Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The 2-Player Gamebook

Though the majority of gamebooks are designed to be solo, there are a few gamebooks that support multiple players. Before writing this article I did a little bit of research into the background of 2-player gamebooks. Here is what I gathered of the history of the multiplayer gamebook:

Of course after gamebooks became popular as solo adventures, people started wondering how they could share their gamebook adventures with a friend. There were plenty of RPGs that were almost always designed for a group of friends to play, but what about a gamebook that allowed just two players to play together without a GM? In response to this a few different game companies came out with “pre-programmed adventures” for their board games, which were similar to gamebooks, as in there were little booklets that told you which room what monster in then, albeit there wasn’t much plot nor was there much in the way of text and decisions. In 1983 the first series of published 2-player gamebooks came out; this was the Lost Worlds combat series. The books were plotless and essentially allowed the players to fight against eachother using different kinds of fantasy characters. In 1985 the first 2-player gamebook series with a hint of a plot came out; this was the 1-on-1 adventure gamebooks. The characters actually had some back ground and you were given a reason why they were fighting. More 2-player series bloomed shortly after that, including Duel Master, Combat Heroes, Double Game, Clash of the Princes, and others.

There are two main types of multiplaye gamebooks; there were the multiplayer-single-book type, such as Bloodsword or Quasar-Saga series, in which there was only one book per adventure, and was designed to be read out loud by one person, which all the other players make decisions for their individual characters, who travelled together as a group. These types gave more of the “RPG board game” feel.
The other type was the strictly 2-player gamebooks. These gamebooks came in sets of 2 and were designed so that one player would read the first gamebook, while the other player would read the second gamebook. Often these 2-player only gamebooks could be played solo as well, with a slight variation to the rules. In order to keep the player’s adventures in sync the players would call out, or write down codewords and special number, and by cross referencing these in each of the players books, they could see if they met up somewhere or if their actions affected eachother. There are 2 subcategories of 2-player only gamebooks; those in which players can play cooperatively, and those in which players can only fight eachother.
In this article I will be focusing more on the “2-player only” type gamebooks, rather than the “multiplayer-single-book” types.

The authors of these gamebooks had to create special mechanics and rules to allow for multiple players to play and keep their adventures coordinated. Here I’m going to be talking about the “2-player only” type gamebooks. There are three major things authors of 2-palyer gamebooks need to coordinate: Location, Speed, Events, and Combat. Different authors use different techniques to achieve this.
To Coordinate Location: The players of a 2-player gamebook are usually in different locations most of the time, only staying together to fight, or to cooperate. Authors of 2-player gamebooks have to make a system so that players know when they meet eachother. This is usually done one of two ways; either by telling the other player where they are, or by writing down a codeword or number that corresponds to a location, and if the players match, they must turn to a special reference giving them options on how to behave towards the other player’s arrival. I find that both these systems are flawed because a player’s location is always revealed, whether by directly calling out their location, or by giving a number that references what location they are at.
To Coordinate Speed: Some readers may be faster than others, so in order to prevent the faster reader from getting ahead of the other authors often break their 2-player gamebooks into sections; after completing a small section of the book a player will read text telling them to wait for the other player to finish reading their small section of the book as well (by small section I mean like exploring a location, or dealing with a situation). When both players reach the end of their individual sections they may be asked to reference eachother to see if they are at the same location, and if so what actions they’d like to take. Afterward players move on to the next section of the gamebook independently to continue their quest.
To Coordinate Events: Sometimes players may leave traps for their opponents, or take items ahead of the other player. There are two ways authors deal with this; either via codeword, which will tell one of the players to turn to a section letting them know that they have fallen into a trap, or that the item they came for is no longer there. Or, if the players are simply telling eachother what location they are at, one player may simply tell the other that they have fallen into one of their traps.
To Coodinate Combat: in cooperative adventures players may sometimes fight against an enemy together. The author will have to choose how to do this; whether to split the enemy into to combats; one for each player, or to have them both attack the enemy at the same time, or to have the players decide how to go about fighting their enemies. Sometimes authors will even present cooperative players even more interesting choices; for example in Clash of the Princes when you are going to raid a cottage full of goblins, you may make tactical decisions, such as letting the warrior burst through the door, while the wizards casts spells through the window.

I myself enjoy playing 2-player gamebooks with my friends, though I think the mechanics could use some improvement. I’d like to see more tactical choices given when entering 2-player cooperative combat, as well as a more effective system for coordinating location, without giving away one’s location to the other player.

Now I want to hear from YOU! What are YOUR favorite multiplayer gamebooks? What is YOUR opinion on them? Would YOU like to see more multiplayer gamebooks published? What do YOU think the ideal design for a multiplayer gamebook is?


  1. As an historical note, Lost Worlds books are still being produced in Japan (!). http://www.jlist.com/product/PHS638 (Note that there are a lot of things on this web site that might be considered not safe for work...)

  2. Now this is a tricky one. I enjoyed the Shattered Realm Duelmaster book where each of the two players are rulers of a realm. It was split into two parts. In the first part, you had to travel to other kingdoms to gain their support. The next part was more of a tabletop strategy game where your armies clashed. I enjoyed it but the rules were not too clear (they explained personal comabt as it happened rather than at the beginning for example) and you also had to tell the other player to WAIT which may have keft some players WAITing for a while.

    Joe Dever's Combat Heroes were very interesting where you had pictures of your enemy and could take certain actions based upon what you saw. It's hard to explain, but Joe Dever has made his Combat Heroes books free, so I don't have to:


    That hasn't answered any questions really. I just wanted to tell you about my experiences.

  3. I absolutely adored the BloodSword series, and they were books that I could literally just flick through and read assorted sections because of the depth of the story and locations.

    I was a big fan of books 2-4 of the Duelmaster series, and really enjoyed the fact that they were different spins on the 'contest'. Book 2 was sort of a 'most dangerous game' scenario where one player was a cruel ruler of a small kingdom who enjoyed hunting prisoners, whereas the other player was a prisoner attempting to either escape the kingdom or kill the tyrant. Book 3, as stated, involved two rulers of different kingdoms having a war. Book 4 was set in a gladiatorial arena, where the two players navigated the arena (and the dungeon beneath) while attempting to find and kill each other. The ability to 'come back' with riches and extra weapons was a real plus.

    Combat Heroes was interesting for a while, but could get dull real quick.

    There was an interesting 1 on 1 gamebook where one of the two players could control Fafrd and the Grey Mouser.

    HATED Clash of the Princes - the interactivity was really limited, and it was basically just two people separated trying to complete a FFG.

  4. I know I'm a little late here, but this is a very interesting post. I'm deeply intrigued by the idea of multiplayer gamebooks. I've wanted to try a two-player version of the types you've discussed for a while, but it never even occurred to me that you could do a multiplayer version, with one person reading aloud and the other acting as the roleplaying party. How cool is that?

    Is it still possible to acquire any of these books?

    1. The Blood Sword series was re-released in 2014.
      Anything else, you'll probably need to look for secondhand.