Even before Warhammer existed, Games Workshop Co-Founders Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson were working on another beloved series in the form of Fighting Fantasy. This clever book series blended reader choice and dice rolls together into a fascinating series of player-driven stories that has captured the hearts of fans since 1982.
Now, as Fighting Fantasy approaches its illustrious 35th anniversary, wonderful things are afoot for the series. Ian Livingstone is gearing up to release a new book in the series in the form of Fighting Fantasy: The Port of Peril in early August, and has teamed up with Nomad Games to create a new card-based role-playing video game based on the popular series with Fighting Fantasy Legends. Players will journey through events from three full books and challenge a deck of fortune or folly as they make choices and take on quests to save the lands of Allansia.
In anticipation of the release Fighting Fantasy Legends in July 2017, GameWatcher reached out to Nomad Games Design Director Carl Jackson to have a chat about the game. Jackson answered the call and thoughtfully shared more than a few details on what newcomers and old fans alike can expect. Highlights of the in-depth discussion included which books Fighting Fantasy Legends covers, how they are utilitzed, and how Nomad Games is blending the classic Fighting Fantasy elements with a few new systems.
GameWatcher: Fighting Fantasy is coming up on its 35th anniversary now, which has prompted this collaboration. What has it been like coming together with Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson on to work on a beloved franchise like Fighting Fantasy?
Carl Jackson: It’s been a privilege. We’re probably best known at Nomad Games for our work on digital adaptations of the Talisman board game, which is another Games Workshop property. Ian Livingstone was impressed with what we had done and got in touch with us to see if we were interested in working together on a new project. We didn’t know what we were going to do at the time, but he was really interested in collaborating again on pretty much anything. I met with him and Steve in London to chat about games and it was sort of a “pinch yourself” moment as a game designer to talk with them and come to the decision on approaching Fighting Fantasy. It was a great honor to be offered the chance to work on a franchise this big and I feel like it’s been going quite well for all of us.
GameWatcher: Games like Talisman and Fighting Fantasy have a lot of history behind them. Is there extra pressure or challenge in approaching the established lore of Fighting Fantasy as opposed to something wholly fresh?
Jackson: Talisman is one of our main games and the original board game is over thirty years old at this point, so we have an understanding of working with this kind of thing. What you get with working on the likes of Talisman and Fighting Fantasy is a huge following of fans that hold these things close to their hearts. It means a lot to them and they’re very particular about it – understandably so. So we have to tread a line. On one hand, we have to treat these franchises with respect and think about what the fans want. On the other, we’re also creating new and fresh angles to the game that will appeal to those who may not know much about Fighting Fantasy and guiding those players in as best as possible. There’s definitely pressure to working with something that has as much history as Fighting Fantasy, but it’s also fun to work on something more story-driven than what we’ve handled before with Talisman and the upcoming Smash Up. It’s offered us opportunities to do things we couldn’t really do with our previous card and board games.
GameWatcher: Games Workshop has certainly built that type of following over the years with the likes of Warhammer and Fighting Fantasy. These are incredible universes that players cherish.
Jackson: Absolutely, and perhaps more importantly, they take notice of the people who are handling these licenses. It’s important to a lot of fans of any beloved universe that a studio working on a license they like care about that franchise just as they do. If you’ve got a studio that’s just sort of been brought in without any knowledge or prior passion for a franchise, it can show through in a game. To be fans ourselves is to have some understanding of what those fans are looking for when they see our game. There’s certainly building a good game as well and we hope our game will have a broad appeal that many others can get into, but those fans are sort of who we’re attempting to reach and please first with a game like this.
GameWatcher: By this point there have been quite a few volumes written in the Fighting Fantasy series. Fighting Fantasy Legends’ story focuses on three books in particular. Which books are they and why these three in particular?
