so awesome about this system is that in one fell swoop it ticks all the boxes of what (I think) a good system should do: It is simple, it is strategic, it rewards risk and it fits in completely with the “gamebook world” presented here. Not only this, but this amazing yet simple innovation (why has no one ever thought of this idea before?) promotes repeat plays of the gamebook: even if you make exactly the same choices in the gamebook, you can still “gamble” your way through these checks (maybe changing your strategy) to see if you can better your Fortune points score. Wow.

Many times these checks affect story outcomes, but many times they don’t (just your Fortune points). This is probably by design though and considering how this still reinforces replayability, it can hardly be considered a “flaw”.

Aside from this, the system is very clearly explained and implemented and offers a very simple character generation process. The story too is designed in such a way that your earlier choices have a significant effect on how the story plays out: affecting not just events but also your relationships with other characters. Oh and it was pleasing to see that Marty has allowed for the reader to play a male or female protagonist here.

I really like the way the story develops, with the introduction laid out in an interesting way, and the story being divided into chapters as events progress and the relationships between characters develop. The writing too is solid throughout and well edited (I only found two typos of note). About the only criticism I can make here is that occasionally the description of action scenes struck me as a bit “rushed” but again, this is a very minor (and somewhat subjective) thing.

Overall this is an immensely replayable, well designed and delivered story that is reminiscent of a lot of “bank robbery” movies in a good way. The system innovations here are quite stunning (and revolutionary I think) and it is only that I was sooo impressed by what I ranked the best entry this year, that Marty didn’t get my top ranking. But now I know better than to underestimate him, and he’ll certainly be one I’ll be keeping my eye on now!


Out of Time (Paul Struth)


STORY – 9.5




MY OVERALL SCORE: 90% (1st place)

·         Winner of one of the two runner-up Merit Awards


What I liked: An intriguing and innovative design that is deceptively simple and yet mind-bendingly intricate. Excellent efficient writing that conveys mood and tension, and has great attention to details of people, places and language. Rules and story very clear. Story has some great twists and ideas.

What I didn’t like: Can break the design by repeating a given "loop" to gain infinite Determination. Occasional but minor logic anomaly such as time of day.


It turns out I had a premonition about this entry, which is kinda appropriate given the topic(s) it deals with. You see after the entry Paul Struth did for last year’s Windhammer competition, AETHER, I wrote:

Oh well Paul, I really look forward to what you’ll come up with next year: providing you avoid such a pitfall next time, I’m sure it will not only be awesome but could quite possibly win :)

-The pitfall I referred to here was an erroneous plot device that unfortunately broke the experience for me, but aside from this, I could see what a thoughtful design it was and what an accomplished writer Paul was to boot. Turns out my prediction was right, as Paul has delivered a gamebook so good, so intricate and so compelling, that it’s damn near perfect… But alas, perfection is hard to achieve (and I doubt that I’ll ever rate something much above 90%), and so even in such a stunning masterpiece as I consider this to be, I could find “faults” (not that I have any ideas on how you could even fix these minor flaws in such a deceptively simple but incredibly intricate design, but I’ll get to those minor “flaws” shortly).

I would have liked to see this entry win, but it doesn’t matter so much as it won a Merit award anyway, which means that it’ll be available as an app before long and readers around the world will get to see just how good it is. It’s (IMHO) one of the most ambitious story designs I’ve ever seen and the amazing thing is that it actually works. Did you “die” because you made the wrong decision, failed a check or didn’t have a particular item? Don’t worry, you don’t have to “reset” the gamebook back to the beginning and start over: that’s actually just part of the story and yes, things will be different the next time around. Death is not the final destination here, no it’s just part of the journey… But even such a description doesn’t do justice to what Paul has achieved here, so take my word for it (if you wish!), you’ll just have to read it for yourself and see what I mean…

So to get a little more specific (I’ve hardly said anything about it yet have I?) this is an amazing story that starts off great and just gets better. There is great attention to detail here; including the setting, historical places, dress, terms and language; great setting of mood and tension, great interweaving of thought-provoking philosophy into the story, and great mind-bending twists that when they came, left me gob-smacked with just how impressive they were. It is obvious just how much work went into not just the execution of this story but the careful and intricate way in which it has been constructed… I was reminded of something like the novel Playing Beatie Bow crossed with The Time Machine crossed with By His Bootstraps (particularly the later which I highly recommend if you enjoyed this gamebook anywhere near as much as I did).

In terms of game system there is very little here (not that that matters at all in this case), but what there is, is very clear. You have a single Determination stat to track, and on the rare occasion that there is combat, you are given all the rules you need then. This is a cerebral experience not an action-orientated one.

But even in something as good as this, there are what I judge to be “flaws” (I know, I’m a harsh critic, but hey, nit-picking is my job here right?). On the design side, it is possible to “break the design” by repeating a given “loop” to gain theoretically infinite Determination (this will make sense if you’ve played it), and sometimes due to the way you can move between sections, references to the time of day aren’t always accurate or consistent. But really, it’d be nigh impossible to avoid such minor anomalies in the context of a hundred sections, so this is a very minor flaw all things considered. Oh and it doesn’t really invite repeat plays once completed successfully (apart from being so awesome in the first place), but that’s really only because it doesn’t “end” on the first play-through.

There’s the occasional instance (well two that I found) where things weren’t completely clear (where the narration states on Section 12 that you have Czech crowns that weren’t previously mentioned, and on Section 30 where the church attendant apparently says the same words as before –and yet that was in a different language, but maybe that was intentional). And the only other thing I can criticise is that occasionally I thought the writing did a bit of “telling” rather than “showing”, but that can be interpreted as a matter of style as much as anything else.

Overall this is an exceptional piece of work that ranks in my mind as one of the most ingeniously constructed gamebooks I’ve ever read. Like those classic movies with amazing twists, I almost wish I could erase my memory just so that I could read this for the “first time” once more and be amazed all over again J


So that concludes my (highly subjective) evaluation / reviews of this year’s Windhammer entries. It is interesting to note just how few of them dealt with the “standard fantasy tropes” that were so prevalent in the days when a good adventure often meant a dungeon/castle/cavern etc filled with treasure and monsters just sitting around for a brave adventurer to come along and slaughter. Honestly, I can only think of this as a good thing, and to see how far gamebooks have come; the great innovations and awesome story-telling; means I think, that gamebooks have a very bright future indeed.


Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed my dribble, I mean thoughtful commentary!


P.s. For further reading, Crumbly Head Games have also done reviews of this year's Windhammer entries, which are broadly consistent with mine I guess (but as you'd expect, there's some differences in opinion) and I'm aware of at least a couple of others who have plans to do the same, but I'll provide links here if and when they do…

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2013 Windhammer Prize reviews - Part 2: Flawed Gems

Windhammer Prize

Well I’m back again with part two of my reviews of the annual worldwide Windhammer Prize for Short Gamebook FictionThis part covers the entries that (I considered) had aspects of greatness but also significant weaknesses (10th to 6th place on my list). Part one is here and covers (my rating system and) the entries I judged the weakest entries and part three (those I considered this year’s best) is coming in the next few days…

-I’ll also note that considering I scored 69% for Kieren Coghlan’s entry and today’s list starts at 70%, that entry should probably be grouped with these. But I liked the breakdown of 14th-11th, 10th-6th and 5th-1st… So there ;) Oh and if you suspect that I had difficulty in splitting this batch into a given ranking, you’d be right!


