Weird of Oz Revisits Fighting Fantasy

Sunday, March 17th, 2013 | Posted by Nick Ozment

0426111757Rogue Blades Entertainment continues to put out fine new projects — though, I lament, with far less frequency than in days of yore.

Also in those days of yore (about two years ago, to be precise), for a brief, shining, halcyon period of time (a few months, to be precise), RBE hosted a website that ran regular blogs under the banner “Home of Heroics.” It was my good fortune to be invited into HoH’s stable of bloggers, and I made a couple contributions before that heroism-vaunting home vanished like the fabled city of Xanadu. I only got in two or three posts, mind you, because I was on a monthly rotation rather than the weekly slot I enjoy here on Black Gate.

One of those posts that I wanted eventually to follow up on was an account of my experience revisiting Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. My report touched off similar nostalgic reminiscences from several readers.

Since, as far as I can tell, the material that ran on HoH is no longer accessible, I’d like to use this St. Patrick’s Day edition of Weird of Oz to resurrect that post here — with an eye to reviewing other single-player gamebooks down the road.

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Solitaire Gaming

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

eia_front_cover_fullI should probably blame the whole thing on John O’Neill and Eric Knight.

It was Eric who introduced me to the true joy of war board games. Sure, I’d played many a game of Risk back in junior high, but the more I read about actual tactics, the more frustrated I became with the original board game which is more about luck than real strategy.

The late ’70s and ’80s, when I was in junior high and high school, were a golden era for tactical boardgames like Panzer Leader and Axis & Allies. I was aware of, but rarely played these games because when given the chance to game with friends, I chose role-playing over board games every time. I didn’t know how cool they could really be until Eric drove down a few years back and introduced me to the wonderful old Yaquinto board game French Foreign Legion and we had three hours of fun pushing cardboard counters into death-defying positions a la old Hollywood desert adventure movies. In those over-the-top extravaganzas every bullet counts and even the extras get dramatic death scenes.

I suddenly realized the fun I’d been missing, but I wasn’t well and truly hooked until O’Neill gave me an extra copy of Barbarian Prince and told me about solitaire boardgames. You can play a lot of games solitaire if you have to do so — as any younger sibling or only child can tell you — but it was never much fun to play Risk or Clue against yourself. Some games, though, are designed to be played solitaire, which is what drew me to Victory Point Games.

What I was REALLY looking for was a copy of French Foreign Legion (copies are very, very scarce, although Eric generously tracked one down for me as a gift). What I found was a solo wargame based on the Battle of Rorke’s Drift that had been inspired by one of my favorite movies, Zulu. Since stumbling upon that first game I’ve tried out a number of Victory Point Games titles, and today I thought I’d write about one of my favorites, Empires in America.

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All Hail the Barbarian Prince

Friday, March 30th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

barbarian-prince-256One of the great things about having a blog is that you get to celebrate all things cool. Books, movies, comics, games… if it keeps you up late at night, after your spouse has gone to bed wearing lingerie and a disappointed look, it’s usually worth at least a few paragraphs here.

Of course you need to take things a little more seriously when talking about the real classics, the enduring masterpieces that define our very culture. And that goes double when we turn our attention to the supreme achievement of Western Civilization, the pinnacle of some three billions years of planetary evolution, Arnold Hendrick’s Barbarian Prince.

Howard Andrew Jones did just that in his splendid post Return of the Barbarian Prince this week. It’s a terrific article and interview, capturing much of the fun of this sublime solo mini-game, except for his obvious lies about being able to win.

You can’t win at Barbarian Prince. The game is an existential commentary on the nihilistic underpinings of modern evolutionary thought. I thought that was obvious. All games end in ignoble death, usually in the form of a starving goblin tribe that beats you to a pulp and steals your fur-lined booties.

Listen, I’ve owned the game for nearly 30 years. Spent many evenings rolling dice and moving my lead miniature around the little map, befriending elves and exploring ancient crypts, and I have never won. Barbarian Prince is the beautiful girl I lusted after in high school.  She hangs out and flirts like a Vegas show girl, but there’s no way she’s going out with me.

At least I’m in good company. The distinguished John C. Hocking has never won the game. None of my friends have ever won. Only my false friends like Howard, who called last week to tell me he won a game on the first turn. Dude, if you’re going to fib, at least make it believable.

Well, the good news is that now you can experience the timeless agony of Barbarian Prince for yourself. Now you too can spend your evenings cursing up a blue streak and throwing the map across the room. The original Dwarfstar boxed edition is unspeakably rare (most copies were destroyed in a blind rage, presumably), but you can download the complete game here, and Todd Sanders’ new revised version is available here.