Jackson: The game is based on City of Thieves, Citadel of Chaos and The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. When we first began working out what we wanted to do, I had originally wanted to create a game that covered the whole set of books. I realized quite early on that it was going to be difficult, if not impossible to make a game like that with the time we had, so we slowly trimmed it down. At first it was trimmed to about ten books worth of coverage. However, as I was researching, I realized a few of the books take place on the same continent, in the same area, and with the same cities, landmarks, places and people. With these three books, they’re separated quite nicely in this area of the Fighting Fantasy world called Northern Allansia and they offer a good spread of authorship as well. Ian Livingstone wrote City of Thieves, Steve Jackson wrote Citadel of Chaos, and they co-authored Warlock of Firetop Mountain, so the game offers a nice, even split of their writing styles and storyline creation. Each of the books also has a really interesting and different feel. City of Thieves feels a lot more claustrophobic with all of these characters you’re not certain about trusting, where Firetop Mountain provides sort of a classically-styled dungeon crawl with rooms full of monsters, traps and treasures, and Citadel feels like an imaginative journey up this massive tower to the bad guy at the top. With so much variety all grouped into the same region, it felt like an easy choice to put focus on those three books in the end.
GameWatcher: Let’s talk about the world of Fighting Fantasy Legends as well. We’ve seen over-world maps, villages, dungeons, ships, and more, inspired by the events of the books. What has it been like to translate the world of Fighting Fantasy into a new visual experience?
Jackson: It’s been an interesting challenge. I read these books when I was a kid, but I certainly went back to reread a lot of them for research. We found that a lot of the descriptions in the books were not necessarily of the place. Livingstone and Jackson left a lot of that to your imagination, and so sometimes you might have half of what you’re supposed to see while your mind fills in the blanks. For instance, in the Firetop Mountain book, there are rooms the hero walks into where it really doesn’t say anything about the room. It might simply say there’s an orc in the room and you’ll fight the orc, find some treasure, and then leave. We had to take things like that and figure out what those places would look like. What was going on in that room? Why was that orc there? Did he live there or was it some sort of torture room where he was torturing a prisoner? Those were the kind of questions we had to ask and it was really interesting to figure out some of the untold stories in the books’ locations and what happened in them. It was similar with directions and certain choices in the books. There were points in the books where it sort of forces you along a certain path, such as seeing houses in the east, but being forced to go north. So we had to make design choices in guiding the player to where we wanted them to be without letting them too far off the beaten path that the books had established. It’s raised a lot of questions and considerations, but it’s also been quite fun to take these books and expand sensibly upon what they give us.
GameWatcher: Are we entirely on rails for this adventure? How much of Fighting Fantasy Legends’ world open to players or is it entirely contextual to progression through the game?
Jackson: It’s not what I would call a free-flowing, open-world game. When we analyzed the books, we started looking at them sort of like giant puzzles. There are many puzzles to solve within the books, but the books themselves are also one big puzzle each. To solve them, you needed to figure out how to reach the end, have the items that you need, and complete the quest. Part of the puzzling is in figuring which way to go and which choices to make in the rooms. Your reward is the necessary treasure or finding the monsters you’re meant to kill. So we had to make sure that we limited the player’s movement in a similar way that would guide them through the books. You might come across a shop in which you make a serious choice. We don’t let you go back in that shop for that choice again. It’s a consequence that will stay with you and an option you can replay later with different choices to see what happens. It does feel like there’s a bit more freedom than in the books in seeing where you can go as you choose your directions, but also when you get to the overworld map of Allansia you can also wander around a bit and explore towns and things like that.
GameWatcher: Those original books were famous for blending fantasy-fiction roleplaying with what many know as a “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” style of book. So what you’re talking about is a balance of keeping the player in the direction those books headed while allowing for the player choices that made adventures unique?
