By Jonathan Green
I need to get some things out of the way. First things first - I’m a huge Fighting Fantasy fan. I’ve been reading them since 1983 and it was the game that got me into the tabletop gaming hobby. I got myself wrapped up in the worlds of Fighting Fantasy, especially Titan, and I played the books, the RPG, the boardgames and the computer games. I was first in line at the UK Games Expo a few years ago to get my 25th Anniversary book signed by Jackson and Livingstone, and I can quite easily attribute my love of fantasy gaming to the exposure I had to these books. I’ve also got a mention in the actual book itself, which warms my heart on so many levels I can’t even begin to explain it.
Telling you all that will probably cast a bit of a shadow over this review as I’m hardly going to be subjective, am I? Look at it this way; I’m not writing this review as a critic, but as a passionate fan of not only the subject but the genre in general. The chances are you’re reading this because you have an interest, perhaps even a love, of gaming. In that case, let me share with you my excitement in reading this book.
You Are The Hero has been researched, compiled and written by author Jonathan Green, himself a veteran of Fighting Fantasy as both a fan of the books and as a writer for the official line. Inside the lavishly illustrated full colour book you’ll find pretty much everything you need to know about Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, from Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone starting out in Games Workshop in the 1970s, to the first books and how they got them on the shelves, to the artwork, other writers and the different worlds they created, to the RPG and where Fighting Fantasy is today. All the way through we’re treated to images, artwork and snippets of interesting information in the little Fighting Fantasy Facts (I’m in number 27!). As far as presentation goes it’s a great looking book, and the interior full-page colour panels of the book covers are quite beautiful, especially as they’re just the images with none of the original text covering it.
All in all the entire book oozes flavour. The images evoke a sense of atmosphere and - for me and no doubt other older fans of the series - a sense of misty-eyed nostalgia. It really threw me back to the heady days of fandom when I was in my teens and all of this was new and exciting. Newcomers to the hobby or those reading this book out of pure curiosity will find it all quite informative as the illustrations take the reader through the years and decades.
The story that the book tells is, of course, the meat of the product. From Jackson and Livingstone’s early days up to the present day and the involvement they still have with the Fighting Fantasy world we’re taken step by step through their own histories, their meeting, their early hobby and Games Workshop day and then the books themselves and how the got them off the page and into the stores. Much of this was covered in talks I attended at the UK Games Expo but if you think they addressed everything in their seminars then think again – there’s plenty of stuff in here that I didn’t know and getting to hear the story of the first books from the publishers, artists and writers gives you a whole new appreciation of how these books made it into the eager hands of children such as myself.
All the way through you get details on the books of the original series. With information about the book’s plot, little quotes from the writers and artist and snippets of information these make for good reading and cast new light on the books and the people who helped create them.
There’s plenty of stuff in here covering every aspect of the Fighting Fantasy franchise; the books, miniatures, boardgames, battlegames, RPGs, computer games and magazines. This information leads on to details about other gaming books and lines, such as the Sorcery! epic, Clash of the Princes and the novels, as well as other lines such as the Tasks of Tantalon and the Way of the Tiger series, even the old F.I.S.T computerdial telephone game (which got me into plenty of trouble over phone bills). Everything Fighting Fantasy touched and influenced gets a mention and there are plenty of people interviewed, and they all talk about how they became involved or how the books influenced them. Fighting Fantasy gets a lot of love and it’s quite wonderful to see the positive power the gamebooks had on the public and on professionals who were either in the business, about to break into it or were inspired to get involved.
The whole tome gives me plenty of pleasure from beginning to end. There were more than a few ‘Oh, yeah! I remember that!’ moments and plenty of material that makes me look at my Fighting Fantasy collection and want to add more to it. It’s also made me revisit the world of Titan and ponder running an original roleplaying campaign using the original basic rules from the 1980s.
More than anything, it’s made me wonder at the future of Fighting Fantasy and how it can be relaunched into the national consciousness. I’ve thought of everything from new computer games to radio dramas to children’s TV; although it was the books that fired the imagination of a generation in the 1980s and 90s, this is a new age of technology and multimedia. The books are still relevant but there has to be a new hook, a gateway, to get the young people of today reading them again. You Are The Hero takes me back to the days of old when the books were new and exciting but it also really makes me want them to be successful again, so that this generation can explore and enjoy the worlds of Fighting Fantasy.
An excellent read that takes old gamers like me back in time, as well as being an incredibly interesting history lesson in the early days of gamebooks and British gaming for the regular hobbyist to enjoy. Highly recommended.