I’m excited to bring you a preview of Fighting Fantasy Adventures, a new board game from Martin Wallace based on the classic Fighting Fantasy gamebooks from Steve Jackson and Ian Livingston.
Which-way game books were extremely popular when I was growing up and a part of many gamers’ lives, so I’m super excited to see them come back in a new form.
Disclosure: Thank you to Wallace Designs for sending us a prototype reviewer copy of Fighting Fantasy Adventures to check out. No other compensation was provided. Links in this post may be affiliate links. As an Amazon associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
|Prefer video? Here is a link to the segment from our podcast episode where we reviewed this game. I use the show notes to compose these written reviews. The content and talking points are the same, but if you prefer to watch or listen instead of reading, you can head over here: VIDEO Fighting Fantasy Adventures game review on YouTube|
What is Fighting Fantasy Adventures?
Before I get started I want to make it very clear that what I’m talking about today is an early reviewer copy of Fighting Fantasy Adventures. What we were sent is not a complete game and features a special scenario designed specifically for reviewers so that we can talk about the game without spoiling anything.
At this point, nothing is finalized, especially the artwork. Wallace Designs, the publisher, specifically wanted us to point out that all of the art you see in this review will be changing. What was used in our prototype are placeholders for the final artwork. You can see more current artwork on the Tabletop Simulator version of Fighting Fantasy Adventures or on the now cancelled Kickstarter page.
Fighting Fantasy Adventures is a solo or cooperative game designed by Martin Wallace based on the Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingston. While our prototype copy contained placeholder art the final game will feature artwork by Rupert Lewis Jones, Jeremy Love, and Monztre.
The original plan for this game was to fund it through Kickstarter, but that didn’t go as well as they had hoped and they have made the decision to move to Gamefound at a lower price point and with a few more incentives. As of the time that I’m writing this, there is only a preview page for Fighting Fantasy Adventures up on Gamefound.
This crowdfunding campaign is being run by Wallace Designs, Martin Wallace’s new publishing company, with the final game expected to be shipped to backers in 2024
Fighting Fantasy Adventures plays one to four players, with a single quest taking from one to three hours. The final version of this box will contain four adventures: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Island of the Lizard King, Deathtrap Dungeon and The Forest of Doom (split over two parts). These names should be familiar to Fighting Fantasy Gamebook fans.
According to Martin, getting through all of these adventures should take a group between ten to fifteen hours. That’s for a single play through of each. As we learned while playing our prototype version of Fighting Fantasy Adventures, there’s a good chance that you are going to want to try some of these adventures more than once if, or maybe when, you fail on the first go.
Fighting Fantasy Adventures is a card driven, dungeon crawl based on the classic gamebooks that many of us grew up playing. Similar to in the gamebooks, you will be choosing which way to go by choosing a number, finding the card that matches that number, and then making decisions based on what you read on the card. This may lead to combat with various vicious monsters. Combat is handled by a simple 2D6 opposed die roll system.
The players’ characters have various skills that they can use and working together will be key to winning the game.
How you win is determined by what scenario you are playing and as the rulebook states “You will know if you have won the game.”
Normally we don’t do unboxing videos for previews but since we think this game is going to make quite the splash, plus the fact that I was already in front of the camera and live when I cracked open the package the game was shipped to me in, we figured why not.
So if you want a look at the prototype components we got in our copy of this cooperative dungeon crawler be sure to check out our Fighting Fantasy Adventures Unboxing Video on YouTube.
Due to this being a prototype I don’t want to say too much about component quality here as I know most of it is going to change, but I will say the direction they are going in seems to work really well at the table. We found the information clear and easy to find. My only real hope is that the counters are a bit bigger in the final copy.
I did love how short and clear the rules were. There wasn’t a lot there as most of the game is left for you to discover through play.
Fighting Fantasy Adventures Overview of Play
One great thing about Fighting Fantasy Adventures is how quickly you can jump right in. There is very little prep work required at all.
Setting up a game involves everyone picking a character or characters to play. For this dungeon crawl all four characters need to be in play during every game. Each character is represented by a character card and a number of skill cards.
Players take their character cards and the level one skill cards and place them face up in front of them. Each of the skill cards features a one time use ability. When you are playing and use one of these you flip the card over to show that it has been used up. These abilities include things like the Healer healing other characters, the Wizard casting a fire spell, the Fighter using his shield or the Scout stabbing people in the back. There’s even one skill that lets you flip another character’s skill back over!
Our prototype copy of Fighting Fantasy Adventures also included level two, three and four skill cards. Most of these cards matched the existing level of skills that the character already had. This meant that as the characters level up, they get more uses out of their existing abilities along with potential new abilities.
Note we didn’t actually get to level up in our sample adventure.
Next up, the group determines their marching order, something that felt very old school RPG like. There’s a combat grid and character tokens to track this. Many of the things we encountered in our game changed based on who was in front. While we didn’t see it, I assume there are probably times in other adventures where who’s in the back or some other spot in the line may also matter.
