Sor4: The Crown of Kings

R. Legge
Eric Liss
Andrew Makrigiannis
Chris Page
P.W. Reader
Oliver Robertson
Todd Stigliano


[R. Legge]


No review can justly sum up what this book represents in standards, This one surpasses excellence in all aspects. Steve Jackson i feel wanted to write the perfect book that leaves out no comprimise regarding the number of entries and the level of difficulty aimed at more seasoned or older readers.
This can be compared to his first single written book 'Citadel of Chaos', however the twists and turns, storyline and the no-so expected ending makes this the authority of all Game books.
Interestingly this has a Mordor-like feel in the location and a penetration of a fortress seems straightforward, but the vastness and complexity of the rooms/area and characters creates the scary atmosphere needed.

Interestingly the Japanese version has colorful maps included which i think detracts from the suprises in store, if only Myriador could complete the D20 version....


[Eric Liss]

Ambitious, intricate, and very, very successful, are how I would describe this book. Likely the most difficult gamebook I've read, the sheer length and immersiveness of the plot and gameplay make this a must-read -- assuming you have the patience for the number of tries it will take to make it through. It's possible to make it completely through the book, achieve your objective, then lose because you missed one particular item from the first few sections!

The continuity and consistency, both internally and with the previous books in the series, are also excellent. The variety and detail of the characters you interact with are also high points of the book; a minor detail from the first(!) book in the series can provide a major benefit here, if you remember it -- and to catch it, you have to remember a face in a picture in one of the illustrations (and no, that is not redundant or a typo).

This is really one of the crown jewels of gamebooks; I can't recommend it (and the other books in the series) highly enough. The most important hint I can give is to take the most detailed notes you possibly can, taking extra care to record names, places, events, everything. I don't think you can win without doing so.


[Andrew Makrigiannis]

The Crown of Kings is the fourth and final book of the Sorcery! series by Steve Jackson. The Sorcery! books provide FF fans their first view into the culture of the Old World, which is very different from that of Allansia. We are introduced to the land of Kakhabad, a vermin-pit tainted by chaos. Intent on ruling Kakhabad is a creature known as the Archmage who has built the Mampang Fortress in the Zanzunu Peaks. With the help of his Birdmen allies the Archmage has stolen the Crown of Kings from the ruler of Analand, a land to the south of Kakhabad. The Crown provides its wearer with the qualities of leadership and wisdom. With this Crown the Archmage hopes to gather together the chaotics of Kakhabad and forge them into an army of conquest and destruction.

You are the hero selected by your country of Analand to traverse Kakhabad and to retrieve the Crown of Kings from the Archmage. You may play the book on its own or, if you have been lucky enough to survive this far, as a continuation of the other three books which each deal with a different stage of the journey across Kakhabad. Playing the fourth book as a beginner to the series is harder because a veteran of the first three books has amassed superior weapons, useful equipment, important information, and higher stats.

You may play a warrior or a wizard. The magic system of the Sorcery! series requires spending stamina points and in many cases a spell artefact. Despite the wide number of spells available to a wizard there is the drawback of only being limited to certain choices in the text. However, playing a wizard can get you past many encounters safely where a warrior would have to fight an uncertain battle or would otherwise die. A wizard starts the adventure with a lower skill (-2 pts) than a warrior.

The fourth book begins at the footsteps of the Zanzunu's. You must find the Fortress, gain entrance and make your way to where the Crown is protected.  Just getting to the Fortress is an adventure in itself. Once inside the Fortress you have to be very careful of death-traps and of being captured. You also have to find a way to get past the four Throben doors, each of which has its own special 'key'.  Along the way you meet some very memorable creatures such as Naggamanteh, the Ogre torturer and the Samaritans of Schinn. Getting through this book is extremely hard and will take you many attempts. Drawing a map is a must. Steve plays a dirty trick on you at the end of book just when you think you are almost finished, but I won't reveal it. The final battle is exciting if a bit easy.

