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Book 02: The Citadel of Chaos» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Fighting Fantasy Reviewed - The Citadel of Chaos rss

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Mr T.
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This is the 2nd in a series of Game Book Reviews dedicated to the Fighting Fantasy Series. Before writing each review I have played through the book (yet again) to refresh my memory. I will avoid any major spoilers in the reviews, instead keeping them for the Session Report I will write for each Game Book also. A link to that content can be found at the end of this review.

Title – The Citadel of Chaos
Number in the Original Series – 2
Publication Date – 1983
Authors – Steve Jackson
Cover Artist – Emanuel (original) Ian Miller (2nd Cover)
Illustrations – Russ Nicholson
Genre – Fantasy
Setting within Titan – Allansia
No. of Passages – 400
Main Adversary – Balthus Dire (Demi-Sorcerer)
Instant Deaths/Defeats – 19!

Overview

Following on from the 'The Warlock of Firetop Mountain', Citadel continues to use the fantasy theme, although this time you, the Hero, are a wizard in training and have spells at your disposal as well as a sword. I have no idea how well The Warlock of Firetop Mountain did in terms of sales, but it is entirely possible that Puffin and Jackson didn’t want to mess with a winning formula on the theme front.

Despite the reasons for going with fantasy again, the introduction of magic however was clever in two ways. On one level it allowed Citadel to stand out from its predecessor and avoid being a simple clone. But on another level it probably appealed just that little bit more to all the RPG fans that loved to play clerics and wizards.

Story Line

As with Firetop Mountain, the story on offer here is pretty standard fantasy fair, but it is sprinkled with some nice elements that make it more memorable.

Essentially a new evil has arisen within the Vale of Willow. A Demi-Sorcerer by the name of Balthus Dire has raised an army of dark creatures and plans to march his army on the Vale before taking over the world. The combination of sorcery skills plus a mighty army, make Dire a dangerous foe and whilst the King’s army may succeed in stopping him, it is decided that a single assassin would do better to enter the Black Tower of Craggen Rock, Balthus Dire’s Citadel, and destroy him there.

What the introduction in Citadel does so well is drop references to the wider universe in which Fighting Fantasy is set. They mention the Vale of Willow and Craggen Rock. There is a King Salamon and within The Great Forest resides the Grand Wizard of Yore, of which you are a pupil. These references lend the story more power and allow young readers to begin to believe in this world. There is no reference to Allansia as yet (and indeed it isn’t the release of Out of the Pit in 1985 that a map outlines the location of Craggen Rock and the Vale of Willow. It is obvious that the co-founders of the series were working hard between Firetop Mountain and Citadel to flesh out the world of Titan, or at the very least the continent of Allansia.


Image Courtesy of Neil Thomson

It’s also worth noting here too that during the adventure several references are made about the history of Balthus Dire and the presence of his wife. These help to make Dire a more believable character and the back story, at least in part, shows that Jackson wanted to write an engaging story rather than simply make the book purely ‘game’.

The Creatures

Like Firetop Mountain the creatures that featured in Citadel are fairly standard fantasy issue beasts. But there were some original creations that are worth mentioning. The MIKS and Ganjees were original creations and mean ones at that. The Wheelies are perhaps most notable however. They are almost laughable really but combined with the illustration these 4-handed knife wielding cookie shaped creatures always stick in the memory. Another notable creation is the Gark, which is supposedly a half-goblin, half-giant. Of course the mind instantly considers how 2 such creatures would mate but Jackson explains it away with a reference to Sorcerers who bred them for their aggressive nature.

But what sticks out with the creatures of Citadel are the mythological references that began in Firetop Mountain. There we had the Cyclops and the Minotaur and here we have the Gargoyle and the Hydra. In addition the use of a Golden Fleece (made famous by the mythological tale of Jason and the Argonauts) allows safe passage past one of the book’s key adversaries.

I can only imagine that Jackson wanted to weave these references through the initial books to capture a wider audience.

A Complete Bestiary can be found in the Session Report, which is linked at the end of this Review.

General Layout

The layout of the Citadel is excellent and by that I mean that it is very believable. The Citadel features an imposing gate, an outer courtyard and yet another large gated doorway that leads into the inner sanctum.

Inside are the features that one would expect of a Citadel – kitchens, larders, grand dining rooms, a library, bedrooms and dungeon cells. Parts of the Citadel cut into the mountain and access to an underground river can be made. It is all there and the mapping is fun as you try to work out how this place is built.

Capping it all off is the Tower at the climax of the book, complete with the spiraling staircases and multiple balconies.

Everything about the Citadel is spot on and adds to the sense of adventure.

Starting Equipment

Sword
Leather Armour
Backpack
Lantern

The Tilt

Some Fighting Fantasy Game Books tended to favour one of your attributes heavily and this section in each Review will be dedicated to any comment on that front.

Obviously what sets Citadel apart from other books in the series is the inclusion of the Magic attribute and the ability to select spells up to this value at the start of the adventure.

