The Best 80s Game You Probably Didn’t Play

Advanced Fighting Fantasy - Stellar Adventures RPG

Look closely and you’ll also spot Rebel Planet on the right, which shares the same cover art. Hey, the more giant sword-swinging space lizards, the merrier!

Way back in the 1980s, there were gamebooks, those choose-your-own-adventure type of books where you made a decision and then turned to a specially-numbered paragraph to find out what happened next.

Now, they’re back.

Ian Livingstone, who (along with fellow Games Workshop founder Steve Jackson) sold millions of Fighting Fantasy books worldwide in the 80s, has just penned Port of Peril. It’s the first brand-new Fighting Fantasy adventure in many years. I’m completely psyched.

If you’ve never played these books, here’s how they work:

In pretty much every book, you‘re on a desperate quest to save the kingdom from some evil villain who is amassing an army of darkness. As your journey progresses, you are forced to make tough choices.

Do you want to climb the cliff and explore the hidden cave entrance? Turn to paragraph 80. Would you rather follow the trail into the haunted forest? Turn to paragraph 310.

Mess up, and you won’t find the clues you need to finish the quest. Or you’ll get killed, and have to start over again.

Goofy, yes, but strangely addictive and fiercely fun for kids and adults alike.

The Jedi mind trick of rolling dice.

Unlike in other series, in Fighting Fantasy you roll dice to resolve battles and add an element of chance. Do you spot that trap in time? Roll the dice. Do you successfully swing across the open chasm without falling to your doom? Roll the dice.

By the way, there’s a bit of psychology here. Scientific studies have shown that rolling dice activates the skilled-activity areas of your brain. Even though the results of the dice are random, psychologically it feels like you have control over the outcome.

Rolling badly tends to make people feel like they failed, while good rolls make them feel like they did a good job. So it’s kind of a mind trick. You actually feel as if your skills are being tested when you roll dice to determine the outcome of the story.

If that sounds to you like a multi-player role-playing game, a la Dungeons and Dragons, you’d be right.

In the late 1980s, the authors produced Advanced Fighting Fantasy for group play. I wish I’d had that game as a kid, but I don’t believe it was available in the USA at the time.

Now, Advanced Fighting Fantasy is back in action.

Words can’t describe how excited I was to find out that a small UK company, Arion Games, has reinvented the game for a modern audience. The new expanded series of Advanced Fighting Fantasy RPGs being published today are easy to learn, quick to play, and irresistibly fun.

I’ve wanted to help create a game like that ever since I was a kid. So when I found out that Graham Bottley at Arion Games was putting together Stellar Adventures, a science fiction version of Advanced Fighting Fantasy, I jumped at the chance to help.

I chipped in on the Kickstarter campaign, helped playtest the rules, and edited the final manuscript. My own original contributions were minor: a few new rules and simplifications, some ideas for generating star systems, things like that. But it took me back to when I was a kid, and my dream was to work on a real, published role-playing game. It was immensely gratifying to contribute in my own small way to such a fun project.

What are your favorite books from the 80s? Leave me a comment.

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