City of Thieves (1983)

City of Thieves (1983) is legit one of my favorite Fighting Fantasy books. Port Blacksand! We’re pretty early in the evolution of the series yet, so the proceedings are still fairly straightforward and lacking the tricksy things more ambitious titles in the double digits get up to, but you can really start to see the potential forming here. And I honestly like the straightforward FFs. They’re routinely elegant and more polished than pretty much any other adventure gamebook line.

You’re at odds with a pirate named Zanbar Bone (that’s his leering skull on the cover, lest you think the pirate’s name was just poetic) and need to collect a bunch of items that will help you defeat him and his henchmen. Once you do that, it’s off to his tower, which I like a lot less than the exploration of Blacksand — there are a bunch of unfair traps and the last couple combats are hard if you aren’t a cheater like me. And, like Livingstone’s section of Firetop Mountain, it is easy to miss key items and therefore be thoroughly screwed when they are necessary to progress. That’s a symptom of these early days and I think it mostly goes away over time (can’t be sure, never really read them in order), but that doesn’t make it less frustrating when it happens.

Occasional lumps aside, this is one of the best looking FFs, cover and interiors by Iain McCaig. Hard to pick a fave, but it is probably that wizard. Or the goth lady. I enjoy the surprise cameo by an issue of White Dwarf, too!

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