FF59: Curse of the Mummy

Nicholas Campbell
Robert La Vallie
Leigh Loveday
S. Lucas




This is a cool fighting fantasy book with it's ancient Egyptian setting, undead mummies, temples and underground crypts and puzzles. Great entertainment and everything you'd want and expect in one of this books.

However, and it's a BIG however, the only fault is that it's absolutely impossible to finish without cheating as it's not balanced in terms of the strength of your foes. In other words, this would be a brilliant book and very playable if only it weren't so damn hard as to be unfairly balanced.

The villains and enemies you face are far too strong. You're routinely pitted against creatures with skill 10 or 11 right from the beginning, when previously these were reserved to special enemies and the main bad guy in earlier book. This means you've little to no chance of surviving your way through.

To even stand a fighting chance, you've got to start with maximum stats, such as skill at 12, or you won't get anyway! It's too unfair and isn't set at a level to give the average player a chance.

Cool book worth getting, but I mark it down a little for being needlessly tough and poorly balanced overall in terms of the game combats!


[Nicholas Campbell]

As you may well be aware, Curse of the Mummy is the last of the 59 gamebooks in the Fighting Fantasy series, and as the title might suggest, this gamebook has an Egyptian-style setting to it, with tombs to be explored, hieroglyphs to be deciphered, an ancient and fearsome mummy, Akharis, that is going to threaten Allansia if he isn't stopped, and an assortment of monsters that you would expect to find in the desert and in the tombs - i.e. a Sphinx, snakes, and lots of mummies. Of course, it's set in Allansia and not Egypt, but I wonder why this setting hadn't been used before in Fighting Fantasy.

Anyway, as with Jonathan Green's other two gamebooks in the series (Spellbreaker and Knights of Doom), Curse of the Mummy is ridiculously difficult, seemingly for the sake of it. Cue lots of SKILL 10, 11 and even 12 monsters that you must fight if you want to prevent Akharis' resurrection and the terrible consequences that will ensue. If you start with anything other than the maximum SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK scores of 12, 24 and 12, you might as well not bother and roll again. Still, at least you won't have to fail a SKILL test to complete the game. There's also a POISON score which starts at 0 and can go as far as 18 before you die, although thankfully that's unlikely to occur. The last thing I need is something else to make an already very difficult book even more so.

Curse of the Mummy has its good points, though. As with most of the later Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, there's a lot of addition and multiplication to do in order to prevent cheating, which I like. Later on, you'll be asked some questions about things which you are unlikely to have considered as being important, which I thought was particularly clever, even though you die if you can't answer all three of them. You're also given a large variety of options when you confront Akharis, although most of them are of little or no use in harming him.

However, these good points are outweighed mostly by its difficulty, and also partly by its linearity and lack of variety in the monsters you have to fight - although I quite liked the Accursed (monsters which are half-man and half-scorpion) and the Guardian of the Dead (a crazy, wild-eyed dog). In fact, Curse of the Mummy is so difficult that I felt the urge to cheat. It's certainly no classic, and it isn't worthy of having the honour of being the final gamebook in the Fighting Fantasy series. Then again, Bloodbones, which was going to be the 60th gamebook, was also written by Jonathan Green, and who knows how bad it could have been?

Rating: 5/10


[Robert La Vallie]

Curse of the Mummy is a Blessing

For those of you who don't know, Curse of the Mummy is the final installment in the Fighting Fantasy series of books. And, though it is unfair, it will forever garnish the title of the Final Fighting Fantasy book. After all, book #60 Bloodbones never materialized. And so, we have a desert expedition as our final foray into Fighting Fantasy.

In short, your quest is to defeat Akharis, an evil ruler from a former age, before he is resurrected. If you don't, he will enslave all of Allansia. And so, you search for Akharis' tomb in the Desert of Skulls. And you are not merely up against Akharis. You're up against time. Can you do it? Hey, you have 58 adventures under your belt. What do you think?

