The Empire’s Edge by Chan Sing Goh
Warning! Review may contain spoilers!
Chan Sing Goh entered the Windhammer competition last year, with his historical trading simulation, Merchants of the Spice Islands. It was complex and lacked a little bit of life but overall it was quite fun. He is back this year with a semi-sequel of sorts – we have a similar time period and setting – but The Empire’s Edge has more of a traditional gamebook narrative. It’s a detective story set on the edge of the British Empire and tackles the difficult subject of racism head on.
Merchants of the Spice Islands suffered from overly complex rules, so this year it’s nice to see a simple system. You roll one dice and add it to your skill score to see if you have passed or failed a test. Combat is also pretty easy – you roll a dice, add your skill and the opponent does the same. If you hit, you do your weapon damage value to its health. The only issue with the system is if you are unarmed you do 1/3rd of damage instead. The rules may be work better if it did away with fractions and instead unarmed combat does one damage and everything else (damage done, hitpoints) is upscaled by a factor of 3. Other than that though, the rules are snappy and work well.
Character creation is really interesting, in which you get to choose your race, the languages spoken by your character and even his/her motivation. There’s a lot of scope here for role play and this all adds to immersion into the game world. I gave birth to Musang DanDanDanDan, the soldier from Malay. He left his army because he had a burning desire to learn about the world; most of all he wanted to know why he had a silly name.
Callum realises he does not speak Tamil. “I… am…. looking…. for….. Indian…. man….” Callum asks slowly using his hand to act out each of the words.
Where the gamebook shines is in its flavour. The setting and time is incredibly researched, with even inline translations of some of the language used of the day. The story is intriguing and makes a nice change from a having to save the world affair. Some of the language and bigotry would not be appropriate today, but I like how the author presents it. His characters know no other way and that is simply how you are going to have to accept them. Pretty complex material for a gamebook.
The route through the gamebook is mostly logical – I feel some of the clues aren’t that obvious or aren’t there, and you have to occasionally make a random, uninformed choice, which is a slight shame. On a second playthrough you can probably get through to the end. The nicest thing about this gamebook is the rich history it is dipped in – it is nicely written, very well researched and will hopefully do well.