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Hive of the Dead

Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson1 have a lot to answer for. Their Fighting Fantasy game books are a prime cause for me becoming the sort of geek I am today, and a significant portion of my childhood was spent flipping rapidly from page to page, as directed by the text. To this day, the phrase “Turn to Page 400” is nerd-code for victory.2

Jackson and Livingstone also founded UK games company, Games Workshop. So it may come as a surprise to some of you that there hasn’t been an adventure game book set in any of the worlds of Warhammer. That is, until recently; Hive of the Dead is set in the grim darkness of Warhammer 40,000 and puts you in the shoes of an Imperial Guardsman who has lost his memory and who happens to be trapped in a zombie-infested command centre. From the get-go, the story is tense and action-packed, and filled to the brim with references to the zombie genre.

(c) Black Library

Fighting zombies with lasguns = buckets of fun

Let us all be honest here, anyone who’s played these games know that, unofficially, they come with three modes; Easy, Normal and Nightmare. Nightmare mode requires you to redo the book from start after every failure, following the rules strictly, rolling the dice and making a record of every item lost and gained. Normal mode simply requires you to use the rules as written whilst keeping your fingers in various pages in case you make a mis-step and die. Mostly however, we all play them on Easy mode: we ignore the rules that disrupt the fun, and aren’t afraid to back track to find more juicy bits of the game to play with. Or to put it another way, everybody cheats with these things.

I began the game in Nightmare mode, and quickly devolved into Easy mode after several tries. Your brave guardsman is quite squishy, and some of the battles you get into are quite brutal (and without spoiling the story for you, heroically difficult). That said, some of the scenes made me get the dice out simply to see what happens. It’s filled with fun little set pieces and references, and has the sort of pacing you’d expect from an action-adventure story.
It does have some flaws; it’s print-on-demand so it isn’t cheap (but is excellent quality), and you will need to download the errata (which is handily on the ordering page, along with a spare character sheet) and the combat system requires a lot of dice rolling. However, author C Z Dunn has made good on the fun the book promises. I got a lot of joy out of it and went back quite a few times to see if I’d missed anything along the way, and I hope they produce more.


1: The British one, not the Texan. Both wrote Fighting Fantasy books, though the British guy sort of invented the idea. Also, both have owned interesting beards.
2: Typically, page 400 was the last page of the book, and described your hard won victory. For those of you who don’t know what ‘Fighting Fantasy’ books are, they’re novels that require the reader to make decisions as to how the story will play out. The reader is presented with a list of options, and chooses their path by turning to the page relevant to their choice. They mix the joy of reading fantasy novels with the fun of gaming, and were a delight to young geeks throughout the 80’s.

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  1. Mikey
    November 7, 2011 at 8:09 am

    If it’s print on demand, why is there an errata?

    • November 10, 2011 at 10:42 am

      Because setting up POD doesn’t work that way, I believe.

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