The book is very long, twice as many passages as a normal FF book. Because of this you are given more options during an encounter than you would normally have. Steve has a tendency to be long-winded, but I don't mind because it makes the game flow better and you feel as if you are part of the story. The atmosphere Steve creates in the Sorcery! world is engrossing. The names of the people and places in these books are original and contribute to the alien feel of his world. The dark fantasy setting Steve portrays is complimented by John Blanche's illustrations. John seems to specialize in bringing out the grotesqueness in his subject matter. His monsters seem especially evil and twisted. While some would criticize John's work as sloppy and unrealistic, I think he gives his subjects an edge that I can only describe as 'chaotic' and is totally appropriate for the land of Kakhabad.

If you like the regular FF books, then the Sorcery! series is required reading. I've never seen it's like, it is totally original. As you can tell I'm a big fan of Steve's, but I wouldn't say that this is the best book in the series. They are all good but I think it's a toss up between Khare and The Seven Serpents for the number one spot. As I mentioned earlier playing the book on its own is very hard so be warned, death-traps abound!

Rating: 8.5/10 (as a solo book, but 10/10 for the whole epic)


[Chris Page]

And the series ends with Crown of Kings. One word - long. This is 800 paragraphs. Now that is long. It must have taken ages to read this. However this must have created the problem of concentrating on making the book long than making it interesting. For example - your quest during most of the book involves passing through a number of the Throben doors. However making it clever wasn't really the objective. Instead it was a case of pick a path - A, B or C. Along one you would find the key, password or whatever and allow you to pass through. Then you're presented with another choice of about 3 paths. And on it goes.

However this isn't to say it's a bad book. Despite this, there are a couple of little twists in there, making it the hardest of the series. The ending itself has a nice twist, and if you choose to be a sorcerer, the ZED spell provides a very nice addition to the storyline. And then onto the final battle. And may I ask what in the name of god was this?

Skill 7, Stamina 7. Ooooh, tough one. Reminds me of the brutal opponent at the end of Sky Lord. The half dead working dog. For all this work, they should have left with a tougher ending than this. Sure, the book is tough in its own right but that doesn't mean we should win that easily.

But I hate to drag this book down. The plot in general is very good, and despite the ending, you can feel a sense of satisfaction once you've finished, particularly if you've had to work through the entire series. Not only that, the fact this book is so long means you'll be occupied for a long time. And the artwork is pretty good too.

Rating: 6.5/10


[P.W. Reader]


The fourth and final volume of Steve Jackson's "Sorcery" adventures is by far the best, save for one minor gripe I have.

I love the way this book is written in simple language with minor puzzles to solve and highly entertaining adventures. This is, possibly, the most advanced of the "Choose Your Way" type books I've seen. The plot is very interesting and the rules easy to follow. One VERY nice touch is the little dice markers they include on the bottom of every page, so if you ever find yourself without dice (as if any gamer would find themselves in such a position, ha!), you can still play by doing a random "flip-through" to get a result.

Now for my one gripe about this book. It CANNOT stand on its need to do the others first. While the start of the adventure still makes a certain amount of sense if you haven't read the first three, there are at least 40 entries out of 800 that reference the adventures from one of the first three books. And if you haven't read the first three, you won't be able to make the proper choices...and if you cheat and do, they won't make sense anyway. Some of these entries will even direct you to go back and start over from somewhere back in one of the previous three books! good a read and play as this is, don't START with this one. Make sure you manage to find the other three before reading this volume.


[Oliver Robertson]

This is the final instalment in the Sorcery! Series and in my opinion, the most disappointing. The story is that before you can recover the Crown of Kings (the object of your quest), you must enter the Archmage’s fortress (Mampang) and pass through the four Throben Doors. The doors form the sub-quest in this book and the way past them is often very hard to find. The way past them is not always to find a physical key - it is sometimes a password, or even a state of mind. You must search each level of the fortress well if you are to find everything you need to complete your journey through it, if you manage to get there at all. Even the path to Mampang is extremely narrow - you must either find Collatus the Holy Man (look in ‘Titan ‘ for more information on him) or travel round a very long and dangerous path.  