Howard tells me he’s mailing me a deluxe copy of the revised Sanders version, hand-made with carefully crafted components, which I anxiously await. Maybe a little of his luck will rub off on me. Maybe I’ll discover he’s adjusted the rules to make the game winnable. Maybe Todd’s revisions will clarify things just enough to lead me to victory. Or maybe there’s another tribe of starving goblins in my future, waiting to take my last copper piece and turn my skull into a drinking cup.

Time will tell.

Return of the Barbarian Prince

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

barbarian-prince-256If you’ve spent much time on the Black Gate website you’ve probably seen Barbarian Prince get mentioned at least once.

A solo board game from the 80s designed by Arnold Hendrick, Barbarian Prince is a little like one of those old “choose your own” adventure books, except that the order of events is far more random, for they’re generated by rolling on a number of tables depending upon your location on the map and are partly affected by choices you have made and gear and allies you may have accumulated in your travels.

It never plays the same way twice, and a lot of us find it glorious fun — although it is difficult to win. John O’Neill is a huge fan of the game, and he got me interested some years back when he gave me an extra copy he had lying around.

When I heard rumors of an unofficial redesign over at BoardGameGeek, I dropped by to take a look and was incredibly impressed. Someone — Todd Sanders, as it turns out — had gotten permission to create a new game board, pieces, and redesign the layout of the rule and event books.

The result was brilliant, beautiful, and a completely professional product.

It’s available, free, for anyone who wants to download the files and create their own version of the game (the original version of Barbarian Prince is also available for free download, courtesy of Reaper Miniatures and Dwarfstar Games).

I contacted Todd to learn more about his redesign and what had inspired it, and discovered he was responsible for a number of stunning games of his own creation.

We talked last week about game design, Print and Play games, and, naturally, Barbarian Prince. Larger versions of the lovely game boards can be seen by clicking on their pictures.

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New Treasures: At Empire’s End

Sunday, March 4th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

at-empires-end4Back in January Dark City Games announced the release of their latest solitaire fantasy adventure, Emerald Twilight, by Bret Winters. I seized the opportunity to order the handful of Dark City titles I didn’t have, including Oasis and At Empire’s End, both by George Dew.

They’ve all proved worth the money, but the one that has captured my imagination immediately is the science fiction adventure At Empire’s End. Here’s the blurb:

Growing up on the periphery is not easy. It’s a tough life, and to survive, you have to know how to deal with ruffians, swindlers and thieves. For excitement, and to pay the rent, you make your living as a bounty-hunter. The risks are great, but the payoff can be tremendous.

Your quarry this time is a dangerous pirate, armed and ruthless. Initially, his ventures were an irritation to the locals. But as his greed and daring grew, he garnered the watchful eye of the meagerly-equipped local authorities. Your mission, should you choose to accept, is to capture “The Duke” and bring him to justice. But you must hurry. The provisional government is weak, and with each of “The Duke’s” raids, society falls further into chaos.

You must find “The Duke” and neutralize him before it is too late.

At Empire’s End includes complete self-contained rules for solitaire play (the “Legends of Time and Space” rules), counters, a beautiful color map, and 302 programmed paragraphs. It is also fully suitable for one to four players, and can be run with a game master.

To promote the game Dark City Games created S.O.S, a short solitaire SF role-playing game, which we reprinted in its entirety here on the Black Gate blog in 2010. Check it out.

You can learn more about some of their earlier games on our summary page, and on this page of collected reviews. Or you can order At Empire’s End for $12.95 directly from Dark City.

Dark City Games Oracle’s Breath Now Available for iPhone

Thursday, October 13th, 2011 | Posted by John ONeill

o-breathWe’re big fans of Dark City Games’ terrific line of solitaire fantasy games. We’ve wasted many hours with these little wonders on the Black Gate rooftop headquarters, when we should have been plotting the overthrow of the entire publishing world.

Instead, we searched for the buried archives of long-dead sorcerers on The Island of Lost Spells, stood alongside Roman Legionnaires at the border between Gaul and Germania in Wolves on the Rhine, and plumbed the depths of an ancient ruin for a powerful relic in The Oracle’s Breath. There are publishing barons in Manhattan who owe their Perrier to Dark City Games, and that’s a fact.

Subscribers may even remember that we published a complete solo adventure from Dark City Games in issue 12 of Black Gate: “Orcs of the High Mountains,” by Jerry Meyer, Jr. Don’t tell me we don’t share the love.