It makes the playing of Citadel quite unique and very different from Firetop because each potential threat could often be minimized (Weakness or Strength Spell for example) or averted all together through the use of Magic. This is actually very important if we are to believe that we are apprentice Wizards.

In addition to Magic, Luck is also fairly important in Citadel as certain key items or events required a successful luck check to grab or avoid.

Best Illustration

For me the artwork featured in Citadel was of a much higher standard than that seen in Firetop Mountain. Whilst the style (and the artist) are the same I find the subjects of each illustration to be more engaging.

Notable mentions go out to the Misshapen Butler, the Calacorm being viewed from behind cell bars, the Gargoyle, the Wheelies, the Hydra, the Gark and Dire himself. The Dining Hall imparts great depth through the use of the elongated dinging table too. I also like 90% of the Rhino-Man but boy are his legs drawn all out of proportion.

My vote this time round goes to the depiction of the Gark. It has a classic looking Goblin-y / Orcish type head, complete with a topknot and the muscles are bulging on the shoulders. But what makes this picture for me is the action pose. In his right hand is held a single handed battle-axe and his left hand is pushing up a ripped sleeve as if to say, ‘Time to take care of business’. The eyes are looking through you and the illustration lets you know that this thing could mean trouble. I love it.

Cover Illustration

The original cover is by Emmanuel and like Firetop, it is pretty awful. A fluffy muppet type creature is standing in the foreground with the Citadel looming up in the far distance. The creature is laughable and the Citadel is too far away to make it imposing. Leading out from the Citadel’s gate is a line of creatures, which represent the threat of Dire’s army. They too though are too small and ordinary looking to grab one’s attention.


Image Courtesy of Amiral

On the strength of these first 2 covers I’m surprised that any kids picked up the books at all. Thankfully there was a game inside and that was enough.

The reprint (Puffin Gold Dragon) is a better effort by Ian Miller, but it still doesn’t really capture the imagination. This time the Whirlwind Girl from the Courtyard is depicted outside the Citadel. The Citadel is much closer this time and darker colours are used . A Rhino-Man stands guard to the left of the Whirlwind and a high wall is on the right. Better but not great.


Image Courtesy of mr_lunch

The cover was given a whole new look when yet another re-release was issued by Wizard Books. This time the Hydra is depicted sitting atop the Citadel on some high battlements. Good use of light and shadow is used and the heads of the Hydra are drawn to suggest that they are constantly coiling and snapping at any threats. This finally creates a sense of danger and is the best cover by far.


Image Courtesy of mr_lunch

Filler Illustrations

Another nice feature of Fighting Fantasy Game Books is the little filler illustrations that were scattered throughout the book to help separate the various passages and support the theme that the book uses. In ‘Citadel of Chaos’ there are five types of filler illustration – scimitar type sword, a broadsword, a scroll, a pile of treasures and a smoking alchemist vial sitting alongside a skull and small chest.

These 6 images are up markedly on the 1 type of filler illustration used in Firetop and suggests that perhaps the designer’s budget had been extended somewhat.

The Final Word

The Citadel of Chaos is a marked improvement over Firetop Mountain thanks to its design (which requires careful mapping) and a very real sense of danger. Right from the start the theme of the mission, you are sent in to assassinate the Demi-Sorcerer, gets the reader excited.

A total of 19 sudden deaths makes Citadel quite tricky and the multiple threats in the Towers of the Citadel act as mini-climaxes before the big battle and are challenging in their own right.

The improved story line and inclusion of facts and details from the wider land of Allansia help to make the sense of plot more real and believable too.

To top it all off, the Battle against Balthus Dire is extremely detailed, offering many different options, surprises and varied ways to die. Unlike the fight against the Warlock, Dire is quite difficult to beat and whilst this can be initially frustrating, it makes your final success all that more satisfying.

Citadel is by far the best in the series to date for me.

Links to FF Game Book Reviews (1-10)

d10-1 The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

d10-3 The Forest of Doom

Links to FF Game Book Session Reports (1-10)

d10-1 The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

d10-2 The Citadel of Chaos

d10-3 The Forest of Doom
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Alexander Bateman
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Should their be a link to a session review of this book, rather than Warlock of Firetop Mountain?
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Mr T.
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jadrax wrote:
Should their be a link to a session review of this book, rather than Warlock of Firetop Mountain?


I will include Review and Session Report Links to each set of 10 books for each submission.

The Citadel Session will be up in a day or two. I'm just completing a new version of the map.
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Jim Patching
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The creature on the first cover looks like a Critter!
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Rattus rattus
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the first cover is pathetic!!! I think the second one was pretty good though, summed up the atmosphere pretty well and made me want to get this one when I was a kid
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Mr T.
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I just finished Forest of Doom tonight - Review and Session up soon.
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J Rodger
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Neil Thomson wrote:
I just finished Forest of Doom tonight - Review and Session up soon.


Looking forward to it.
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