Jackson: Pretty much. You need to understand that when Livingstone and Jackson were designing the books, they had very specific situations and puzzles in mind, which is part of what people love about those books. We have to be very careful about changing that too much, lest we lose direction of what made those original stories great and what people liked about those books in the first place. We want to keep the puzzling elements of which way to go and what choices you make when you go that way. It’s a card game as well, so we do throw in random card encounters. You might be walking through a dungeon and you reach an area where you have to draw a card from the top of the deck and go with what it describes. The card could be monsters to fight, treasures to take with you, or a trap that damages you unless you roll successful dice throws to get around it. That said, we had no intention of straying too far from the core of Fighting Fantasy and the quality of those stories. We felt like if we did, that would damage the experience for a lot of people. It’s almost like playing the books, but just with some new mechanics and visuals to it.
GameWatcher: Nomad Games is well known by now for their card and tabletop style approach to video games, which seems like a pretty good fit for a role-playing dice adventure like Fighting Fantasy. How did Nomad approach the Fighting Fantasy gameplay system? Did the team try to stay completely faithful or change it up with the experience from previous games?
Jackson: I think one of the things we learned from Talisman is that though it’s quite a simple board game at first, there are a lot of rules that trip players up. It can become a bit of a monster when you’re explaining those rules to some players. We had to deal with that as we made the digital version, which turned out fine enough and a lot of people seemed to enjoy it. However, what we learned from that is that we wanted to make Fighting Fantasy Legends a game that doesn’t really need explaining. It’s obvious what’s going on and you’re basically being told a story. You shouldn’t get caught in whether you can do this or why you can’t do that. The focus needs to be the stories really. What we ended up doing was taking the gameplay systems from the book and updating them. They’re still quite familiar, but with a fresh look and feel to them. For instance, there’s still luck tests and skill tests like in the books for things like if you decide to jump a chasm. There’s also player progression. When you kill monsters and complete quests, your character levels up and you level up the dice you use to for things like passing those skill tests. It’s a fairly basic system, as the books were geared towards children. We don’t bog it down with a lot of rules, but rather try to make it something where it will be accessible to new players while also satisfying old fans of those who would recognize what’s going on when they play.
GameWatcher: Combat will be based as well on a mixture of character cards, equipment cards, and dice rolls from what we’ve seen. Could you expand on how that works in Fighting Fantasy Legends?
Jackson: It’s really quite simple. In the original game books, your hero was made up of skill, stamina, and luck stats. We’ve kept those three main attributes for this game. At the beginning, when you’re creating your character, instead of rolling for those attributes, we offer you a pool of points which you can spread through those attributes. You can heavily load up on skill at the cost of luck and stamina or vice versa with the other two stats. For combat, skill determines how many dice you have for the roll. If you have a skill of nine, you’ll have nine skill dice to roll. They’re six sided dice and at the beginning, five of the faces are blank and the last face has a fist. When you go into combat, you’ll roll your skill dice, and your opponent will role theirs. For every fist rolled, you or your opponent get an attack and it continues like this until one of you is dead. I mentioned you level up for completing quests and killing enemies. What that means here is that you can upgrade your skill dice, adding another fist emblem to a blank side of a dice. It means rolling successes more often as you level up and signifies your character becoming stronger and more adept at combat. You can also use equipment cards like swords to add more dice to your attack roll or a protective gear that adds a shield dice. If you roll a shield dice, it negates one of your opponent’s successful attack dice. It’s really quite connected to how the original system worked, but with a nice progression system on top of it to spice things up.
GameWatcher: And the weapon and shield cards are like treasures and items we may find on our journey?
Jackson: Yes. They can come to your inventory in a number of ways. You could be trolling through Firetop Mountain and draw a card from a room which happens to be a weapon card and you get to keep it as a treasure, or you might find a shop in the City of Thieves that you could buy cards from, such as the blacksmith in Port Blacksand that sells chainmail cards. If you have enough gold, you can score that card for your inventory to use when you need it. All of your treasures are cards and they all have a context to them for use whether it’s for combat or solving puzzles.
