The gamebook Sorcery The Shamutanti Hills takes you on a Fighting Fantasy adventure, where you have to take on cunning witches, funny goblin creatures and a powerful manticore.
A gamebook, what’s that supposed to be? Gamebooks are interactive books where you, the reader, make decisions, fight battles and thus directly influence the course of the plot. They are divided into numbered sections that you jump back and forth between depending on the decision or the course of the battle.
Game books are almost exclusively in the genre of fantasy and experienced their heyday in the 1980s. Those who play pen-and-paper role-playing games like “Dungeons & Dragons” or “The Black Eye” will find many similarities with the gamebooks, but gamers of games like Final Fantasy will also find themselves here.
The gamebook I am presenting here is not the first of its kind, but it is undisputedly one of the great classics: Sorcery The Shamutanti Hills was penned by Steve Jackson, one of the inventors of the gamebooks, who created the Fighting Fantasy book series and thus set the standard.
Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! series, consisting of 4 volumes was published between 1983 and 1985 and is also known in Germany as the Analand Saga. I have read / played the first volume and let me say this much in advance: I definitely want to continue playing!
Note on transparency: Mantikore Verlag kindly provided us with a review copy of the game book. However, this review is unpaid and reflects our independent opinion.
The Shamutanti Hills is Part 1 of a four-part gamebook series based on this adventure. However, you can also play each of the adventures separately.
Before you get into the story with a playbook, you first need to familiarise yourself with the rules. These are not too difficult and are very well explained at the beginning of the book.
Apart from the book, you also need 2 dice, as well as a pencil and eraser for the so-called adventure log and the battle board. These are printed in the book and you can either write directly in pencil or make copies.
First, you have to roll dexterity, stamina and luck dice for yourself according to certain rules. These will often change during the adventure, unfortunately mostly downwards.
Especially the stamina value fluctuates constantly depending on how much you eat, sleep, fight or cast spells. It also functions as your life points, because if it is at zero, you are dead.
In the course of the adventure there are always opportunities to refresh these values.
On the adventure log you also note your supply of gold, provisions, equipment as well as bonuses, punishments or curses that can be inflicted on you during the journey.
In addition, there is the combat board, on which you enter values for each opponent in a designated field. The combat system with dice is simple and quick to learn.
Important: You have to decide whether to fight as a warrior (beginner) or mage (advanced). The warrior is stronger in combat, but the mage can also use spells.
Since I have a soft spot for magic and am also looking for a challenge, I decided on the wizard.
At the beginning, however, you have to read the spell book at the end of the book. The rule says that you should learn many of the 48 spells by heart and then not look into the spell book during the adventure! Well, so much for the rule…
All those who are already familiar with fantasy role-playing games – whether pen & paper or computer games – will have no trouble at all finding their way around.
Even before the first section, the player reads the “Legend of the Crown of Kings”. This lays out the framework plot and establishes the goal of the entire Sorcery! adventure.
In a nutshell, a magical crown that gives its owner great power has been stolen by bird people and is now in the wrong hands, namely those of the Archmage of Mampang, a mountain fortress in the dangerous realm of Karkhabad. You have volunteered to make the journey to the dreaded realm and retrieve the crown to save your homeland of Analand from the worst!
The first stage takes the player to the Shamutanti Hills. You start each game book at section 1 and if you don’t die before then, you usually finish it at the last section, in this case 456. In between, you jump back and forth while reading, because at the end of each section you either have to make a decision or fight.
Examples of decisions in the game are whether to follow the left or right path, whether to approach someone and what to say while doing so, whether or not to enter a hut or cave, etc.
There is also a map of the Shamutanti Hills, but this doesn’t help you with most decisions, as some detours can be rewarding, while the seemingly direct route can lead straight into a trap.
I always chose to do so when there was something to try, something to discover or a place to explore. So on my journey I encountered an illustrious crowd of people, and not all of them were human!
Although not all the inhabitants of the Shamutanti Hills are intrinsically evil, suspicion is definitely warranted, especially when it comes to magical figures such as witches, giants or svinns (a type of goblin). I fell straight into a deadly trap on my first attempt during the adventure because I put too much trust in a certain creature….
With a bit of luck, I finally managed to get to the final boss of the first part in the second attempt. I had already weakened him with a spell and now tried to fight him, but the luck of the dice was not in my favour and so I had to cast a protective spell and flee.
But still: I made it through the Shamutanti Hills and am ready to start the next stage of my mission and fight my way through the trap-ridden port city of Kharé.
Sorcery The Shamutanti Hills is well suited as a entry into the world of gamebooks. The rules and the combat system are easy to understand and you can quickly memorise them.
Now a small confession: I played as a wizard and once or twice broke the rules and spiked in spellbook during the adventure.
If you really take the rules seriously, but want to start playing as quickly as possible and don’t want to learn a spell book by heart first, it’s best to set off on your adventure as a warrior.
When I rolled the dice for my initial values of stamina, agility and luck, I had a lot of the latter and was in a good position from the start against the first opponent. That’s probably why I managed to finish the adventure the second time around.
In general, however, there are many useful items to be found in the course of the story or to be bought from traders that help you, e.g. a sword that raises your dexterity (so to speak “fighting strength”) by one point as long as you wear it.
The fantasy world of Sorcery! is not overly original, but rather quite typical of the genre (at least in this volume), but that doesn’t detract from the fun of the game and the many, often wonderfully whimsical illustrations in the book are a real plus!
What I missed a bit was the reference to the framework story of the Sorcery! series. The Crown of Kings and the associated danger are mentioned at the beginning, but otherwise play no role at all in this first volume.
On the other hand, there are many elements that create continuity within the plot. For example, I found the torn out page of a spell book in a giant cave, which later turned what was actually a dicey situation around for me. And there are also some artefacts to discover that only become useful in later adventures of the Sorcery! series.
It’s worth mentioning that the first time I played the book, I did so with a friend on a long car journey in the back seat, which went surprisingly well and we both enjoyed it. So although it’s actually meant for one player, you can theoretically play it with two. In fights, for example, one of us rolled the dice for the respective opponent.
Are fantasy games your thing? Do you already know the Legends of Andor? In our games tips you will find many worthwhile new games. The Leisure Ideas portal also has lots of ideas for gifts and activities with friends, partner and family!
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