The Lindenbaum Memory Palace (Stuart Lloyd)

DESIGN – 7.5

STORY – 4.5




MY OVERALL SCORE: 70% (10th place)


What I liked: Educational aspect. Potential for the Memory Palace idea to be incorporated into a future work or "sub-genre of gamebooks".

What I didn’t like: Wasn't particularly fun or interesting (except if I was setting out to learn the basics of photosynthesis, as opposed to playing a gamebook).


Okay this is blatant speculation and quite possibly I’m way off the mark here, but here’s my theory on how this entry came about:

Stuart Lloyd had a problem. He loved writing an entry for the Windhammer competition each year (and seeing what others thought about his ideas etc), but he simply didn’t have the time to do a proper entry this year… He also had to write an exam on photosynthesis for his Science class at Abbot’s High School. Then he had a brainwave: why not combine the two tasks and “kill two birds with one stone”? Brilliant!

Well, in the mind of this reader at least, not quite. It certainly would have made the photosynthesis exam more entertaining for those who had to sit it, but for the “gamebook audience” it struck me as having little value unless you happen to have wanted to learn the basics (the very basics) of photosynthesis, or wanted a quick primer as to what a “Memory Palace” was…

There is a good idea for something here, I’m just not convinced (yet) that that something is a gamebook. But maybe there’s scope to expand on the Memory Palace concept into a “sub-genre of gamebooks”. Even so, a paper-based version has its limitations (which a hyperlinked PDF would get around), but putting the links at the end of the document simply meant that they were unlikely to be referenced (and I suspect they were unlikely to be referenced anyway, unless you really wanted to learn more about the topic as opposed to enjoying a gamebook). But given that the Windhammer rules prevent hyperlinked documents, this isn’t something I can score Stuart down for (it’s a shame entries can’t be hyperlinked, as that would make reading them a lot easier!)

There’s no real story here beyond "you have an exam, and a dream about the exam, now here's some questions for you to answer and characters/situations to help you remember them by." You start in a room that’s just a hub by which you access a list of other rooms in any order you choose until you decide you’ve had your fill of the experience (and presumably move onto another gamebook). Your main guide throughout this is a dwarf, for no apparent reason other than the author likes dwarfs (okay “dwarves” according to the spelling Tolkein invented that seems to have become the norm now). And you collect coloured gems for each question successfully answered, again for no apparent reason other than the author liked gems (and is reminiscent about the gem collecting in Deathtrap Dungeon as he mentions in his Youtube explanation of his entry here, which at least was part of the story in that gamebook). The writing is adequate for its educational aspect, but seemed to lack imagination for the most part and could have benefited from a more thorough edit with numerous minor typos like missing or wrong words and punctuation.

The minimal amount of rules to contend with here is clearly presented, as are the scientific explanations given and the way in which the questions were posed, with one exception: the question “Where will this sapling get the materials to one day become this mighty tree?” I thought could have been more clearly put as “Where will this sapling get most of its mass to one day become this mighty tree?” –The sapling of course gets “materials” from all three sources given as options, but it wasn’t immediately clear to me that I was being asked about where most of the mass came from, as opposed to which source provided the highest number of different materials say. (I failed that question and would have complained that the question wasn’t clear if I’d lost marks because of it haha).

Also, the super-nerd in me just has to point out that the process of photosynthesis (or what is a form of photosynthesis otherwise known as the “Calvin cycle”) as described here is a dramatic simplification. Some eighteen years ago, I studied biochemistry at university, and although I don’t recall most of the specific details now, photosynthesis is a much much more complicated process than the impression conveyed here. Have a look here and you’ll see what I mean (where it even mentions that “Hexose (six-carbon) sugars are not a product of the Calvin cycle. Although many texts list a product of photosynthesis as C6H12O6, this is mainly a convenience to counter the equation of respiration, where six-carbon sugars are oxidized in mitochondria.”). -I get that for the purposes of a “gamebook”, readers needed to be spared all that detail, but still, I do think that the interests of educating people about science are not best served by pretending that things are simpler than what they are (it’s part of the problem I think with the disconnect between people and climate scientists for instance, where people can be mistakenly led to believe that it can be understood in simple “lay man’s terms”; shit we still don’t even understand gravity properly, but I digress).

Overall, I think that The Lindenbaum Memory Palace is a novel attempt at turning an exam on the basics of photosynthesis into a gamebook, and one that is quite playable for what it is. Stuart is to be applauded for trying something different here, and fortunately it is quite brief (to minimise boredom and repetition of concepts), but ultimately I think this is more suited as a class-exercise for high school biology students than it is suited as a gamebook to entertain readers.

As Stuart corrected me following my last post, he and Kieran are the only two who’ve entered the Windhammer Prize in all six years that it has run, so that alone is a commendable feat, and I look forward to what they’ll come up with next year.





Tipping Point (Andy Moonowl)






MY OVERALL SCORE: 71% (9th place)

·         Winner of one of the three Commendation Awards


What I liked: Writing is powerful and well-delivered and the rules are clearly presented. 

What I didn’t like: System is marred by unbalanced combat and unnecessarily complicated by a lot of different dice rolls. Absence of substantial story and motivation for your character and some outcomes are railroaded.


So it looks like here is the start of my digression from what was collectively judged the best entries, considering this entry was judged in the top six (5th if the order given means anything) and yet I only ranked it 9th.

Andy Moonowl (who it seems is also known as Andy Robinson) provides us here with a simple but “rpg-like” character and rules system, that even provides rules for mass battles (which is cool though sadly I didn’t get far enough to try that aspect out). The story begins with a powerful and compelling intro that is very well articulated and delivered, and lets us explore a world in an almost open fashion…

That’s about where the wheels begin to fall off this gamebook cart, although as far as I could tell, the writing remains solid throughout. But I’ll elaborate now on its faults (and spend more time on this than its strengths, as the faults for me were sufficient to prevent me playing this more than once after fairly quickly finding my death)…

Firstly the system is unnecessarily complicated by A LOT of dice rolls, and not only that but different kinds of dice (D4s, D6s, D8s, D10s, D12s and D20s). For example, one of the two battles I had required me to roll four D4s, two D6s and one D8, and compare each of them separately against my armour each round – and that’s just the enemy rolls. Having to spend 10 minutes rolling 30-50 different dice and tally each one just to resolve a combat is not something that I think any rpg system should aspire to, let alone a gamebook system which should aim to be even simpler. Yes all those different shaped dice do look cool (especially when you have a whole stack of them in different colours), but aside from the usefulness of two ten-sded dice that can be used as percentile rolls and maybe D20s (the D20 system had its merits I think), I consider that most of these funny shaped dice are really just an unnecessary “gimmick” started by TSR (I think it was) when they called them “dragon dice”. You see for all those different dice, they don’t actually add anything significant that you couldn’t otherwise achieve with multiples of D6 and/or modifiers to D6s. For instance instead of a D4, you can just have D6-1, instead of D8, you can just have D6+1, etc, or for a larger spread of values you could have say 4D6-4 to get the same range as a D20 etc (though in such an event you’d probably just simplify 4D6-4 to 4D6, or even just 2D6 if possible and re-calibrate the scale). Even then, I think you still want to reduce the dice rolls further: for instance when fighting seven opponents, you don’t want to have to roll for each one of them, you just fight them as a collective opponent. All of these things that would have simplified combat have been disregarded here (is it really that important to have a bunch of identical opponents that you fight at the same time with different hit point values and damage dices? I doubt it).

