The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Now it’s time for a game in which YOU are the monster! Let’s head out into the galaxy in Star Strider!
In 1982, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, founders of Games Workshop, released the book ‘The Warlock of Firetop Mountain’. Intended as an introduction to tabletop role-playing games of the era, the book’s choose-your-own-adventure format mixed with simple dice-based combat proved massively successful, giving rise to a full series of books – Fighting Fantasy. With over 65 books in the series by a legion of authors and illustrators, the series’ legacy continues to this day. Come along with us as Cybe and co play through each one – with no prior knowledge, no hints or walkthroughs and no cheating!
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Oh god no, not another sci-fi one! It’s not a secret that I’ve grown to dislike the sci-fi Fighting Fantasy adventures with the rampant passion of a thousand dying suns. But god damn it, I’m going to get through this.
The book opens with a quote explaining that a Star Strider is a skilled bounty hunter… in space! I am then immediately informed that the President has been kidnapped by the romulans – oh wait, no, sorry, that’s the Gromulans. Totally different. Another evil space empire entirely. As is standard in these games, instead of sending along a giant army of death-robots, they send one lone nutcase with a gun. Jack Bauer would be proud. And now I have the mental image of Keifer Sutherland beating up Romulans.
It’s also occurred to me that this is one of the rarer “rescue mission” type of quests, as opposed to the standard “there is an evil wizard over there, go and kill him” ones.
I start out the adventure onboard a shuttle to earth, where the President is being held hostage ‘somewhere’. Great intel, guys! We have narrowed the search down to an entire planet! Aboard the shuttle, the waitress robot offers me some snacks, which I accept. The food cubes (that sounds vile! What is the obsession in bad sci-fi that all food should be done in multicoloured cube form?) restores one stamina point… which is still at maximum because the adventure has just started and I’ve not had the chance to lose any OH GOD THIS ADVENTURE IS GOING TO BE STUPID!
The shuttle reaches a dingy old docking station and I catch a bus to Madrid. FUTURE MADRID, that is! On the way, two GromPol grab me and throw me into a box or something. I’m not actually certain what GromPol are, I assume that they are some kind of police force. Working on that assumption, the police use a strange telepathic illusion in order to scare me. This adventure has a fear rating, for some obscure reason. So here’s the thing – other Fighting Fantasy books, like House of Hell, have had a fear system because they were themed around horror. Star Strider isn’t. I’m not sure what it’s doing here. It barely has any impact on the adventure, and serves no real purpose other than to give me something else to roll against. In this instance, the police give me the illusion of being sealed in a small box, which is apparently quite scary.
Once they are finished, they ask me who I am and what I’m doing, and then promptly drop me back on the bus without any further concerns or worry.
If you’re confused about what just happened… yeah, makes two of us! I really have no idea why these events occurred and what possible reasoning there is behind this. Have I mentioned that the sci-fi Fighting Fantasy gamebooks weren’t particularly good?
Anyway, the bus stops and I get off in Future Madrid. The book takes the moment to tell me that the place is a mess and is only used as a stop-off for people en route to London, which I think is a bit dubious. I mean, if you have a space shuttle, why not just set a port up in London? And I’ve been to London, I doubt that Future Madrid could be any more of a mess! Either way, a robot walks up to me and ‘pings’ me. I’ve no reason to want to jump at the chance to make friends with a random robot, so instead I follow it down the hallways until I find out that it’s actually working for the Grom.
I’m wondering if the Grom are actually the Gromulans that were mentioned in the intro to the story. Maybe they shortened the name and didn’t bother to adjust the rest of the book (this is stupid). If so, I would retroactively assume that the GromPol are basically their stormtroopers… which means that the Gromulan Empire has captured Earth? And are holding the President hostage for… why exactly? I really think that this would make a lot more sense if the writer had set the adventure on the Grom(ulan) home planet – but hey, if they did that then we wouldn’t be able to go to Space Madrid.
So, with no real clue what I should spend my effort on, I just follow the robot around the ruins of the old city, until I wander into a Grom ambush. Something akin to a billion drone fighter jets descend on me, and I’m quite happy to choose the ‘run like hell away’ option. Honestly, that’s just overkill at this point!