The illustrations are great - the front cover is excellent in showing the Archmage in all his glory. The inside pictures are good too (check out the graffiti opposite reference 73 - who would have thought guards had such a good sense of humour?). 

This is undoubtedly the hardest book in the series. There are numerous wrong turns to make in Mampang, which you must risk taking anyway if you are to find the right path. This book is great ... until the end. Your final confrontation with the Archmage is one of the biggest disappointments in FF. At the end of such an epic quest as this, I do not expect to have to overcome a Skill 7, Stamina 7 monster who can be annihilated with one spell. True, the Archmage is metamorphosing into a nigh-on-invincible demon, but could we not fight that rather than some semi-formed creature? You would think the Archmage would be able to use a better spell than that, considering he can resurrect Serpents from the dead and give them God-like powers, but we get left with this. Try fighting an Archmage with Skill 12 Stamina 30 or something like that, to see how hard it really can be.

However, despite this (FAIRLY) major problem, the rest of the book is excellent and provides a suitably hard end to the saga. As in the other books, you can be helped a lot if you have completed the previous books in the series (there are even a couple of things from book one in here). An excellent read, but better as part of the series.

Rating: 9.0/10


[Todd Stigliano]

When speaking of dungeoncrawls, 3-D videogames teach an interesting lesson to both game designers and consumers: the greater the "reality" of what is in view (or how "real" something looks at first sight as well as how it reacts to human feedback) , the greater the suspicion of reality for what is not in view.

What makes a good-looking videogame a great game concerns the point in time when this "suspicion" becomes assumption - establishing the very valuable and recently scarce "false sense of security." Great games function at this point by suddenly throwing assumption down a trap door, through a portal to another dimension, or into an encounter with an eight-legged spider-turtle with fangs and a crunchy shell.

In short, this process breaks down into a three-part sequence that could be called the "What's Around the Corner" formula:

1. Three dimensional environment seems realistic enough so that a suspicion of "what's around the corner" is generated.
2. Suspicion leads to assumption that "what's around every corner" is the same.
3. Suddenly... no corners; corners are gone; player is on a one-way trip to the 584th layer of the Abyss with one hit point and a bag of magic teeth.

The less time it takes to repeat this formula, the more intense the gaming experience.

However, without the luxury of visual space and aural sound, a gamebook can still operate effectively in its own dimensions of time (text and context are utilized in the flow of time and are how the author uses language to evoke shared perception), decision points, and game mechanics (item inventory, "stats" etc.). Illustrations are a mixed blessing - appropriate ones help; the rest encourage you to stop and microwave something.

Steve Jackson's The Crown of Kings - the fourth volume in his Sorcery! Series - flawlessly executes "What's Around the Corner" in almost every one of the eight-hundred entries making up this gamebook fortress - assumption being the most difficult trap to avoid. The encounters that appear the most menacing can usually be outwitted without combat or even spell use, whereas seemingly harmless fortress denizens carry some of the most deadly abilities.

An epic plot couldn't possibly fit around this dungeon/fortress crawler. The Crown of Kings, a magic item stolen from the reader-character's homeland, is hidden away deep inside Mampang - the citadel that protects, and is protected by, a powerful being known only as the Archmage.

Mampang is huge enough to be a community. Creatures encountered there aren't simply waiting for an infiltrator. All beings within have a place and make up a powerful system of magic, protection, and leadership.

This system is reflected at its utmost by four enchanted doors. Each is protected by a different type of key that must be utilized correctly or the speaker suffers a devastating death. The key to each area is held by that area's leader - who is difficult to determine and subtly protected by some character-killing power.

The high Conversion Factor reflects the ability of all that is Mampang to be fit around any character that a Gamemaster would like to protect very well. And, much like a clearly rendered view down a computer-generated dungeon corridor, every encounter lends itself to suspicion of a greater plan; sometimes this is the case. The trap that's almost impossible to avoid, though, is assuming that around every bend lies the most relevant or the most useless.

Being caught completely in either of these assumptions almost always results in one of those startling text entries that ends without a page number to turn to.