Then there’s the issue of combat balance which I found to be lacking here. Having barely survived my first fight (which I note simply occurred because I decided to find a marketplace first before setting off for adventure), I was railroaded into a second fight without any chance to avoid it and promptly got slaughtered. This was enough to put me off trying again…

There may well be a substantial story here, but I didn’t see much evidence of it. My brave warrior arrived in the Caer Linnaroth with no real idea of what he was there for or even who he was. I agreed to become a tax collector as it seemed that was what I was supposed to do for the story, and then having helped myself to some of the King’s treasure (I needed it more than the King did, besides the King expected me to risk my mercenary life for free, so screw him!) I then figured I’d head straight for a marketplace to get some decent equipment before I got slaughtered. The guards at Lennua Market didn’t like the sight of the tax collector’s outfit the King insisted I wear, so I tried to go in as a normal traveller instead, at which point they attacked me. I barely survived but was forced to return the way I came anyway, whereupon I was promptly killed on the next section by an apparently “random” encounter.

So yeah, such railroading of outcomes and unbalanced combats put me off playing this one again… But apparently a lot of people enjoyed this so maybe I was just quite unlucky with these choices. However I think this experience does reinforce the idea that a “good gamebook” needs to be fair and balanced for all possible paths: it only takes one bad experience along a given path for a player to dismiss the whole thing and not bother trying again (regardless of how fair and balanced the other paths may in fact be).


Any Port in a Storm (Robert Douglas)


STORY – 8.5




MY OVERALL SCORE: 72% (8th place)


What I liked: Compelling epic story, with excellent characterisation and humanisation of the "baddies".

What I didn’t like: Numerous logic errors that can occur in the narrative. Writing suffers from frequent errors, including missing/added words, incorrect tense use and punctuation.


Were it not for the writing and logic errors, I think this entry could have been one of the best in the competition, and even without that, considering the awesome epic story here, I’m a little surprised that it didn’t get a Commendation Award anyway. Comparing this entry with the one Robert Douglas submitted for last year’s Windhammer, Nye’s Song, I only gave this one 3% more overall, but if anything I think it’s a more substantial improvement (owing largely to being more playable in my judgement). And as an aside I also recall that I did assure Robert that I’d provide more detailed feedback on what I perceived were the writing flaws with Nye’s Song but never did. My apologies Robert! But in consolation, I have made some fairly detailed edit notes this time around in anticipation that you might want them, so just let me know if so J

Design-wise, this was an interesting and effective entry, and I was quite surprised at just how long/epic the story is here (I got to the second last section on my first attempt, whereupon I cheated just to see the “ultimate ending”). Combat is nicely handled (with some issues around clarity mentioned below) using a “Lone Wolf style” matrix. The narrative did seem a bit “railroaded” at times, but within the constraints of the Windhammer competition this is probably forgivable as there’s a lot of story to get through here: there was a few occasions where I thought I’d almost reached the end, only to find it kept going!

There are some significant logic errors though that caused me to deduct points from design rather than story. In particular there is the plot device where you get five words (each from a different place) which you are required to assemble into a sentence to figure out where to turn to. This is fine except that you don’t need all five words to figure out the section you need to turn to (you only need a minimum of three of these words), which in turn is also fine except that the section you turn to then assumes you obtained all five words. This creates the potential for some strange story outcomes, for instance in my case I had four of the five words and yet on the section I’d turned to, I was having conversations with five different characters that I’d saved / were allies: only four of which I’d actually met previously (and stranger still, the narration described the fifth character I’d never met or saved, actually saving me: whoops). But there are a number of other logic errors too, for instance having the narration use a character’s full name when you’d only learnt their last name, sudden references to practices or the names of things that you hadn’t learnt yet, and a reference to having to find/save someone that you had (possibly) already found and conceded you couldn't save. Nevertheless, there’s a lot of design / story packed into this entry, so for the most part you can just choose to ignore the anomalies.

There’s also some issues with clarity of the rules and their application. The key for the combat matrix has “SD” rather than “ID” for instant death, and the example given is wrong. There’s a few places where the narrative asks whether you have a pistol or not, but there's only a mention of a "pistol" (other than a “flare pistol” which is an altogether different item) on Section 65, where it doesn't state that you pick it up – so I assumed I did. And there’s at least one case on Section 31 where the narration doesn’t clarify what happens if you neither roll over a given number nor under it. Lastly, the mention of Strength loss (and modifiers like this) in the text could be made to stand out more, e.g. by making them bold or something.

Story-wise, this entry was awesome. I really liked the way the story progressed (and continued on for so long), with some excellent characterisation, moments of graphic horror and sophisticated humanisation of the *cough* “baddies” *cough* (I originally used a more specific noun in place of “baddies”, but that’d be a bit too much of a spoiler I think). I did personally find the attempts at humour a bit “hit and miss” (particular in regards of the pointers to comments being in sarcasm), but that could just be my personal preferences more than anything else. There’s also a lot of different characters here, which in addition to the phonetic way their speech is presented, sometimes makes the story a little hard to follow. Also, from a certain point of view I guess some of the story borders on being a little ridiculous, but I take it that’s part of the point. It all comes to a satisfying conclusion anyway and is challenging without being impossibly hard.

And lastly, the area I think needing the most improvement in this entry, is the quality of the writing (and fortunately I think if anything this is the easiest area to address). To me it looks as if the only edit done was a straight spell-check, which isn’t going to detect missing / wrong words or incorrect punctuation that occurs quite frequently throughout this. There’s also a lot of “telling” rather than “showing”, which is generally a no-no in story-telling unless the protagonist has the ability to read others’ minds (which they certainly don’t in the case of this story). But despite all the flaws, I think that this entry is a ripping yarn that is well worth your time (and I enjoyed it more than any of the other entries I dubbed the “flawed gems”).


Dirty Instruments (Sahil Asthana)






MY OVERALL SCORE: 73% (7th place)


What I liked: Fleshed out, complex world. Solid, efficient writing.

What I didn’t like: Flawed combat system, random rolls determining crucial choices or outcomes, and loops where the player can be stuck in a series of identical fights. Supposed dark "adult" content also seemed quite tame.


This entry has the disclaimer: “Warning: This adventure includes explicit violence, coarse language, and adult situations which will not be suitable for all readers.” which filled me with (what turned out to be false) hope that this was going to be a dark gamebook with “adult” content. Unfortunately I was left quite disappointed and wish that there hadn’t been such a disclaimer to build up such expectations as it’s probably not necessary and in my judgement at least, an exaggeration of the content here. The violence in Robert Douglas’ Any Port in a Storm entry was more explicit, and especially so in Nicholas Stillman’s Gunlaw entry which also contains far more “adult” content than this does. The only genuine moment of “adult content” I found was one scene where you save a ten year old child from prostitution (which mercifully in this case isn’t anything explicit and could probably be read and understood by a teenage reader I think, without issue). The coarse language was also censored in Dirty Instruments – it was somewhat ridiculous to read “fuck” replaced everywhere by “fruck” (and I hope this wasn’t censorship on behalf of the competition organiser). Even Kieran used the word “mindfuck” in his Windhammer entry without batting an eyelid. I’ve read Young Adult fiction that’s got more “adult” content than this. Which of course is fine, assuming the author wasn’t trying to warn people about its content: it’s a bit like trying to tell someone who’s a fan of movies like The Exorcist and Hellraiser that they better not watch the latest Harry Potter movie or something, because it’s too scary. I should also add that I had in mind doing a Windhammer entry based on my horror novel “The Dark Horde”, which if you’ve read that you would know what I mean when I say that that would have definitely have been something with “adult content”, so now this just gives me more motivation to do that next year (and hope that it doesn’t get banned from the competition as a result haha).

