FFW21: Eye of the Dragon

Nicholas Campbell (spoiler - win condition)
Alexander Finch
Paul Teevan
David Whyld (spoiler - trap)


[Nicholas Campbell]

The original series of 59 Fighting Fantasy gamebooks spanned a period of 13 years, from 1982 to 1995. No more were released until 2002, when Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone's books were re-released, with new covers, to a new generation of youngsters. Then I learnt from the official Fighting Fantasy gamebooks forum that a new gamebook by Ian Livingstone was to be released in 2005. "Hooray!", I thought, as I eagerly anticipated the release of the first new Fighting Fantasy gamebook in ten years. I had high hopes that Ian would have drawn upon the evolution and development of Fighting Fantasy over the many years of its existence and the many books that were released, and written his best gamebook yet.

How wrong I was. Eye of the Dragon is a formulaic gamebook by Ian Livingstone that takes place entirely in a dungeon and sees the player looking for a fabulous treasure, collecting lots and lots of items, and fighting some ridiculously tough monsters along the way, thus once again ensuring that, like many of Ian's previous gamebooks, you'll need an Initial SKILL of 12 and high Initial STAMINA and LUCK scores to have any chance of completing it. Ho-hum.

The story behind Eye of the Dragon is laughable. One night, while staying in the Blue Pig Tavern, a man called Henry Delacor enters your room and tells you of an artefact known as the Golden Dragon. It lies deep within a dungeon below Darkwood Forest, although it could be situated anywhere in Titan and you would be none the wiser. To take the dragon, it is necessary to find its eyes - two beautiful green emeralds. Henry shows one of them to you, but you must now find the other. He tells you that in order to accept this quest, you must drink a liquid that is, according to him, a slow-acting poison. I don't know about the rest of you, but I would tell Henry Delacor where to go, and find another quest. Instead, the adventurer in Eye of the Dragon gulps down the potion without hesitating, and heads to a woodcutter's cottage in Darkwood Forest.

Eye of the Dragon is actually not a totally new gamebook. It first appeared as a mini-adventure in a book called Dicing with Dragons. At the time of writing this review, I had not played this mini-adventure, so I can't comment on rumours that it is fairly similar in places to the new gamebook. Anyway, it turns out to be an unoriginal, bog-standard dungeon adventure, where every other paragraph seems to consist of, "You see a door in the left/right-hand wall. If you wish to open the door, turn to x. If you ignore it and continue, turn to y," or, "The passage ends at a junction. If you go left, turn to x. If you go right, turn to y." Monsters and items are chosen and placed entirely at random. A great example of this is a merchant called Thomas Cornpepper (who incidentally looks remarkably like Ian Livingstone himself!). One has to shake one's head in disbelief at how he manages to maintain his business in a dungeon like this.

I mentioned that there are lots of items to collect in Eye of the Dragon. There are probably more items to collect than any other Fighting Fantasy gamebook I can think of. The majority of them are useless, of course. Then there are all the many weapons and armour that can be collected. A lot of them will increase your SKILL by 1 point, but none of them will ever allow you to increase it above its Initial score. Yes, you can also lose a lot of SKILL points, but I was left wondering if Ian originally intended that there was no restriction on your Initial SKILL when he wrote Eye of the Dragon. As things are, though, most players will be shocked when they encounter a SKILL 12 Gigantus that inflicts 4 STAMINA points of damage if you lose an Attack Round and which cannot be avoided if you want to complete your mission, and if that wasn't enough, you must also fight a SKILL 10 Doppelgänger with your own SKILL temporarily reduced by 2. Don't say you weren't warned.

There are three good points about Eye of the Dragon. Firstly, there is an extra character who will follow you throughout the dungeon in its later stages, which was a welcome addition - although his infectious enthusiasm may become annoying to some. The second point is that the dungeon is fairly non-linear, and there is more than one route that you can take, which makes playing the book again after completing it a bit more worthwhile. And the third point? Pia - perhaps the most beautiful woman in the entire Fighting Fantasy series that I've ever set eyes on. Shame it's all an illusion, though.

If you're a fan of Ian Livingstone's earlier dungeon-based gamebooks, such as Deathtrap Dungeon, you may like Eye of the Dragon, despite the background having almost no relevance to the dungeon itself. Most Fighting Fantasy fans, however, will be very disappointed with this mediocre offering - although it's certainly not the worst in the series, in my opinion. Eye of the Dragon feels like a nearly-complete gamebook that was originally abandoned long ago, but was revisited and put together again twenty years later with very little having been added to it since then. After ten years of waiting for a new Fighting Fantasy gamebook, I, and many other people, had expected so much more than this.

Rating: 4/10


[Alexander Finch]


I have waiting a long long time for this to arrive...

In recent times I've found it difficult to make time for Dungeons & Dragons but these books provide an excellent substitute; in fact the books supersede D&D in my opinion.

