About The Cretan Chronicles:

The Cretan Chronicles were written by John Butterfield, David Honigmann and Phillip Parker. It is rare for a gamebook series (or indeed a book) to be co-authored by three people, and the texts remain surprisingly consistent in style and tone - a tribute to good teamwork, perhaps. The same trio also wrote "What is Dungeons & Dragons", an introduction to D&D and RPGs in general, but no other gamebooks, as far as I know.

 

The System:

Combat

In most gamebooks, the player has a substantial advantage over his oppponents in combat, being endowed with more Hit Points (HP)/Endurance than them, if not having a higher attack skill. Besides reflecting the heroic qualities and fighting skills of the protagonist, this has more important implications for gameplay - if all enemies were as good in fighting as the hero, he would quickly be slaughtered.

In the Cretan Chronicles, the hero generally is slightly more skilful at combat than his opponents, but they have the same amount of "HP", due to the system's simplified system of tracking combat wounds.

All combatants start out "Healthy". When they take a wound, they become "Wounded". A futher wound makes them "Seriously Wounded". If they are unlucky enough to be hit again, they die. Thus, an enemy only has to get 3 hits on the player to kill him. The end result is that the player dies more easily than in other gamebooks. Perhaps this is a way of increasing apparent replay value.

 

Taking a hint

The gameplay system incorporates an idea misleadingly known as "taking a hint" - getting your character to perform a non-standard action; one not given in the text. This is an interesting idea, but ultimately a bad one, poorly implemented, for the reader cannot know what the non-standard action will be.

Often, I found myself wanting to perform some seemingly obvious non-standard action, only to have my character do something entirely different or worse. For example, I was at Apollo's oracle in Delphi and when I took a non-standard action, they accused me of trying to steal Apollo's jewels! When I reached King Minos' palace, I was attended by an ugly serving girl. When I took a hint, my character stared at her and I lost a point of honour. At other times, I was penalised for trying to take a non-standard action when none was written in by the authors and thus "trying to be ahead of my time", or being too "cautious", "wary", "cowardly", "un-herolike" (how trying to take non-standard actions is being "cautious", "wary", "cowardly" or "un-herolike", I do not know) or worst of all, supposedly "quaking" or "hesitating".

Even worse is when the text gives you information about some aspect of Greek history and mythology and then penalises you for absolutely no reason. Case in point: I was in front of the Pythia and when I took a non-standard action, the text told me the history and lore of the Pythia, and then deducted honour from me and gave me shame points. I was supremely incensed. But perhaps the worst bit is when you take a non-standard action, and other people end up taking the actions (as happens at some points in book 2). Maybe this is why you shouldn't have 3 people writing a book.

The implementation is also inconsistent. Similar actions, taken during similar situations at different times in the adventure lead to results that are diametrically opposite - sometimes they are good, and the hero gets a boon, but sometimes he is penalised and awarded shame points.

 

The Writing:

The text manages to capture some of the flavour of Ancient Greek writing - in the descriptions of people and Gods, for example: "Amiable Altheus", "white-armed Aphrodite" and the like. At times, the text becomes florid:

"You pace back and forth across the room, like a lion which, trapped by hunters in the high hills of Africa and taken to the court of the Nubian king, restlessly prowls around its strong wicker cage, before it throws its weight against thebars, breaks out, savages an effete tribal chieftain, and runs sleekly away across the wide plains."

A major in Classics from evaluates it this: "it's rather purple. purple meaning it's tryin to sound high-flown but fails and ends up sounding like thick porridge instead. doesn't sound anything like classical greek =)"

However, there are some unforgivable oversights; for one, the gods often lapse into modern speech patterns. This is evidence of shoddy editing. Worse still is how Ares (in the first book) talks in short sentences like a cave man but in the second book suddenly speaks like a British..

Perhaps it is no wonder that the series stopped at the third book and the authors never wrote gamebooks together again.

 

Miscellaneous gripes:

At other times, the book is unfair to the reader. At one point, the Furies (strictly, the Greeks called them the Erinyes, but no one can remember that name anyay, so) are pestering this man who'd accidentally murdered his wife. Placating them with a sacrifice deducts a point of honour for perverting divine justice, but leaving the man to be attacked gets you 2 shame points. On second thought - this might be a subtle homage to Orestes for his murder of Clytemnestra, so maybe it can be forgiven.

The book also recycles not a few Greek myths and legends, so readers with a passing knowledge of some of them get an unfair advantage. For example, the book shamelessly reuses the tale of Hera posing as a crone and Jason (of Argonaut fame) carrying her across, except that it is Altheus who does the carrying this time. Furthermore, the recycling of Greek myths and legends leads to a confusing mess, for some myths that belong to different times in Greek mythology are now juxtaposed.

Finally, the writers get very indulgent at times, and their writing becomes what can only be described as odd in the extreme. When you come face to face with the Minotaur, taking a non-standard action loses you 1 Honour point due to your "quaking". Taking another non-standard action after quaking, you come across one of the strangest paragraphs in Gamebook history:

"You are indeed right to shake at the sight of the Minotaur, for, after all, your brother, a distant relative of the beast, was not spared its wrath. Theseus was probably in fact only your half-brother (have 1 Shame point), with Poseidon as his true father. Although the origins of the bull which sired the Minotaur are shrouded in sea-spray, according to the most reputable sources Poseidon had a hand in its conception. The bull ravished Minos' wife, Pasiphae, who gave birth to the Minotaur. Theseus was thus the half-uncle of the Minotaur. For unravelling the genealogical complexities of the situation at such a stressful moment, have 3 Honour points, and return to 394."

At another time, when you glimpse Athena while leaving the Labyrinth, if you tell yourself you are hallucinating, you will really start hallucinating and you will then die. Maybe the writers themselves were on LSD when they wrote those parts.

I am aghast.

 

Despite the failings listed above, the book was somewhat fun to read, but if you're pressed for time or short of money, I'd recommend series like Blood Sword or Way of the Tiger over this one.