Anyway, gripes about the lack of “adult content” aside, what we have here is a well-fleshed out world with solid, efficient writing that I personally thought occasionally lacked a little description and only contained two typos that I could find after reading through to the end and exploring all I could (and with A LOT of cheating to avoid broken loops as I’ll get to below). The rules are well introduced in the context of the story (i.e. you get story and make choices first and then the rules as they become relevant rather than the other way around, which is a great hook). But what lets this whole gamebook down though is the design, which was quite bad in some ways, but given the story and writing were so solid, I cheated to get past them anyway (rules, what rules!?)

For starters, the D6 combat system here is quite flawed. Combats quickly become almost pointless for being impossible to lose (and conversely, impossible to win if you start out with low combat stats). –Mind you, I think this same criticism applies to the Fighting Fantasy system (as I’ve stated before), but millions of readers have been able to overlook this (by taking SKILL 12 as the rule), so this is something that one can overlook…

The biggest sin in the design here though (IMHO) is numerous cases where random rolls determine your choices and outcomes: some of which you need to make in order to complete missions and without any actual player choice involved. The worst of these I think is the one that almost caused me to give up on this entry (I’m glad I didn’t as there is a great story and writing here). I reached a kinda “inevitable” situation early on in the gamebook where I was playing my assassin as, well, someone just doing their job, that consequently got me stuck in a ridiculous recurring loop of repeated combats I couldn’t avoid. Basically what happened (trying to avoid spoilers) is that I was being paid to go kill someone, so when I found him, I simply did what I was being paid to do (as any good professional assassin would right?). This and the character I’d chosen (the first one listed who seemed to have the best combat stats) meant that I was now a very Wanted man. A bit more happens and then you get onto your second mission (which takes up most of the gamebook) and this is where the design is unforgivably flawed. You get to a point on Section 54, where you have a choice of six sectors to travel to. Four of six of these sectors will guarantee that you get into a fight with the authorities that recognise you (due to your Wanted stat) unless you have a particular item that you cannot possibly have gotten yet. It gets worse: once you finish the fight, you are then directed to a random sector, even if it’s the same sector you were just in (why it is random makes no sense to me, especially given the damning effects this has). If you randomly rolled any 4 of the 6 sectors where this event triggers, you have to do the fight all over again and then roll for another sector and hope you roll lucky this time. The first time this happened, I had five consecutive (and identical) combats before finally escaping to one of the two safe sectors… I didn’t find the item I needed there and then had the fight with the authorities happen twelve consecutive times (I just cheated to skip these combats as it was becoming quite ridiculous by this point) and finally figured out how and where to get the item I needed to avoid this broken loop again. Hopefully you can appreciate why I call this an “unforgivable” flaw in the design (which is a shame as otherwise this was a mostly excellent entry).

My only other gripe was that there was also a lack of clarification about whether you can have item-modified scores above 10 (I assumed yes, otherwise these items do nothing if your stat is already 10 as some of mine were). All in all though, this was a solid entry with what would otherwise be very good playability that is hampered by over-reliance on random rolls and badly designed (and frustrating) loops. At times it reminded me of Zachary Carango’s Final Payment from last year’s Windhammer entries (which I considered amazingly good and gave an overall score of 88%), so if you liked that you ought to enjoy this one too. Just be sure to visit sector E first!


The Scarlet Thief (Ramsay Duff)






MY OVERALL SCORE: 74% (6th place)

·         Winner of one of the two runner-up Merit Awards


What I liked: Great story that is very detailed with a well thought out world.

What I didn’t like: Walls of text and information overload make for a dense and difficult read.


I have to admit, this review will be short as I only skimmed the surface of this one and didn’t get anywhere close to finishing it. It’s not that it isn’t good; it certainly is (of course I can say that now, since I know it won one of the Merit Awards!), it’s just that the way it was written made it difficult for me to get into it, and ultimately I gave up and moved on to something else (with apologies to the author for saying that).

It’s probably a matter of taste, but to me this entry is a fine demonstration of exactly how not to start a gamebook, or any story for that matter. The first paragraph is packed with information (descriptions and names of things) and it doesn’t get any easier from there. It’s followed by a newspaper article to cover stuff relating to the story (which does strike me as a “lazy” way to divulge story but anyway), and then another dense paragraph of mental musings to cover further events (again this struck me as a “lazy” way to divulge story), and then another radio announcement to cover further story. If you get this far then there’s quite a good punch as the story (and how it relates to you) actually kicks in…

I was reminded of DMing Dungeons and Dragons modules “back in the day” which apparently thought a bunch of players would be happy to sit through (and take in) pages of “boxed text” before they got to do anything. Sorry Ramsay, I think you lost me somewhere on the first page and it was only at the end of all fourteen entries that I came back to this to try and persevere and still couldn’t L

The rules are briefly (but clearly I think) explained at the end of the intro and the design seemed fine (from what little I evaluated) and then you’re hit with yet more long sections of exposition and “railroaded” action where you just read what happens and occasionally get to make a choice. It is an interesting story and detailed world, but ultimately this seemed to me to be more novel than gamebook. (There’s perhaps an irony, even hypocrisy, in such a statement since I am aware that some have said exactly the same thing of my gamebook “Infinite Universe", but I don’t believe I went to this extent, though of course you may disagree! Anyway it does reinforce in my mind that such an approach has its drawbacks).

Anyway, obviously a lot of people enjoyed and got into this more than I did… Maybe some day (when I have an abundance time: i.e. probably never) I’ll come back to this to give it another try as I can certainly see that it’s written to a high standard with a lot of effort put into the world. But sadly for now, I’ll just have to leave it there…


My next post will cover the five entries (four of which won awards) that I considered “The Cream” of the competition. Until then, hope you've enjoyed my reviews to date!


(Click here for Part Three)

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2013 Windhammer Prize reviews - Part 1: The Could-Have-Beens

Windhammer Prize

Once again the annual worldwide Windhammer Prize for Short Gamebook Fiction has concluded and winners have been announced. Now in its sixth year, the standard of competition and the level of interest generated is a credit to Wayne Densley for making this all happen, Wayne having this to say on it:

In the six weeks of the voting period the number of visitors attending the competition webpage more than doubled over last year, with a commensurate increase in downloads and voting numbers.