Now that the party is ready to start their adventure, grab the two decks for the adventure you are going to play. There’s one encounter deck and one dungeon deck for each adventure. For us, this was simple as we only had the reviewer sample adventure.
Flip up the first dungeon tile, find the matching encounter card and read it. This card gives you your objective, which for us was a pretty typical dungeon crawl plot — get to a chest but first find the three coins needed to open it.
Now the game really starts, and has you exploring a dungeon through cards. Each dungeon card will have a number of exits and each of these lists which card you will need to find and place on the table next. Some of these exits give you hints as to what you may find in the next room, like “scratching sounds” or “digging”.
Once the group decides where to go you draw the appropriate dungeon card, take a good look at it and pass it around (some of the cards have hints that will help you with whatever you are about to face), then find the matching encounter card and read it.
What happens next will vary wildly. You could find a pile of old rotting furniture which you can search, you might enter a room filled with giant bugs, or you could find a trap, or an unlocked chest just sitting there waiting for someone to open it.
Many cards will then give you options and allow you to take different actions. This may involve making a skill check to avoid damage from a trap or the ability to search the room and flip the card to see what you find and then take it into your inventory to use later. You may need to choose a character to take an action, like open a chest, or you may get an option to use items you’ve already collected to get past the current challenge.
Some of the items you find can be used later in the game, and there were some things we picked up that we had to decide whether to use or not and if we did decide to use them pick who should use them. For example, we had to decide whether or not to put on a fancy necklace we found and which of the four characters would be the one to put it on.
The results of these decisions were wonderfully mixed. Since this was a sample reviewer adventure and I can’t spoil anything, here’s an example. In one room we saw what appeared to be a cup of water on a table. Our Scout decided to pound it down, with a rather negative effect, losing some stamina. However, had we instead had the Healer take a look at it, they could have blessed the water giving us a Holy Water item card that we could have probably used to good effect later in the dungeon.
It wouldn’t be a classic dungeon crawl without any monsters, so of course a lot of what you are going to find in the dungeon are foes you need to defeat in order to continue onward.
Fighting Fantasy Adventures has a pretty simple combat system. You start by pairing off characters and enemies so that everyone is fighting one opponent. Then if there is anyone left on either side they can choose to back up another character.
Initiative is based on the marching order but can be changed up after the first round of combat. For that first round though you are stuck in the order you had chosen.
Each individual skirmish is resolved by an opposed 2D6 roll with one of the non-acting characters rolling for the baddies. Both sides add this roll to their Skill stat. Then whoever rolled higher does damage equal to their opponent equal to the difference between the two totals.
Heroes can use luck to re-roll BOTH sets of dice, something you will find you have to do often. In addition to this randomness mitigator, many of the heroes’ skills give bonuses or allow additional rerolls. Some others prevent damage completely or do automatic damage to foes.
Each character fights in turn based on the marching order. Characters who are backing up other characters get a bonus to their roll based on how much backup there is in total. When the entire party is ganging up on one baddie the first helper gets +1, the second +2, and the third +3.
While we didn’t see it in our sample adventure it’s also possible for the monsters to gang up on the heroes in Fighting Fantasy Adventures.
If a character runs out of stamina, due to combat or some other misfortune, they die. They can no longer talk to the other players at all and place their character token in the room they died in. The rules note that there may be a way to bring a dead character back but we didn’t see this option when we played.
When things are looking bad, retreat is also an option (after the first combat round). You are always obligated to fight at least one round in marching order before you can flee. When the group flees, they move back to the room you came from, dragging any dead character’s bodies with them. Any damage on the monsters resets and they will be at full strength when you come back to that room. Note you can’t split the party in this game.
Besides a potential TPK during a fight, your group of adventurers can also lose in a number of other ways. During our adventure, we saw a bottomless pit, had to sacrifice one of the four of us in order to proceed past a doorway (and as far as we could tell that character wasn’t going to be coming back), could have died to an imp that was unaffected by normal weapons if we didn’t catch it in a net, and eventually ended up at a dead end and starved to death because we found the chest we needed on the other side of a one way door but didn’t have the three coins we needed to open it.
Assuming you do better than we did, you should eventually get to an encounter card that tells you that you’ve won. We assume this would have happened in our game had we gathered the three coins before heading to the last part of the dungeon that sadly wasn’t clearly labelled “Hey, if you go past here you can’t come back.”
That’s pretty much Fighting Fantasy Adventures in a nutshell. Start in room one, choose where to go, find the dungeon card matching your exit number, put it on the table, find the matching encounter card, read it, and react. Then eventually try to accomplish your goal while getting past a variety of obstacles many of which involve combat. Pretty straightforward.
Where things get a bit weird is when you lose. While I don’t expect cooperative games to be easy, the sometimes sudden and instant ways you can die in Fighting Fantasy Adventures can bring the game to an abrupt halt, and we weren’t really sure what the intention was at that point.
Here I think you need to look back at the gamebooks that this game is based on. Those were also filled with dead ends and instant death situations. When playing those books and getting to an unexpected end, all most players did was flip back to the last page they were on and choose the other option. We used to call this “sticking a thumb in the book” as you would leave your thumb on the page you just left so you could easily jump back if you messed up.
