The first two articles of this series were done in a different style and can be read here and here, however I will have to do something a bit more standard for this one as it would force me to do some alterations to the originals.
Recently I’ve been playing The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (Warlock), Tin Man Games (TMG) adaptation of the board game done by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson in the early 1980s. I was surprised in more ways than one as TMG managed to do what I never thought possible. They were able to alter the original game enough to make it different, but whenever you play it, it still feels natural and pure.
Partly based on the first ever Fighitng Fantasy adventure book, partly on the first board game of the series and some original work, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is a one man, or woman, board game adventure where they role play one of several adventurers that delve into the belly of Firetop Mountain seeking adventure and riches, and this is one of the points where we start getting the divergences from the original, and all of them are very welcome.
While the original book had one unnamed adventurer and one quest to face Zagor and get his treasure, and the board game used a few characters that had to work against each other in an adventure/cluedo sort of game with the same end goal, TMG’s version gives a different background and specific goals for each character. All of them have their own name, story and even personality traits that flow out while we play. Some want the treasure, others want to surpass specific trials of the mountain for their own reasons while the treasure is a mere possible bonus, but each manages to give a fresh story and this would be good enough for the starting four characters, but when we see that it continues with every one of the additional ones that can be bought with in-game currency earned in each playthrough it’s even more impressive.
It is this small difference that makes the game even more enjoyable, Warlock is arguably one of the top 3 Choose your own adventure game books ever written, so messing with it would be considered sacrilegious by many, however TMG managed to do it without being disrespectful. Let us never forget that this is based on a book and a board game, therefore although the 3D scenery and animations as well as the colouring of the original artwork are all nice and dandy, it is still a one track story, so the addition of characters with different goals, giving them each a sort of a side quest is the best way to make the player return to the digital table top and play again.
By making each character not only different in looks but in gameplay and objectives, each one of the adventures is unique in their own way. Unlike in many other games the differences won’t be of importance to the player in terms of relating or empathizing with any of them, choosing the one that is more attuned to their personality, but it will influence the gameplay in two very important ways. Each of the characters as different attack patterns as well as different skills and flaws. Some have better eyesight, others have extra items at the beginning, some can read, others can’t, it may not seem important at first, but when you face an object to interact with and can’t read what the label says you would have second thoughts on what to do with it. Obviously once you’ve played enough times with all the characters you don’t need to read the sign, you already know what it says. Because it is based in the book/board game it can be quite linear, there are only a handful of roads that eventually all lead to the proverbial Rome, but different travelers and different choices make travelling more interesting, spicing it up a bit. It is in the small different details that makes it interesting each time we go into Firetop Mountain. It’s in the renewal of knowing what will happen, but not how.
On a quick side note, I have to show appreciation to Tin Man Games for the nods and hints to other Fighting Fantasy books such as The Forest of Doom or Trial of Champions, and probably others that I have yet to come across with, giving small Easter Eggs that fans will probably recognize. But above all to the respect that they have for the players as the image below shows my first choice in the game, and although I am not affected by it, I know people who would be. Being aware that it is a very text heavy game and taking an effort to adapt it to people with reading difficulties is commendable.
Another brilliant adaptation in the game was going from the dice based fighting system to a dynamic simultaneous turn-based one.
When faced with combat, the player needs to consider what to do and issue an order that can be to move within a one-square cross (if possible) or attack a specific area or areas (again, this is where the heroes and enemies make the gameplay more interesting as they are majorly different from each other).
The system is very simple and can be quite punishing in some cases, although not unforgiving. It is a way to keep the player from cheating (as we all did in the books) and makes it feel interestingly balanced between the skill of observation, guess work and a pinch of luck. Much like throwing a pair of dice, which puritan players can be rest assured was kept for many situations. As the game advances, and as we loose and sometimes face the same enemy over and over again by starting the adventure a new, it does not make it easier as it depends just that bit more on luck than anything else, keeping true to the game books’ spirit.
Warlock of Firetop Mountain is probably the best adaptation ever done from a Fighting Fantasy game book adventure. As a huge fan of the originals and as much as I like the other adaptations Tin Man Games did both for the computer and mobile, it is here that their work reached a new quality standard. It may have been because they now have more experience and technology is a bit more advanced, it may be because they took some liberties and put a bit of themselves into it, it may be anything else, but the way they managed to accomplish this game is something that both Mr. Livingstone and Mr. Jackson should feel proud that someone is still carrying their torch high, showing younger generations that a well written adventure can be immortal, as long as you treat it with the respect that it deserves.