The breadth of diversity in the each year’s Windhammer Prize entries is a wonderful opportunity to look at what others are doing in the gamebook genre, their ideas and design innovations, and to (subjectively) assess what worked and what didn’t. I consider that putting together a (fairly) detailed set of reviews with scores as I present here serves a few purposes. One is to inform others that may or may not have yet read the entries, and present an opinion on their merits (with some slight spoilers I guess but with an effort to avoid that). Two is to assist the writers of the works themselves, by highlighting what I thought were its strengths and weaknesses. And three is to better my own works in this genre, by getting a better understanding of what I liked about others’ works and what I didn’t. Ultimately I think the more we can analyse and critique gamebook works, the more we can all get better at it, which has to be a good thing right?

The winning three entries were announced a couple of days ago (I’ll get to that in due course) and can expect to be seen in a Tin Man Games app sometime soon… Huge congratulations is owed to the winners for this and the three Commendation Award winners too (I’ll name them as I come to their corresponding reviews) and honestly, everyone who put the time into designing and writing a gamebook for this year’s Windhammer Prize deserves congratulations too. You are all to be praised and respected for submitting yourself to public scrutiny and are furthering the cause of creating better gamebooks that build on lessons learnt (well mostly!) and continue to “raise the bar”. Well done!

So once again I have reviewed and scored all the entries, and shall present them in ascending order from what I judged the worst to the best of the crop. I’ve used the same scoring system as I used last year which I’ll reiterate in a moment, but first I want to restate that these reviews and scores are merely the subjective assessment of one individual (like any review/judgement is), and so should be read with that in mind. It’s perhaps stating the bleeding obvious to say that, but I am conscious of how discouraging it can be to have something posted on the internet to the effect that “your work is poor” and certainly don’t wish to discourage anyone (even though I believe I did unfortunately in at least one instance following my reviews from last year). I mainly want to inform, to help others get better at what they do, and get better in the process myself J

Lastly, just consider what score I got in this year’s Windhammer Prize: 0%... I didn’t submit anything so that means that every one of the fourteen entries did a lot better than I did! But hopefully I won’t be making the same concession next year ;)


And now, here’s the explanation of my rating system from last year:

In order to rate and rank the Windhammer entries, I came up with my own rating system, based on what I considered is important. -Understanding the motivations and preferences of the person doing a review is as important (I think) as the review itself, so if you want more background on what I think gamebook design should aspire to, I wrote an article on it here.

I like putting numbers on things, to make them quantitative, but this has its limits too. Scores and ranks give the illusion of being definitive, but the score and rank you give for something can vary on any given day. -Even now I’ll look at these scores and think “hmm that score was a bit harsh” or “gee maybe I gave them a bit too much there”…

Anyway I scored each entry according to five categories, where I gave a score out of 10 for each category, and doubled the total of these scores to give an overall “percentage”. The five categories, weighted equally for the purposes of my score, are as follows:

DESIGN - The mechanics of the gamebook. Is it innovative? Is it an idea that works well? Is it fair? Is it too linear or too random? Is it too easy or too hard?

STORY - The plot of the gamebook and the setting created for it. Is it an interesting story? Is it too clichéd or predictable? Is the setting detailed and vivid? Is the setting consistent within its scope?

WRITING - The quality of the writing in the gamebook. Is it well edited? It is efficient? Evocative? Accessible?

CLARITY - The clarity of the gamebook. Are the rules clearly explained? Are the game mechanics as they are used through the gamebook clear? Is the action being described and the potential consequences arising from differing choices apparent?

PLAYABILITY - The playability and replayability of the gamebook. Is it fun? Does it lend itself to repeat play-throughs of the gamebook?


For sake of comparison, my ratings of the 2012 Windhammer entries ranged from 43% to 90% with an average of 72% and these 2013 Windhammer entries I’ve rated from 46% to 90% with an average of 72% (so roughly the same sort of spread). I might also add that I’ve made a start of assessing the Fighting Fantasy series in much the same way, with a range of 72% to 85% for the titles I’ve rated so far, averaging 78% (not sure if I should share these views though). But it says something about the quality of the Windhammer entries I think, that a number of them I rated higher than even the classic FF title Deathtrap Dungeon which I gave a score of 85%...

So now without further preamble (think I’ve done plenty of that already), I present my reviews. I’ve broken these into three parts, today’s Part One I’ve called “The Could-Have-Beens” those being those which I consider need a lot of work to be “good” (14th to 11th place on my list). Part Two I’ve called “Flawed Gems” with aspects of greatness but significant weaknesses (10th to 6th place on my list). And finally Part Three I’ve called “The Cream” those being the ones I judged the best (5th to 1st place on my list). In all entries I’ve tried to identify what I liked and didn’t like about it. Parts Two and Three will be posted on the blog here over the next few days…


The Thing That Crawls (Matthew Webber)


STORY – 4.5




MY OVERALL SCORE: 46% (14th place)


What I liked: System has some innovations of merit. Generally the writing quality is fine and is the strongest element in this work.

What I didn’t like: An overly complicated system irreparably undermined by unavoidable and unbalanced battles and Section numbers that are erroneous or missing. Story and characterisation is mostly absent, the setting non-descript and the conclusion (having cheated to find it) is brief and unsatisfying. Difficulty of play is compounded by the lack of a character sheet, reference tables that are difficult to interpret, and rules not clearly explained.


This entry marks the first time I’ve ever given a score as low as 3 for any entry in any of my five categories. I guess I try to find something good in everything and I’m not sure what it will take for me to score something less than 3, but me giving this entry a Playability of only 3 is about as bad as it can realistically get on my scale. Sadly, it is hard to see how this entry is playable to anyone, and I suspect that it didn’t undergo any sort of testing or revision…

What breaks the experience of this gamebook so badly, rendering it unplayable, is not only that the complicated system is poorly explained and cumbersome, but it is badly balanced against the player making it near impossible to survive without A LOT of luck (at least early on). To make matters worse, references to Section numbers are erroneous or missing, so you can’t even cheat your way through this. The starting section for instance has you fight a creature far more powerful than you (and it’s just a “wandering monster”) or if you’re lucky enough you can go to another Section to avoid the fight, except you can’t as you don’t know what Section that is (the one it directs you to is the wrong one)…

Even getting to Section 1 is an ordeal as you have to (try to) get your head around a complex system that is poorly explained. There is no character sheet to help you figure out what you need to record and even the reference table provided for the resolution of combat is difficult to interpret (and I’m still not sure if I interpreted it correctly). The “paper-scissors-rock” implementation of the combat system, where you match various stats against your opponents in a chosen order to determine who wins each round, has some merit but is overshadowed by complexity, and a lack of clarity and balance.

I find that not only does this entry “fail” on the game side of things, it “fails” on the book side as well. There is virtually no story, no character background, no characterisation and the setting is quite non-descript (do you want to go East or West? Such choices!) I cheated to find the ending just to see if it actually had much of a plot and found that the conclusion was brief, unsatisfying and to me, seemed quite pointless.

The one redeeming element of this work is that the quality of the writing itself is fine, albeit with the occasional typo, but struck me as uninspired for the most part.



Redundant! (Alessandro Viola)






MY OVERALL SCORE: 47% (13th place)


What I liked: The idea of managing Rage and Frustration levels has potential. Writing is quite punchy on occasion.