Curse of the Mummy has a strong "Egyptian" feel. It is a thouroughly enjoyable adventure. It incorporates all of the Livingstonic and Jacksonian techniques, including adding numbers to references, acquiring certain artefacts, and the traditional maze. Though it is not a classic, it is a worthy conclusion to the Fighting Fantasy series.

Rating: 7.0/10




This gamebook, credited to Jackson and Livingstone but authored by Jonathan Green, is set in an ancient Egyptian pyramid-themed setting centred on mummies. Like the rest of the Fighting Fantasy series, it is a second-person gamebook in which the reader takes on the role of a player-character who has to complete an adventure through a combination of choices of actions, problem and puzzle solving, and successful dice rolls. The apocalyptic scenario will be familiar to readers of Jonathan Green's other gamebooks, such as Spellbreaker, Knights of Doom and Bloodbones. Green's gamebooks follow a predictable pattern, with several villains, a long multi-sectioned storyline and a fiendish difficulty level requiring the player to defeat numerous hard opponents and follow all the various side-paths the author has worked into the story. They also tend to be well-written on the level of scenario construction, with plenty of atmosphere and a clearly themed setting.

As a story, the book is suitably epic, if rather one-dimensional. Starting out in the port city of Rimon, the player-character is handed a quest from a short-lived companion: to stop an evil cult from resurrecting the evil mummy Akharis. This requires first of all travelling to some ruins by an oasis, where a puzzle will have to be deciphered to learn the location of the mummy's tomb. The player must then venture into the tomb, finding a way through its winding, splitting passageways to the mummy's burial chamber and beyond. Rather unbelievably, the tomb leads down to an underground river and then an entire underground city, where the player will take on the villains of the piece, including Akharis - twice - and the cultist high priestess, as well as a supporting cast of mummies and cultists. Along the way, the player will encounter a plethora of mummies, guardian spirits, snakes and other desert-themed enemies and allies, as well as a couple of the ancient gods themselves. It's simplistic, rather B-movie-ish, but at least sticks to the scenario pretty closely.

As a gamebook, Curse of the Mummy definitely errs on the side of frustrating. Even with the rewriting of this book to reduce somewhat its original difficulty, this is still a fiendishly difficult adventure. Successful completion requires taking a long, circuitous route, solving a difficult maths problem, and guessing correctly which of the various routes to the final section is the right one. A number of items have to be collected and others not collected, on pain of the character's death; many other items are red herrings, and only at the very end does it become clear what is needed and what is not. There's still a fair number of relatively high-level adversaries, a lot of luck and skill rolls leading to death, and unlucky choices and premature shortcuts to the end which lead to sudden death. In addition, the storyline is extremely long, with very few paragraphs taken up with genuine alternative pathways and the correct route requiring the player to go through most of the side-routes available. The length can be a test of the player's patience. This is not helped by the linearity of the early sections and over-use of dead-ends and rooms which simply turn back to the other option. The dungeon crawl section inside the tomb is interesting enough, but frustrating in that one has to spend ages getting there each time. Having to replay the linear early sections every time, to get to the problem-solving part is frustrating. This kind of scenario is done a lot better in "Master of Chaos" which uses a far less restrictive gamebook architecture.


[Leigh Loveday]

Ah, FF59: the legendary final campaign of a once-mighty empire (current resurgence notwithstanding until it turns up some new spoils). Was it really only nine years ago? Looking back it's easy to wish for a more memorable final engagement, but in the absence of forward planning on Penguin's part, this is what we're left with - a frankly half-arsed, semi-literate slog through just about every Ancient Egyptian cliché known to man.

What's particularly disheartening about Curse of the Mummy is the sheer lack of things that make it stand out. Apart from being the only FF to use either the words 'Curse' or 'Mummy' in its title (which, seeing as we'd already had all manner of repetitions by that point, is a bigger distinction than you might think), its only other notable feature is its accidental position as series closer. Which is a shame, obviously, what with so many of us waiting with bated breath for FF60: Island of the Firetop Mountain of Doom and FF61: Legend of Death and Chaos of the Vampire.