GameWatcher: From what we’ve seen, players take on the role of a hero by way of a character card and throughout their journeys, they come in contact with other cards, be they other characters or monsters. How does that end of the card system work? Is there a way for players to acquire more cards?
Jackson: Collecting cards is part of what we’ve added to the puzzle. The way you build up your inventory of cards is mostly through encounters. When you start, you get a sword card and several gold pieces you can spend in Port Blacksand, such as buying the chainmail card. That said, as you’re exploring, you might have to draw a card. Sometimes that card is something you can keep, like a potion that lets you pass a stat test or other things. It’s all about finding cards through drawing them or passing encounters in certain ways. As an example, some of the encounters in the game are not random – they are exactly as they appeared in the books. In Warlock of Firetop Mountain, there is a river you must cross and there are several choices of how to get across. You can ring a bell and call a ferryman, try to cross a bridge, or try to row across in a boat. Each choice has its own outcome, but if you call the ferryman and argue with him, it leads to a rather particular fight with a rather particular monster. If you win the ensuing combat, that monster card will enter your Creature Codex and making choices like that is the only way to get certain monster cards. The Creature Codex is this encyclopedic bestiary where you can figure out which monsters you haven’t seen, where they might be, and how you encounter them. It makes for an interesting collection side game in the stories.
GameWatcher: What about our hero? They are represented by a card as well aren’t they? Is there any difference in hero cards or any way to collect more heroes?
Jackson: Not at this time. Mostly, we just needed some way of representing the player in the game, so we chose a few different character styles in the way of a barbarian, dwarf, and elf. We needed to show the player character in context of walking around the map and engaging in combat as you make your choices throughout the game, but they don’t offer any bonuses or differences. They’re purely cosmetic. All of the choices you make about what they can do is up to you.
GameWatcher: There is so much to explore in the Fighting Fantasy franchise. What happens after day one of launch on Fighting Fantasy Legends? Is there a possibility you might continue to explore Fighting Fantasy lore through DLC or further games?
Jackson: Possibly. At the moment, we’re getting ready to finish the game and release it. On day one, we’ll send it all live and then I’m expecting to spend the next few days reading forums and reactions to see how people are receiving it and what they think about it. We’ll also be keeping an eye out for anything we missed that needs fixing or polishing. Hopefully there won’t be much on that end. Essentially, we’ll be making sure that players have the experience we want them to have and we’ll tweak and balance with updates as necessary. As for the future, we’re not thinking too much about it just yet, but if people like it and there’s a huge demand for more, we would certainly love to keep bringing it to them. I’ve truly enjoyed working on Fighting Fantasy.
GameWatcher: What would you say about the possibility of mod support in Fighting Fantasy Legends? Is there any possibility that we might see an opportunity for users and modders to create things like new cards for the game?
Jackson: It’s a strong possibility, yes. We actually made an editing system that allowed us to make a lot of parts of the game quickly. It took quite some time to put the system together tightly, and then worked the content in through that system over the course of months after. What that means is that there’s certainly something there underneath the surface of the game that allows for a degree of editing, whether it’s new cards, new characters, or other things. If it’s something that a lot of people want and it feels like something we can do, I think it would be great. The focus here in Fighting Fantasy Legends has always been the stories, but if people want to create their own stories and share their maps, levels, items, or devious new traps through mods, I think that would be fantastic to see and it’s certainly something we won’t rule out.
Fighting Fantasy is another Games Workshop classic series that deserves proper love and attention from any Studio that intends to work with it. Carl Jackson and Nomad Games seem to have more than a little dedication to the cause. It will remain to be seen if everything great about this decades-old franchise translates to a modern video game with Fighting Fantasy Legends, but with fresh visuals and interesting systems built upon a classic set of beloved stories, it would seem the game is on the right path to thrill new players and rekindle the love of lifelong fans. Be sure to keep an eye out for it when it releases on July 27, 2017.
To find out more and purchase Fighting Fantasy Legends, be sure to visit the game’s Steam page.
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