What I didn’t like: Everything seems to either be boring, frustrating, rage-inducing or potentially game-ending where most choices seem to boil down to simply guessing or rolling the right option and regardless of what you try to do, you seem to be constantly berated for trying to do anything. Story is sparse, with little apparent point (apart from reinforcing that everything sucks and you hate it all), with no endearing characters (including the one you play) or any depth to them. Writing is mostly mired in clumsy/awkward punctuation, and erroneous tense, verb use and sentence construction. Action and world details often not sufficiently clarified.


E-42, the name by which the character you play in this is known, is not a happy camper. His job sucks, his work colleagues suck, the world he’s in sucks, his parents suck… Basically everything sucks and he hates it all. Unfortunately that also sums up my sentiments about this entry.

This gamebook for me mainly presented a challenge for me of how long I could endure it for. Given a threadbare world and no motivation, you merely try to get through a day of work without either “leaving” (having your brain burn out by your Frustration stat getting to the same level as your Rage stat) or “snapping” (losing control of your body in rage by having your Rage stat get to twice your Frustration stat). Most choices you’re presented amount to either random rolls or blind choices, and on the occasions you actually can exercise some degree of choice, this malicious gamebook seems to only berate you for trying. Everything you do only seems to either increase your Rage or Frustration. Try to speak to someone? Nah they hate you so you can gain Rage. Try to help someone? Nah they don’t appreciate it so you gain Frustration. Get to a meeting late? Get ridiculed and gain Rage. Get to a meeting early? Gain Frustration as you interrupt a meeting already there and get ridiculed. Even simple tasks like taking a shower, trying to travel to your meeting, and actually being in a meeting, are all exercises in Rage, Frustration or both. And it didn’t make sense to me that you needed to keep increasing your Frustration to reduce the risk of having a Rage meltdown and vice versa for Frustration. This idea has potential, but not with this implementation (although it needs to be said that it was at least easy to follow the rules).

The time schedule worked reasonably well and was usually (but not always) clear, so at least that is manageable. It was unrealistic however, for instance you have one meeting scheduled at 00:27 and another a minute later in another room. Seriously, who has one minute meetings? Most meetings I’ve had drag on more than 35 minutes, which is the entire length of the time schedule given here.

What story there is seems to have little point other than to reinforce the point that everything sucks and you hate it all. There are no endearing characters in this work, including the one you play, and none of the characters seem to have any depth or personality really – they’re apparently just there to make your life more miserable.

The writing itself is occasionally quite punchy in its delivery, but mostly mired in clumsy/awkward punctuation, and erroneous tense, verb use and sentence construction. In addition, action and world details were often not sufficiently clarified.

So ultimately, while this gamebook was “playable” (unlike the entry I gave 14th place to), I found that it was an unenjoyable  experience. I was actually wanting my character to die so I could end playing this gamebook sooner than it did, but maybe this entry will present a worthwhile challenge for some?



Merchants of the Spice Islands (Chan Sing Goh)


STORY – 5.5




MY OVERALL SCORE: 56% (12th place)


What I liked: Design shows promise. Some aspects of the setting demonstrate sound knowledge. Sentences are easy to read.

What I didn’t like: A lot of record keeping and cross checking, and railroading of choices at times. Story shows a lack of understanding of the setting, particularly in the case of 1790 Sydney which makes the whole premise of the story implausible. Writing lacks descriptive elements, characterisation and significant plot. Neither buying nor storage of cargo are adequately explained, which is a crucial flaw considering that this is the central aspect of this work.


From a design point of view, this entry shows some promise, casting you as a spice trader in command of a ship and crew as you travel across South East Asia collecting and selling spices, and having adventures and misadventures along the way. The text is clearly laid out, making for an easy read, but the rules are not clearly explained. This I found to be particularly damning in regards to the rules for buying and storing cargo; the central premise of this work. For instance when you have the opportunity to buy spices, you have a list of options like this:

Cargo             Quantity Available                  Price

Clove                           7                                  5 Silver

Nutmeg                        3                                  5 Silver

-So does this mean I can buy 7 lots of Clove for 35 Silver? Or is that 5 Silver?

Your ship has only fifteen cargo spots (seventeen if you’re playing a British trader) but the rules don’t explain how these are to be used either. E.g. if I purchased 7 lots of Clove above, does that fill one cargo spot? Or seven?

Aside from the rules being unclear, they’re also quite cumbersome as they require a lot of record keeping and cross-checking of tables. Considering the theme of this gamebook, the detailed record keeping is probably fine, but the placement of the rules and tables could be made more accessible. For example it mentions on page 2 about forming your landing party and what base crew stats are, but the crew you select are only listed three pages later and you have to jump between the pages to get all the details you need to record. And the current European buying prices for the spices you acquire (a table you need to constantly refer to, to figure out what to buy and sell) is inconveniently buried at the bottom of page 8.

The story too is very weak, lacking descriptive elements, characterisation and a plot of any significance. Choices are at times “railroaded” (for instance following a fight in which I lost 3 of my 4 landing crew, I would have liked to be able to go to a marketplace to get more crew members, but instead the narrative forced me onwards towards almost certain doom if I was to get into another fight).

The biggest failing story-wise though, is the premise of the gamebook which shows ignorance of the setting being described and is consequently quite implausible. The story has you start in Sydney, Australia in 1790 you see, where step out of the pub “The Iron Ale” where you then head to the docks to inspect a merchant vessel you’ve just purchased from an old Captain “wanting to retire in New South Wales.” Before setting sail, a man present at the docks gives you a list of the going rates for spices in Europe and advises you to apply for a Company Trading License here in Sydney…

Now all that may sound fine if you don’t know any Australian history. But even a small amount of research would establish that the premise of this story is implausible. You see in 1790, Sydney was only a two year old penal colony with a population of about 1000, about 800 of which were convicts. These wretched souls from the “First Fleet” struggled with a food crisis that only began to be alleviated with the arrival of the “Second Fleet” in mid 1790 (mostly more convicts and various officials to maintain law and order). Actual trade only began in 1791 and the first “free settlers” began arriving in 1792. (1788 is the year cited as the year in which the nation of Australia was formed; then just called “New South Wales”; but this of course ignores the fact that Aboriginal tribes had called this land home for at least 50,000 years before that and were systematically wiped out by the British colonisers through dispossession, disease and violence and reduced to a fraction of their original number within a few short years). –But this gamebook seems oblivious to any of those historical details, and describes events as if you were in an established city with a vibrant trade… Whoops. As far as I could tell though, the historical details of the South East Asia region at the time (outside of Australia), and the details of the nature of trade and rivalry between European seafaring nations at the time, is at least accurate, but I didn’t investigate too far on that to be sure…

As far as the writing itself went, it was okay and clear, but lacked description and characterisation, had some punctuation and sentence errors, and did a bit of “telling” over “showing”. Overall, despite some good historical knowledge of South East Asia and European trade rivalries and generally quite clear text (but not rules), I found this to be quite an arduous and boring gamebook and I didn't persevere with it.



The Experiment (Kieran Coghlan)


STORY – 4.5




MY OVERALL SCORE: 69% (11th place)


What I liked: An interesting "philosophical thought experiment" that is clearly presented with solid writing.

What I didn’t like: Too short, and your choices make no discernible difference in the outcome.


Here you play a character that has gone to see Dr. Mullan for “the experiment”, and during this experiment Dr. Mullan concedes that “I'm the authorial voice of someone who didn't leave himself enough time to do a proper entry for this year's Windhammer competition.”

