Gunsmoke Along the Fey Frontier by Richard Penwarden
Warning! Review may contain spoilers!
This is a fantasy western gamebook adventure in which you play a bounty hunter, genres that are very common standalone but the mashup is quite rare. Gunsmoke Along the Fey Frontier is one of the better gamebook names we have this year, but let’s see how it is as a gamebook.
There are some clever thematic rules regarding skill checks. The skill system has a very strong resemblance to Stuart Lloyd’s Isaac Newton gamebook, but this one seems to use elements of the scenario better. You have aces, posse of pips and a bounty. There’s also alternative methods of record keeping: use a bit of paper (boring) or use a combination of dice, cards and coins. We’re going for the boring way, but we can pretend to have all these things setup and sprawled across the table. There’s a simple but important choice of character. I activate advanced mode and choose to be an angry dwarf desperado known only as Stumpy Bon Jovi.
Gator didn’t get his name from his looks, even though his teeth are unusually crooked. No, apparently when Gator makes a kill he cries afterwards. Do alligators cry crocodile tears? Well so far he hasn’t cried and you aren’t about to have him crying over you.
There’s a ton of content here for such a short gamebook. There’s all of the standard Western themes you can think of – railroads, saloons, rodeos, horse stealing, cowboying, lynch mobs, even a murder mystery. No gay encounters in a tent at the foot of a mountain though, as far as I could tell. The skill system is interesting but a little awkward. You have to roll over a certain value a number of times, but as soon as you succeed it starts to get easier as the target value decreases. I was either very lucky with the rolling or made some superb choices, as nothing was too challenging. Even if you fail a critical roll you can pull an ace out of the hat to save yourself.
Overall, the writing is fine and the theme is great. The pacing is done really well, with some change of direction every time a storyline becomes a little stale. It’s a touch too easy but it was nice to have an easier gamebook after a string of incredibly difficult ones! I liked this one – a fun Western romp.