Start at the very beginning, then. A fairly standard FF cover in the 'single figure, centre stage' style so beloved of Mr. Mason, depicting your festering arch-foe Akharis throwing down one of his most dramatic evil clutching poses for the camera. Not a classic FF shelf-jumper like the Shapechanger or Bloodbeast, but it does the job and probably is about as exciting as a picture of a Mummy will ever get.

Shame about the title fonts, which continue down the long-established line of choices that may conceivably have looked good in the mind's eye of the tea boy blessed with such decisions (because nobody higher up gave a toss by that point).

See here: http://www.advancedfightingfantasy.com/ff59.htm

The epic, age-spanning background to your mission in Curse of the Mummy serves as its only appropriate quality for a series finisher, even if the story wrapped around this framework is paper-thin. You can't help but be interested in a scenario which pits you against an enemy born before the shaping of the continents. True, after the first few encounters you realise with a heavy heart that this mighty confrontation is going to boil down to a hackfest with a Skill 13 boss followed by a slim chance of escape from the latest in a long line of collapsing temples - bloody terrible architects, these Disciples of Evil - but hey, that's FF for you. In fact that's pretty much fantasy in general. But it's still a shame that the ambition and scope hinted at in Akharis' origins couldn't stretch to spicing up the reader's quest with a few more tricks and twists, or in fact stretch beyond the Background section at all.

Serviceable. More evocative at some times than others, and not as totally flat and dispassionate as certain other entries in the FF canon, but on the whole there's nothing here to suggest an author with a handful of books already under his belt. Curse of the Mummy feels like it's trying to invoke an alternate version of Ancient Egypt in the same way that Sword of the Samurai brought you its own spin on Ancient Japan, but the dull setting and unambitious writing make it a hit-and-miss attempt at best.

It doesn't appear to have been overly troubled by those pesky editors or proofreaders either, as you'll occasionally stumble across a phrase so superfluous or cack-handedly stitched together as to make you cry snot. If the exquisite grammar of "you cannot injure your opponent until you have got free" isn't enough for you, try the spectacularly informative "this finely-crafted telescope allows you to see things that are a long way off", or my personal favourite, "after several thousand years, most of the food left for Akharis to consume in the afterlife has spoiled". Genius.

There's also an air of naïveté throughout which manages to be irritating rather than charming, as seen in scenarios such as the one in which you can reduce all future battle damage by 1 Stamina point simply by rubbing yourself all over with embalming fluid. You know - like all the best heroes do.

Lastly, the story gives off mixed messages, one of the most aggravating of all gamebook faults. The best outcome from even the very first encounter doesn't arise from the most sensible choice, and although you receive the standard punishment throughout the book for displaying greed over caution, in order to make good your escape at the end you'll have to ignore all that and go against every instinct you've got. Well, except the one that tells you not to rely on such simplistic things as logic and experience when it's Jonathan Green you're dealing with.

You can always rely on Martin McKenna to produce something solid if not spectacular, and the fact that he blagged both cover and interior illustration duties on this one makes the portrayal of Akharis, at least, a lot more consistent. Other than that, the internal stuff is of a generally decent standard, with a few variations either way (there are a handful of pictures that look rushed or half-finished, which is all the more disappointing in light of the more memorable ones - including the impressive close-up of Akharis and the one of everyone's favourite crazy mofo devil dog, the Guardian of the Dead).

The beasties that you'll encounter thankfully aren't too drab a bunch, though of course restricted in many ways by the setting. On the whole it's a mixture of slightly derivative new creatures (Dracon, Sand Golem) and under-represented Out of the Pit favourites (Nandibears, Xoroa, even a brush with Nanka) - at least until you reach the tomb section, where you won't face much but Mummy after Mummy after Mummy, including a mummified snake, one of the most unthreatening and stupid-looking adversaries you may ever face. Along with the cheeky little mummified monkey you probably fought a few paragraphs earlier.