I am promptly saved by a group of sewer-dwelling criminals who assume that I’m one of their friends. Immediately one of their other friends, a big nasty chap, starts punching me for no apparent reason. I wonder if that’s how they treat all of their new friends… Naturally I hit him back, at which point everyone in the sewer-dwelling criminal gang realises that I’m a bounty hunter and murders the shit out of me. So, having no interest in dying in such a pointlessly stupid means (an instant death, I should point out), I roll up a new character (two less stamina, one more skill on this one) and make all the same decisions in order to get right back to this point in the adventure, purely so that I can let a man punch me for no good reason and without any warning.
As it turns out, Mr Punchy is actually ‘testing’ me to see if I’m happy to tag along with their plan to rob the hacienda. I have no idea why he would have thought that just randomly punching a new recruit would make them want to join them in their criminal enterprise but whatever. I trudge along to this and am promptly dumped alone into the hacienda with no backup. God dammit.
So do I even need to point out that I have not strode a single star thus far? Anyway by this stage, I am haemorrhaging Time points, which is another of the things that this book seems intent on subjecting me to. Why? I don’t know. They make a lot more sense than having Fear points, at least! Y’know, in an adventure in which I’m meant to be rescuing the President, and instead seem to be breaking and entering. Geez… right, anyway, the book tells me to sneak across a courtyard filled with laser beams. “Throw one dice, this is where the beam is” says the book, in possibly one of the worst explained examples of writing I’ve yet to see. So the laser beam is either at number 2, or the laser beam is on the table in my living room, I don’t know which. Was this published from a first draft??
Once I get inside the hacienda, I find a random robot wandering around. I’m quite keen to get some revenge on one of them for all of the suffering that I’ve endured due to robots thus far in this adventure, so I beat it to death. Turns out it was just a butler robot, but I still feel satisfied. A small kid walks out of a nearby room looking for the butler. It’s a Grom kid, which means that it has those weird psychic illusion powers. When she sees me, she asks if I want to play a game. I agree, knowing better than to refuse to play a game when a kid with crazy psychic powers. She promptly tells me that her game is to pick the lock of her dad’s computer terminal… sigh.. which I do through the course of a tedious maths puzzle. Not just one tedious maths puzzle – two of them! I didn’t buy a book of maths puzzles!
Eventually I get access and find out that the president is stored in a warehouse in sector 169A. Oh gosh, I’m sure that number won’t be at all important later on! And also, damn, this entire breaking and entering subplot wasn’t entirely without purpose after all – it just felt like it!
I flee the place and get back to the bus, where I’m told to deduct a few more Time points for the journey out of Madrid. The way that time is applied in this game is utterly abstract, I could lose two time points by undergoing a long bus ride, or lose two time points for leafing through a book in a shop. There’s no definite guide as to what a time point is worth, they’re just applied haphazardly and urgh forget it. Moving on.
We arrive in Roma, which I’m assuming is Future Rome. I find what I assume to be a future bed & breakfast, and during the night I catch sight of someone who looks ‘familiar’ in another room. The next day I follow her like a crazy stalker, and eventually figure out that she’s a fellow bounty hunter. Together we plan to search for info, and she suggests that I check out a local abandoned unused cinema.
I find the cinema, which I out-of-character quickly name ‘Paradiso’, and explore around it for a while. In one of the rooms I find a large angry-looking man, but I’m able to calm him down and he agrees to help me. He escorts me outside, and we are just about to head off to meet his contact when a swarm of Grom ships swoop down on us. I am asked if I want to help the big strong dude fight them, and when I say that I do, I am greeted with yet another instant-death segment where the Grom capture us both with a net and take us away. I have no interest in playing through this again, so I officially consider this book ‘done’.
This adventure is a mess. The descriptions are sloppy and unstructured, without anything approaching a feeling of atmosphere. The choices you’re given are often muddled and unclear, and I had quite a few choices which I was unsure what the difference between both options actually were. The entire thing feels unpolished, as if it needed some sharp editing to bring the work into focus. Sadly there just wasn’t any done to this book, and I am not surprised that it’s never been republished. This is the kind of Fighting Fantasy book you give to your kid if they have been naughty and need some kind of suitable punishment.
Cause of death: Captured by Grom(ulans)
One thought on “Star Strider”
The terrible gamebooks do provide amusing commentary, though. :3
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