Straight off the bat, let’s get this out of the way, Seas of Blood is much better than Space Assassin and The Rings of Kether. However, it is not without some significant flaws, some of which I brushed upon in my read-through, but I’ll talk a little bit more about them here.
Artwork has become a big deal to me in reading these books again, I take a great deal of pleasure in some of the wonderful illustrations from a diverse range of artists we have seen in Fighting Fantasy books, it’s something I appreciate far more than as a child. So when I see them being handled badly, I do find it very frustrating. Bob Harvey has done some really good work in other books and it continues here, my gripe is not the subjective quality of the artwork, but the choice of scenes that are granted a full illustration. I highlighted two monsters described as being utterly extraordinary beasts but given no accompanying picture, now this isn’t Lovecraft, show us the damn thing!
I actually got thinking about how the process works in putting together a book, is the writer in full control or is there a discussion along with the artist over what might best fit his or her style, ideas on how the image can be composed etc… So, I took to Twitter and got an answer from the horses mouth.
I’m going to say that we can therefore blame the writer! My reports on the book featured what felt like the fewest number of illustrations I’ve been able to feature to date, which I realise makes my blog an impenetrable wall of text, so I’ve tried to include some of the better ones here that I didn’t see.
A failed Luck test I believe would have seen me sailing into the jaws of our cover-beast, the hydra. I do like it when the cover isn’t some abstract image and we get to encounter that moment for ourselves.
And here we see a dead bloke. I don’t know if you noticed, but I died a lot in this book. The overall difficulty here is very high, given the lack of ways to heal your crew and indeed yourself, I’d be surprised if people have much joy completing the book without some very solid initial stats. I scraped through at the end with a Crew Strength of 2, a massive problem when there are insta-fails associated with your Crew Strength and there is no rule stating that your Crew Strength is restored like your Stamina is by travelling. Not even the party at the village near the end restored any vitality in us; low initial Crew stats basically means you have no chance.
An enormous creature I missed out on was this guy, but I can’t think it really mattered much as reward was few and far between. I get the idea that sometimes you make the wrong decision and have to deal with the consequences, you are punished. But in any kind of game, especially an RPG, the fuel is progression and development, you have to be rewarded for your accomplishments. So when I get through tough situations like beating The Horror, an opponent with 12 Skill no less, I expect to get at least something out of it, especially in a book where the central theme is getting loot! Abdul probably got something from all of his encounters, he managed to get together nearly 800 gold after all. I’d be unsurprised if there was no room for error in this book and that a very specific path had to be taken to get that 800 gold… is it actually possible to get more?
These birds were probably worth a fair bit, Abdul probably nicked the lot of them, the git.
Lizard men are something that have made a few appearances in Fighting Fantasy books and these guys were branded as such, but are significantly different to the ones we have seen in Island of the Lizard King and will see in Battleblade Warrior. Perhaps a different sub-species? I note the ones in the desert scene have webbed feet, perhaps an odd physical development for such an environment… but maybe I’m overthinking the analysis here, this isn’t Dark Souls lore.
My feedback here has been quite negative so far and I guess that makes sense as I didn’t especially enjoy my time with this book, as I’ve described, the balancing of everything is way off, much like Space Assassin and The Rings of Kether in-fact. What I did like though was the open premise of the book, sailing around and encountering different people and places promised an experience similar to Starship Traveller. Now I realise that wasn’t everyones cup of tea, but I enjoyed seeing these little short stories of what was happening in different corners of the galaxy. To an extent we got that here too, lots of mini-adventures in different locations, I could play the book again and have a vastly different experience I imagine. Were it balanced better I think this would have been a much more rewarding read.
Alas, things just didn’t pan out that well in the end and despite me maddeningly having two weeks of sailing time left, I failed to beat Abdul, but here he is, showing off his pitiful treasure hoard in the winning scenario.
And the epic conclusion to the story where you beat Abdul the Butcher to become King of the Pirates?
He does prattle on doesn’t he? TLDR, dude. TLDR.
Steve Jackson wrote the next one? Thank christ.