In terms of traps, sorry to say there's even less imagination on show. Closing walls, plummetting ceilings, pits full of spikes, toppling statues... and plenty of them resulting in instant death, which is nice. There's also the obligatory maze, this one half-flooded for novelty but hampered in its challenge by the fact that it's largely unpopulated and possible to escape within three paragraphs, so the only way you know you've been in a maze at all is the text congratulating you on managing to escape "at last". It's fairly obvious that all those "you are at another crossroads", "you are hopelessly lost" and "look: another poxy Crocodile" entries were an easy way to bump the book up to a handy 400 paragraphs when the rest of it was done and dusted.

Standard FF rules plus an extra Poison attribute, which doesn't do a lot except add to the already extensive range of ways in which you can die horribly long before the end. You might also expect to see added rules for fighting alongside a partner, as a scruffy-looking bloke by the name of Jerran Farr helps kick off your quest and joins you for the first leg of the book (and has 'Steve Buscemi in the film adaptation' written all over him), but you'll find no such instructions - and I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to tell you that ultimately none of the established FF Adventuring Partner Rules are broken. One word: Mungo.

Something Curse of the Mummy does better, assuming you're paying attention, is to make use of many of the cheat-thwarting devices that have come before it. No codewords here, but you will find plenty of items with a clearly marked number of some kind, and we all know what that means. Hope your multiplication is up to scratch.

Also, it was a pleasant (if minor) surprise to see the sheer number of options available at the manly one-on-one with Mr. Akharis, possibly the widest range of attack strategies presented by any FF boss, but ultimately few of them are worth attempting as they either do negligible damage or hinder you as much as they do your evil nemesis. This *could* be because Akharis is a canny little tinker who's built up considerable immunity to all possible attacks during his long sleep and subsequent resurrection rituals, but I think it's probably more to do with the book being a bit rubbish.

Ludicrous. Curse of the Mummy suffers from flaws that in no way should have been left to linger 20-odd books into the series, let alone 50-odd. It's hard to know where to start, but if you're at all familiar with the fine works of Mr. Ian Livingstone, you could probably name all the major faults off the top of your head.

The stupidly hard fights and the sheer *volume* of stupidly hard fights are, as you'd expect, the main culprits. Within a mere few paragraphs of setting out, you'll find yourself in an unavoidable scuffle with a Skill 10, two-attacks-per-round Giant Scorpion, and it only deteriorates from there. Get anywhere near the final confrontation and there'll be so many enemies in your face, all the time, that you'll stand very little chance of making it through *and* surviving the constant bombardment of crucial rolls against Luck and Stamina. You can even run into a gratuitous Skill 14 enemy well before the end if you're the unluckiest bugger alive (but hey, at least you won't be alive for long).

What's particularly grating is that even when a fight needn't be all that challenging, the author feels obliged to raise the stakes either by giving the enemy arbitrary extra powers, engineering the situation to cripple your Attack Strength, or both. Take for example the shoal of weedy, hand-sized Skill 6 Snapperfish, now capable of dealing damage of 3 Stamina and 1 Skill with each and every hit while you stumble around in waist-high water at -2 AS. Even worse, the Vizier Amentut, apparently not formidable enough already at Skill 9 Stamina 8: no, surely to balance it out he also needs a one-in-three chance of trimming a tasty 1 Skill and 2 Stamina from your current *and* Initial scores with every successful hit, plus the power to boost his own life-force by absorbing and converting your Stamina losses. I mean, why not? IT'S ONLY FAIR.

A second Livingstonian trait is the unflinching focus on item collection. At times I was reminded of Trial of Champions by the book's insistence that I search everywhere and pick up as many random objects as possible, in the hope of having the right ones for the inevitable "if you don't have Item X, YOU DIE" sequence at the end - but then it also veered off to include the charming "if you *do* have Item X, YOU ALSO DIE" variation, which made me want to mutilate, raze, kill and defile.