It's thought-provoking than Ian has stuck with the basic formula that he used in The Warlock of Firetop Mountain all those years ago. I have great respect for him here; a lot of the later books advanced the game foundations by incorporating a lot more features and parameters. It's been well over 12 years since Ian's last book and going back to the roots of the Fighting Fantasy system is a first-class move on his behalf. You have the three main characteristics and box to list your equipment - a simple and effective start. Well Done Ian!

The new adventure is original although in familiar lands. Ian's writing oozes quality and a typical "Vintage Livingstone" style is evident throughout. The paragraphs are atmospheric and provide a breath of fresh air from the earlier books. Ian's writing really is superlative in many respects. It's worthy of note that Ian has racked up the difficulty level to complete this adventure and this is good news for all.

I collected these books in my youth and they still captivate me. You will not be disappointed by Ian's efforts here and I have the utmost gratitude for him and Wizard Books reviving the series for a brand new generation. For those of us who have collected these books for years - this is an essential addition.

Please do not be put off by these books roaming around in the children's sections of many bookstores - it really is for all ages and brought back many memories bygone. It's brings a warm feeling to my heart knowing that someone somewhere will be picking this up for the first-time. It will open their reading and imagination to new heights and I'm sure they will look at the other books.

Happy adventuring!




At last Fighting Fantasy returns with a new title! As a long-time fan I am glad to see the series return. This said, this is not among the best of the adventures available - though like most of the books, it has its moments.

The strengths of this book are its dungeon design and the huge array of items available. Many of these are red herrings, but a surprising number have some use in the game, meaning that, even after several plays, the "right" course through the dungeon is unclear. The dungeon is complex enough to require substantial mapping, a joy for those who like this aspect of mastering a gamebook. Expect, too, a return to basics for the genre, with dragons, goblins, thievery, mercenary warriors, dungeons, mysterious strangers, magic items and all the rest.

The downside is that (like Livingstone's Crypt of the Sorceror) it is almost impossible to beat. Even with a maximum in the randomly-generated stats, a player will have trouble completing the quest, which requires beating a monster with similar stats and another which drains skill. In other words, you're not going to complete the book without "cheating" at some of the fights, or else being extremely lucky. I find the fun of the books to be puzzle-solving, and I like to beat them fairly, so it's frustrating when the combat scenarios are set up to make the book near-impossible.

Most of the word-count of the book goes on the dungeon section, so the story is correspondingly minimal, but expect a few plot twists nonetheless.


[Paul Teevan]

Eye of the Dragon is without a doubt the best Fighting Fantasy book I have read.

Nothing is better than the brilliant choices, the awesome plot and the wonderful writing and imagination that pour forth from this book.

Choosing repeatively between the right passage and the left passage, without knowing anything about either is what makes Fighting Fantasy books so awesome, so let's do it twenty times in a book. And other brilliant choices like when you see a plain treasure chest in the room, do you open it or leave?! It took me centuries to decide if I should open the unguarded treasure filled chest, or walk off. Other brilliant choices include deciding whether to throw 1 gold coin into a non functioning wishing well, staring into a mirror with a 50 foot IT'S A TRAP sign, and choosing whether to open the door. AGAIN.

This is deeply engaging book, and I could feel every brain cell in my head being put into full use, especially when I met other humans, and I was confronted with the thrilling attack for no reason-talk-leave choice AGAIN. WHOMG!

And the challenges you go up against are so imaginative, you’d think they were divinely inspired. I mean you will know true fear when you face the likes of a GOBLIN, a GIANT SPIDER or even an EVIL WIZARD.

And MAN the plot and writing of this book are brilliant. Some dude has found some stature in the bottom of a dungeon in Darkwood forest. The statue is worth 335,000 gp, because people in Titan like to pay large amounts of gold for crap. And naturally, rather than sell the statue and retire in luxury, the old owner decided to put in a dungeon and somehow fill it with monsters and obvious traps. No one would think to look in there!

And naturally when some guy asks you to drink slow acting poison that will kill you in two weeks, you see no problem at all with doing so. But all though he intends to screw you, he was at least courteous enough to switch his poison with grape juice, ruining his brilliant evil plan.

And of course, although you’ve been warned that touching the statue without the two emeralds will result in your death, if you reach the statue with one emerald, instead of looking down one of the exciting right/left passages, you touch anyway. SMART.

Those of you with one or more brain cells may have figured out this is something of a joke review.

Humour aside, this is a meritless piece of crap. If anyone but Ian Livingstone or Steve Jackson has submitted this crap to Wizards, they'd have burnt it into little cinders.

It really is nothing more than a bunch of poorly thought out clichés meshed together. The choices are every bit as inane and stupid as I have made out, and there is nothing of any merit here. If Wizards publish any more new adventures, I seriously pray they're better than this.


[David Whyld]

Okay, a quick confession before the review starts proper: I've never been much of a fan of Ian Livingstone's work. While I'll grudgingly admit that Deathtrap Dungeon was a great gamebook and Freeway Fighter a decent idea, the majority of his books have just left me cold. They tend to follow a very set formula: lots of fighting, very little storyline, average writing, unfair puzzles, a requirement for the reader to discover a dozen different items before the end of the book or just simply fail... So when I heard he was writing a new Fighting Fantasy book, I didn't exactly jump for joy. If Steve Jackson had agreed to write it, I'd still be jumping.