Now comes word that Questland Games has made one of Dark City’s best adventures available for the iPhone: Oracle’s Breath.

Yes, now you can journey to a rich world of fantasy while everyone else in the staff meeting thinks you’re checking stock prices.

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Solitaire Adventure with Victory Point Games

Monday, May 30th, 2011 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

astra1This February I sat down with a copy of the excellent solitaire game Astra Titanus and shared the review with Black Gate web site readers.

Astra Titanus wasn’t the only great looking game in the Victory Points Games stable, but it’s taken me a while to clear my schedule so that I could try out some more of their products.

Today I’m going to introduce you to two more, one which puts you in command of what is arguably the most famous submarine in history, Captain Nemo’s Nautilus, and the other which pits you against a horde of fantastic creatures assaulting your castle.

Be warned! You may not return alive!

Well, okay, YOU will, but you might lose the game.

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Twilight Sector & Astra Titanus

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

astraWith Black Gate 15 just around the corner I thought I’d start devoting some time to some products that arrived too late for us to cover, or that just didn’t fit into an issue nearly as large as issue 14.

I was particularly taken by two science fiction titles. The first is a campaign setting, and while it utilizes the Mongoose Traveller rules, it’s in a completely different universe from Traveller itself.

The other is a solo tactical board game. If, like me, you name “The Doomsday Machine” as one of your favorite classic Star Trek episodes, it’s a must have, but it’s pretty darned cool even if you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about.

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Solitaire Gaming

Monday, January 10th, 2011 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones


Another great adventure from Dark City Games.

I blame the whole thing on John O’Neill.

A few years back I asked him about the solo Dark City Games adventures that Andrew Zimmerman Jones and Todd McCaulty had reviewed so favorably for Black Gate. John happens to have a larger game collection than most game stores, so I’d come to the right person.

Solo games were great fun, John told me. “Here’s an extra copy of an old game you’ve never heard of that’s really cool. Go play it.”

That was Barbarian Prince. And yeah, it was pretty nifty (you can try it out yourself with a free download here, along with its sister solitaire product, Star Smuggler).

I started playing and enjoying the products created by Dark City Games, which the rest of the staff and I have continued to review for the magazine.

barbarian-prince3But what are these solitaire games like?

The most obvious analogy is to say that solitaire games are a little like computer adventure games played with paper, with dice and cards taking the place of a computer game’s invisible randomization of results.

My first thought was something along the lines of “how quaint,” but it turns out that while the play experiences are similar, the flavors are slightly different, even if playing them stimulates similar centers of the brain.

It’s like switching off orange pop to try some root beer, or vice versa. You may not drink one or the other exclusively, but they both sure are sweet on a hot day.


"You mean your only plan is to stand behind a few feet of mealie bags and wait for the attack?"

While playing a solitaire game you may not see any computer graphics, but your imagination will paint some images for you.

And there’s the tactile pleasure of manipulating the counters and looking over the game board and flipping through the booklet and rolling the dice.

Solitaire in no way means that you will get the same game play each time, and to my surprise I’ve discovered that a well designed solo board game has better replay value than many computer games.

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Dark City Games Christmas Special

Thursday, December 16th, 2010 | Posted by John ONeill

raid-on-cygnosaWe’re big fans of Dark City Games at Black Gate. Todd McAulty first reviewed their solitaire fantasy adventure The Island of Lost Spells  in Black Gate 10, and Andrew Zimmerman Jones picked up the thread with a look at Wolves on the Rhine (BG 11), and Void Station 57 (BG 13). Howard Andrew Jones carries on the tradition in the upcoming BG 15 with a review of one of their latest titles, The Oracle’s Breath.

We even included a complete solo adventure from Dark City Games in Black Gate 12, Orcs of the High Mountains, and posted a short solitaire SF adventure by Dark City here on the BG website, S.O.S, a prelude to their At Empire’s End.

Dark City have re-captured the spirit of the best solitaire adventures from the dawn of role-playing, particularly the classic Metagaming titles like Death Test. Their games are easy to learn, quick to play, and a lot of fun.

To celebrate their success during the year, Dark City Games is offering a buy 4 get 1 free special on their website — a 20% discount.

Select any four games from their extensive catalog of Ancient World (fantasy), Time and Space (science fiction), or Untamed West (western) titles, and receive a fifth game of your choice free. The sale even includes their newest titles, such as Raid on Cygnosa and At Empire’s End.

And tell them Black Gate sent you!

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