The thing is, Fighting Fantasy Adventures doesn’t give you a place to stick your thumb. Yes, maybe in some cases you could just go back a room and choose another path, but the way our game ended there was no easy way to rewind things. The only option we had was to restart the entire thing and play through it all again.
What’s odd here is that these adventures are very scripted and linear and by the time you will have lost you would know a lot about the adventures at that point. You are going to know which ways are best avoided, what order the party should be in, what can safely be searched, etc.
The thing is, I think that’s meant to be part of the game. When you fail, and there’s a good chance you will, you are expected to go back and play again with all of the knowledge that you and your group learned the first time.
In this way it’s just like how you would go back and keep re-reading and replaying a gamebook until you actually got to the end. I don’t think anyone went and sold off their copy of Warlock of Firetop Mountain after their character died the first time. With the gamebooks, you started over and tried again, and again, and I think that’s what Martin Wallace expects folks to do with this game.
What did we think of Fighting Fantasy Adventures?
The one thing I think you can tell pretty well from the rule overview above is that Fighting Fantasy Adventures does a great job of feeling like the classic Fighting Fantasy gamebooks that it’s based on. This game has a very old school, early fantasy pen and paper fantasy roleplaying game feel to it. Playing through our prototype introductory adventure was reminiscent of playing through an old school D&D adventure. We really got that feeling of moving room by room through a dungeon, never sure what we will find next, and using what little information we had to help try to guide us.
Subtle touches like listing what you can hear at various doorways and having to pay attention to the actual artwork on the cards really added a level of immersion to this that I wasn’t expecting from Fighting Fantasy Adventures. In addition, acting logically tended to be rewarded and taking risks came with a mix of reward and punishment. During our game we found a good mix of cursed jewellery and magic swords for example, and well there was that cup of water we could have put to better use.
The combat system in Fighting Fantasy Adventures is simple and works well. It plays quickly and feels tense, but is also highly random. Thankfully the game includes a luck system for re-rolls because the dice will not always be with you. Figuring out when to best use your heroes’ skills is also a big part of the game, and a way to also help offset bad die rolls. There were some really tough fights in our intro scenario and things got progressively harder the deeper we went into the dungeon (as expected).
I found the entire experience to feel rather nostalgic and I think that’s going to be the big draw of this game for long time Fighting Fantasy fans. This is a new way to experience that classic which-way style of play that many long time gamers loved.
While I found this new card driven system did a great job of making it feel like a classic Fighting Fantasy adventure, I think the biggest potential problem with this game is that it is derived from game books.
While the game featured many fantasy RPG tropes and our personal game group is filled with roleplayers who automatically shifted into playing our characters, this is not a full tabletop RPG. This is very much a card driven, dungeon crawling board game with some RPG elements. This isn’t going to be anyone’s D&D alternative.
Fighting Fantasy Adventures is very clearly made for fans of the classic Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks and I think it does an awesome job of updating them to a more modern, card driven, board game format. You really do get the feel of playing through one of those classic adventures and all of the old school dungeon crawling tropes that go with it. If you are, or at least were, fans of the books you really should check this new Fighting Fantasy game out. As a fan of the books myself, I really enjoyed this new version.
This game drips with history and memories for those who are of a certain age. It is a call back to a different era, but packaged in a more modern system. That said, the simple system and dungeon exploration gameplay will appeal to fans of the genre, even if they have no experience of the gamebooks it’s based on. My oldest daughter who has never played through one of the original gamebooks really enjoyed Fighting Fantasy Adventures.
If you are an old school roleplayer looking for a board game that gives you that OSR feel, something you don’t usually find in modern dungeon crawlers like Gloomhaven or Too Many Bones, you may want to give this a shot. It could be the perfect thing to play when you are short a player or your regular GM. It’s definitely much quicker to get to the table and start playing than most TTRPGs.
Now if you are a fan of those more modern dungeon crawlers and modern RPGs this may or may not be a game for you. It will really depend on how much you enjoy randomness in your games and how well you and your group take things like instant death based on nearly arbitrary choices or losing a game due to a bunch of bad die rolls in a row.
This isn’t a roleplaying game where it’s all about experiencing a story and you are expected to reach the end no matter how bad things go. This is a competitive game, even if it’s you and your friends vs. the adventure not each other.
Now here’s an interesting thought, if you enjoy Tragedy Looper, the time travelling puzzle game Time Stories, or the various “Soulslike” video games, you may just love this game because, much like in those games, part of winning at Fighting Fantasy Adventures is failing and trying an adventure again while using what you learned on the last run to help you get further the next time.
Does Fighting Fantasy Adventures have you as hyped as it has me?
I loved the various gamebooks that came out during my childhood and I played many of them. I thought this was an awesome way to be able to recreate that classic which-way feel but with a group of friends.
What, if any, gamebooks did you grow up playing? Tell us all about it in the comments below. If you, like my podcast co-host Sean, were never really into them I would love to hear why you skipped them and I am curious if a game based on them is of any interest to you.