But I decided I'd at least give it a fair shot before expressing my opinion on it.

So here it is, for better or worse: Fighting Fantasy 21 - Eye Of The Dragon.

The Tale of the Dumb Adventurer

You play a generic adventuring hero. You know the sort: big, beefy fellow, terrifically good with a sword who, despite having possible SKILL and STAMINA scores high enough to make him the world's best fighter, is _still_ trekking around run of the mill dungeons in search of treasure.

You're down on funds and staying at the Blue Pig Tavern in Fang (allowing Livingstone to namedrop Deathtrap Dungeon, a far better book). Here, you meet a fellow adventurer by the name of Henry Delacor. Now Henry Delacor, as luck would have it, knows of a dungeon not far away in which a fabulous treasure is hidden. What are the odds...?

He's willing to tell you all the details you need to find this dungeon, and the treasure within. The catch? All you need to do is drink this vial of slow acting poison (to which he has the antidote) so he knows you'll bring him back a share of the treasure by way of reward instead of just absconding with the lot. Now at this point, anyone with half a brain would have stopped and thought "hang on, he's expecting me to drink _poison?_" and promptly told Henry Delacor where to get off. Not so with the hero in Ian Livingstone's latest below par tale. Nope, you take the poison and gulp it down without a second thought. No wonder you're always so short of funds if you're this stupid.

Déjà Vu

Ever feel you're playing a gamebook that has been done before? Well, you'll feel that more than ever if you play Eye Of The Dragon. Remember all those long and winding corridors with doors on several sides that found their way into Deathtrap Dungeon, Trial Of Champions and many other Livingstone 'classics'? Well, they're here as well. In fact, a good portion of the book involves nothing more inspiring than simply wandering along very mundane corridors and deciding whether or not you want to open a perfectly ordinary door. Ho hum. You can see just how Mr Livingstone writes so many books. He just uses the same ideas over and over again. And they're not even particularly good ideas.

Push open a door and you find a whole variety of unlikely people and places beyond. One room even has a merchant. A _merchant?_ What, he decided to set up shop not in a city but in a dungeon inhabited by hordes of monsters underneath Darkwood Forest? Yeah, _right_... Actually it was nice meeting the merchant because at least it introduced me to someone dumber than an adventurer who willingly drinks poison.

Other rooms contain pretty standard adventuring fare: a throne which adds a nice little boost to your SKILL if you sit on it*, dozens of items which seem to serve no little purpose and the usual monsters to kill. There are a few NPCs from time to time but their dialogue is so poorly written that it often seems like they've been replaced with cardboard cut outs while you weren't looking.

* An amazing magical device which can actually boost the fighting abilities of someone who sits upon it just so happens to be found in a dungeon beneath Darkwood Forest? Apparently so.

Confusing Rules

As ever with Fighting Fantasy, the rules leave quite a lot to be desired. A passage in the rules at the start states that your SKILL score can never increase beyond its initial amount, unless specifically stated in the text of the book. Throughout the book, I found four or five different SKILL boosts. So does that mean I could theoretically have reached a SKILL of 17*?

* When playing Ian Livingstone gamebooks, it's advisable to cheat and give yourself the maximum scores to begin with. You haven't a hope of finishing them otherwise.

Silly Choices

One thing that annoyed me more than anything else about Eye Of The Dragon is that the majority of options presented to you are, well, kind of dumb. Take the very first section: a hut. You're given the choice of descending the steps leading to the dungeon or searching the hut beforehand. Which one are you likely to do first? Gee, big decision. I know. I'll ignore the option to search the hut and just head on down the steps and miss anything useful that quite conveniently is lying here. Hmmm...

As it happens, there's an axe head in the hut bearing a strange inscription. Obviously the sort of dumb adventurer chap who picks up every bit of garbage he comes across, you're intrigued by this and decide to take it with you. Intrigued by an axe head, eh? The poor fellow needs to get out more.

A good part of the book is pretty similar to this kind of thing. You're walking down a corridor and come across a door - do you open it or not? You find a chest in a room - open it or not? More than anything, this smacks of a writer who just really couldn't be bothered, had run out of ideas and wrote the book as quickly as possible. No matter how desperate Wizard Books were for a new gamebook, surely they could have done better than this?


Eye Of The Dragon is the first brand new Fighting Fantasy gamebook since Curse Of The Mummy in 1995 yet at no point does it ever read like a new gamebook. If anything, it reads like something that Ian Livingstone probably wrote twenty years ago and was so embarrassed about that he hid it away and vowed to never to let it see the light of day again... until now. Quite why such an uninspired gamebook was picked as the first brand new Fighting Fantasy gamebook in ten years is something of a mystery. Throw a stone in a crowd and you'd doubtless hit someone capable of writing something more accomplished. Frankly, even by the low standards of Ian Livingstone's books in the past, Eye Of The Dragon is bad.

RATING: 1 out of 10