At least you’re honest Kieran ;)

What we have here is less a “gamebook” than it is an exceedingly brief "philosophical thought experiment" on free will and choice with particular emphasis on gamebooks. For what it is, it’s actually fine, it’s just that it’s over in five or so minutes with no real need to read more than once, as regardless of what choices you make (including stat choice), the outcome is the same. Sorry that’s a spoiler I guess, but it does strike me that it is a significant flaw to have a “gamebook” about choice and free will where in this case, your choice actually doesn’t seem to matter. That this is the case, seems (to me) to somewhat undermine the points the author was trying to make about the existence or absence of free will. I could agree with many (most?) of the points raised, but some of the conclusions I thought were inaccurate generalisations, for instance the assertion that Strength is generally more important than Intellect in gamebooks, and the statement thatSince every choice has a cause, free will itself does not exist. Gamebooks offer alternative choices, but the choices made are the only choices that reader could ever have made.

But leaving philosophical objections aside (the philosophical debate on free will is quite intractable besides, although I would argue that the existence of quantum reality disproves “Laplace determinism” but that’s a big tangent), the writing itself is solid and well-edited without being anything special. There is no real system to speak of, but in this context I think that’s okay. However the absence of any real story doesn’t leave the reader with anything that they can immerse themselves in. I like the philosophical musings this work prompts, but I think the way in which this was done in Paul Struth’s “Out of Time” entry was far more effective and interesting.

Overall, I think of this as a good intermission between other gamebooks that will keep you entertained for a few minutes but little more… Kieran's entry was short and by his own admission rushed, but I think if I'm not mistaken, he's the only one who has entered the Windhammer Prize every year that it has run (quite possibly Stuart Lloyd has too, I'm not sure EDIT: Stuart has informed me that he has indeed entered the Windhammer Prize in every year that it has run), so he's doing a lot better on this front than the rest of us! (And in addition he has a number of other published gamebooks to his credit, including the excellent Revenant Rising which I helped to produce, so he's certainly got a good track record!)



So that’s my wrap of the “Could-Have-Beens”, those being the entries I judged the weakest entries (and of questionable playability). Things only get better from here, so stay tuned for Part Two of my reviews - the “Flawed Gems” - in the next day or two J


(Click here for Part Two)

(Click here for Part Three)

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Announcing the winners of the Coffin Hop 2013 giveaway!

Coffin Hop 2013

Well Coffin Hop is over for another year, where once again I teamed up with a collection of stellar horror artists from around the world to celebrate all things horror and host some great giveaways in the week leading up to Halloween… An event which also raised money for the non-profit charity organisation LitWorld that promotes the important cause of child literacy!


Looking back over my post from this time last year, I still made reference to how busy I was, and although I should probably stop mentioning that, I think it’s fair to say I was even busier this around (a major deadline was met just yesterday / this morning for my day job, struggling to meet publisher’s deadlines – and not succeeding, a writer’s conference, a packed social (and family) schedule I couldn’t really decline, the launch of the promo video for my The Calling project and the pipe-dream of managing to enter the Windhammer 2013 short gamebook competition, or at least being able to review all the entries and vote – neither of which I achieved).

But that’s the price of productivity hey? (What productivity Brewin!? you ask, you haven’t realised anything this year!) So I guess I better shut up and get used to it… I can’t see my schedule slowing down any time soon (2016 looks quite open at the moment though haha).


So part of the onus I felt in mentioning the above, was to express remorse (and a little guilt) that I didn’t manage to visit many, er most, of the other authors’ sites taking part in this year’s Coffin Hop. So I’m in their debt I guess that they made time to view my posts (and even comment) when I hardly returned the favour. Furthermore, over the course of Coffin Hop 2013 I had 178 visits (circa 1000 hits) from 98 unique visitors, of which about half were new visitors to the Land of the Brewin, so I thank you all for coming and hope you enjoyed your stay! –This is roughly about the same activity as I generated for last year’s Coffin Hop, but considering I essentially was offering a smaller amount of the same prizes then as I was this year (minus the awesome Coffin Hop Anthology), I have to be pretty pleased about that. I’ll try to ensure I actually have something new to giveaway next year!


So aaanyway, I think I’ve rambled on enough. It’s time to announce…


GRAND PRIZE: Signed paperback copy of The Dark Horde, ebook copy of Death by Drive-in: the Coffin Hop anthology, and (if you want it) my last t-shirt on hand for The Dark Horde (size L) – goes to Anita Stewart!

RUNNER-UP PRIZES: PDF copies of The Dark Horde – go to Amy Marshall and Ash Krafton!



Thanks to all those who participated and hope you had a great Halloween!

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Coffin Hop Post 2: The Origin of The Dark Horde.

Coffin Hop 2013
A Unit, Timbertop 1989
Coffin Hop: Death by Drive-In Anthology

“Some things can lie dormant and hidden, festering for an apparent eternity, before eventually manifesting into reality… Such has certainly been the case with The Dark Horde!”

This is how I begin the acknowledgements section of my horror novel The Dark Horde, published for the first time in 2012. And it’s no exaggeration… It is with good reason that the book is set in 1989, for that is when I first began to write it.

A (dodgy) scan of my Dormitory photo from Timbertop, 1989

If I can pinpoint the beginnings of the story to a particular event, it was the writing of a short story for an English class exercise where our teacher, Russell Allthorpe (or “Mr. Allthorpe” as the students addressed him), asked us to write something on theme of “There’s something you should know about me.”

My writing has always inclined to horror, fantasy and science fiction in particular (even my first short story I wrote at the age of six or seven in 1980 or 1981 was horror!) and so I took that theme and created a horror short story. But what happened as a result of that story was unexpected. Mr. Allthorpe didn’t just give it top marks, he used my piece to set an English exercise on mood and pacing for the entire year. He cut my story up into individual paragraphs and set students an assignment where they had to work out the order that the paragraphs went in based on the building mood and tension. It was something of a revelation to me that my story should be considered an appropriate example for such an exercise, and began to foster in me a sense of self-belief that I was capable of writing fiction that others would respect and enjoy.

I present you now with this short story (unaltered save for typos). You may only catch the faintest glimpse of what would evolve into the story of The Dark Horde within this work, and indeed it wasn’t until 1991 that I actually began to write a novel under such a name, but nonetheless I still think it holds up *reasonably* well to this day… Well at least considering I was only fourteen at the time (and had yet to master certain concepts such as “less is more” and “show don’t tell”). Anyway, good enough to share I think, even if just for interest’s sake. J


The dark was cool, the air was sharp. All was fresh and crisp on a summer’s night. Two shadowy figures stood alone in the gloomy classroom. Only one would leave alive…

One of them spoke, “There’s something you should know about me,” he paused for a brief moment, gazing deeply into Mr. Allthorpe’s eyes and making his teacher feel a little unnerved, “Mr. Allthorpe.”

The taller of the two smiled and replied, “Oh yes, I know Andrew that you’ve got a little bit of an organisation problem and you need a little help.”

Andrew only grinned and took a step closer, shaking his head.

“You’re an asthmatic or… Or a loud snorer… You wet your bed at night perhaps?”

Andrew only answered with a firm no, shown by the movement of his head.

At this point Andrew shifted his iron gaze from Mr. Allthorpe and peered out through the panelled window. He stared for long moments at the mysterious, drifting clouds, as if anticipating something or waiting for something to happen.