And on top of all that the path's more or less linear, or at least the *true* path is. Diversions are few and far between in the overland trek before the main dungeon hack, and while the tomb offers a bit more scope for exploration, chances are you're going to randomly wander off the wrong way and end up dead regardless of anything you do from that point. There's even at least one well-hidden shortcut to the endgame very early on in the tomb, which is entirely pointless since there's no way you can have picked up the necessary items by then. Nothing like being rewarded for your ingenuity and resourcefulness.

In response to claims that this book did nothing that Proteus #8 (Elizabeth Caldwell's Treasures of the Cursed Pyramid) hadn't already done, I went back and took a look at the mag in question. And it's more or less true: written around 10 years earlier and costing a princely 80p for an adventure roughly half the size, Cursed Pyramid is ultimately the better deal. It's a considerably shorter ride but the writing's of a higher standard, it doesn't have the appallingly ramped-up difficulty level and the use of actual Egyptian gods and lore is far less jarring than the halfheartedly Titan-ised versions in Curse of the Mummy. Oh, and there's only one Mummy in the whole Proteus adventure, which is completely powerless apart from a long-distance Strength Drain attack, instantly making it more interesting than 95% of the smelly-bandaged sword-fodder served up by FF59.

With all that said, this isn't the worst gamebook ever hammered together, Frankenstein-style, by the erratic FF production machine. To its credit it's a substantial adventure, and difficulty aside, there are no problems that *really* scupper the whole thing beyond repair - just a lot of minor niggles that add up to a frustrating whole, with a low-key ending that belies the bowel-loosening level of danger and difficulty you've just come through. It probably scrapes into the series' bottom ten, but no, it's not the worst.

Mercifully, Jonathan Green's interview at AFF.com sees him admit that of his three FF contributions, he was "least proud" of Curse of the Mummy. However, he also says, menacingly, "I know that I had notes and ideas for at least another ten books". Here's an idea, Jonathan: chuck out all the crap ones, condense the rest into one book, and maybe we'll have something more fitting for a successful revitalisation of the series. I certainly hope Bloodbones or whatever it's called turns out to be a more entertaining yarn than Curse of the Mummy - and not so arse-poppingly difficult, either.


[S. Lucas]


'Curse' was the last book published in the dying throes of Penguin's 'Fighting Fantasy' series, by which time many jaded fans had stopped reading (including me - I got it out of the library once but couldn't be bothered to finish it).

So, here it is again over a decade later, the latest re-release by Wizard books, with a fresh look and nostalgia on its side; how does it fare?

One good thing to start with is the quasi-Ancient Egyptian theme, a unique one for FF, with similarities to films like 'The Mummy' that help the reader immediately engage with the setting. Another is the evil Cult of the Cobra, whose periodic appearances help to keep the adventure flowing, rather than reducing to a puzzle-solving exercise.

Which it easily could. The author is Jonathan Green, which means FF veterans will know what to expect: a fiendishly difficult adventure where if you make one incorrect decision or have a few unlucky dice rolls you'll be dead, either immediately or in several paragraphs' time when you realise you missed that vital object or piece of information. It'll take a dozen or more attempts to get through this one; heck, it'll take 3 or 4 goes just to find Akharis' tomb.

In a first for the Wizard series, 'Curse' has been re-edited to make it easier in this new edition - and indeed several of the nastier monsters have been toned down. (In one glaring proofreading error, the reduced Skill 8 Giant Scorpion is still referred to in the text below as having Skill 10). Even so you'll still find yourself dying often, restarting and re-rolling a lot of the same fights over and over again if you want to complete it without cheating. In one notable example, 'there are 15 Mummies in the group (each Skill 9, Stamina 12). You must fight them all one at a time.' Ouch! My aching wrist!

This is a pity, because the game mechanics are good, a lot of the individual puzzles and encounters are well-thought out and engaging the first few times through, and the final confrontation is suitably climactic, if you haven't given up long before you reach it. And hey, I like my FF adventures to be difficult.

Overall then, this is a worthy member of the FF canon, worth having a bash at if you're a fan, and a must buy for any collector - but probably not the best choice for someone new to the series.