“Is there anything wrong?” suggested Mr. Allthorpe, his lungs beginning to feel heavy and his hands slippery.

It grew darker.

“No, nothing wrong,” returned Andrew, his eyes once again firmly fixed on Mr. Allthorpe’s as if nothing on Earth could move them. Andrew took a further pace towards Mr. Allthorpe. Now only a mere metre and a half lay between them. The moon by now had half-appeared over the grey crest of one of the shimmering clouds…

“Please tell me,” Mr. Allthorpe said, almost begging. He was getting very anxious now.

The fluorescent moon, like a glowing dish, was unveiled. Andrew began to laugh a deep, mocking boom. Mr. Allthorpe’s eyes increased dramatically in size, opening up to the grisly horror that was now before him. His dry mouth opened up to a silent scream…

*               *               *

Crunch! Splat!

-Was all that could be heard from outside. Soon after, the classroom door was suddenly torn bodily off its metal hinges and a huge, hairy wolf bounded through it and away, out into the translucent moonlight…



As you (hopefully!) observed, I’ve gotten better at writing. But I see many of my tendencies, particularly when writing horror, in this early work. And more importantly I think, I kept going with it and eventually did publish my horror novel, even if it did take another twenty-four years! (But that’s a story I’ll elaborate on another time).

The Dark Horde has won a number of major international indie awards and the ebook version is currently available on Amazon for only $0.99 and the UK paperback version dis available (with free delivery) for only £2.99. 

As part of COFFIN HOP 2013, I am having a giveaway where you can win either one of three pdf copies of my horror novel The Dark Horde, or if you win the grand prize, I’ll mail you a signed copy of the paperback version completely free. (And if you already have a copy, I’ll send you a copy of my other published novel Evermore: An Introduction instead). The grand prize winner will also get a free t-shirt of The Dark Horde (if you want it that is - I only have a single L size one left).

Not only this, the grand prize winner will also win an ebook copy of the Coffin Hop Anthology DEATH BY DRIVE-IN featuring some of the best work of several of the Coffin Hop authors, released especially for this very event! (This competition ends when midnight strikes on Halloween - EST time in the US)

*** Click here to enter Brewin’s 2013 Coffin Hop Giveaway ***


The COFFIN HOP: DEATH BY DRIVE-IN anthology is available for sale here and the best part about this is that all profits will be donated to to help encourage children’s literacy throughout the world. The COFFIN HOP store is also selling a range of COFFIN HOP merchandise and the proceeds of these sales too, are being donated to charity J


To coincide with this special event, I have also released a promo video for my forthcoming project The Calling, which is a musical prequel to The Dark Horde. You can view the video on You Tube HERE. 

Lastly don't forget that the full list of all the other awesome horror maestros taking part. Happy Hopping!

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Coffin Hop 2013 is here!

Coffin Hop 2013
Coffin Hop: Death by Drive-In Anthology


It’s that time of year again… The time of COFFIN HOP when the veil between here and the other side wanes and those sinister forces that dwell there make their presence felt. The time when horror authors and artists from around this frail globe we call Earth come together to venerate all that is dark and horrifying. The time to revel in the darkness and to partake in the celebrations, revelations and cooperations. And the time to “blog hop” between the many many sites taking part and be in the chance to win stacks of awesome prizes!

So once again, dear visitors, I have a special giveaway for you. For just a few mouse clicks you can win either one of three pdf copies of my horror novel The Dark Horde, or if you win the grand prize, I’ll mail you a signed copy of the paperback version completely free. (And if it happens that you already have a copy, don’t despair! I’ll send you a copy of my other published novel Evermore: An Introduction instead). Not only this, but if you win the grand prize, you’ll also get a free t-shirt of The Dark Horde (if you want it!) bearing in mind that I’ve only got a single L size one left to give away…

Want more? Well how about this, the grand prize winner will also win an ebook copy of the Coffin Hop Anthology DEATH BY DRIVE-IN featuring some of the best work of several of the Coffin Hop authors, released especially for this very event! (This competition ends when midnight strikes on Halloween - EST time in the US)

*** Click here to enter Brewin’s 2013 Coffin Hop Giveaway ***


The COFFIN HOP: DEATH BY DRIVE-IN anthology is available for sale here and the best part about this is that all profits will be donated to to help encourage children’s literacy throughout the world. The COFFIN HOP store is also selling a range of COFFIN HOP merchandise and the proceeds of these sales too, are being donated to charity J


To coincide with this special event, I have also released a promo video for my forthcoming project The Calling, which is a musical prequel to The Dark Horde. You can view the video on You Tube here and also know that The Dark Horde ebook version is currently on sale on Amazon for only $0.99 and if you’re lucky enough to live in the UK, you can get the UK paperback version delivered free for only £2.99 !

Lastly, in closing, here’s the full list of all the other awesome horror maestros taking part. Happy Hopping!

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The Calling - Promo Video





Can you hear...


Can you hear The Calling?


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The Dark Horde wins Global Ebook Award for Horror

Aussie Gold!

Winners are grinners J


Just received the news that The Dark Horde has just won the GOLD MEDAL for Horror in Dan Poynter’s Global Ebook Awards!


So gotta be happy about that right? ;)


(Review and judges' commentary are forthcoming in the next couple of weeks or so...)

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Infinite Universe gamebook now available on Android!

Infinite Universe by Brewin' (Produced by Tin Man Games)

In the fourth millennium, the Mandellian Empire of the Tau Ceti system is at war with the rebel army known as DWORF. And lucky you have been chosen for a dangerous solo mission to kill or capture the rebel leader, through mind-bending loops of time and space. But wait a minute. Just who are you anyway? And how did you even get here? Such secrets you must uncover if you are to unlock your destiny...

(Infinite Universe trailer from 2012 release on iOS platforms)


A newly written story by Brewin’, illustrated by Josh Wright.

An all new sci-fi epic set within an all new universe! Our largest GA title yet!  

  • Nominated for Best Game Writing – Freeplay Awards 2012
  • Includes all the interactive reading and gameplay features found in the previous Gamebook Adventures titles, including an authentic e-book experience, realistic 3D dice rolling, automatic character sheet management, bookmarks and achievements.
  • Original story by Brewin’, editor of the first four Gamebook Adventures titles and finalist of international Writers’ Digest and Indie Excellence awards, that has been specifically designed to take advantage of the Gamebook Adventures engine.
  • Beautifully illustrated in colour by Joshua Wright, with cover and menu art by Dan Maxwell.
  • An exhilarating music score by Hanny Mohamed, world-renowned musician from Black Majesty.
  • Read the story and be in charge of your destiny as you make the choices! Where to go? Who to trust? What to do? The choice is yours!
  • Travel through times past, present and future, through far-flung worlds beyond your wildest imagination, to piece together a series of events that will amaze, amuse and entertain you!
  • New battle mechanics such as ranged and vehicular combat.
  • An innovative all new points-based skill system that is influenced by your own unique narrative. Choose the skills to suit your own playing style!
  • Play as a male or female character!
  • A detailed star map with extensive annotations.
  • An expansive encyclopaedia to cover everything from stars, planets and moons, to important personalities and organisations, to technology, to tips for survival, and more!


* Click HERE to get the App for Android *



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