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I was an early convert to the world of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, becoming a fan at a fairly tender age in the days when they were still published by Puffin and - just to further show my age - even before they adopted the virulent green spines which many people will remember from the 1980s and 1990s. The series petered out in the mid-1990s, but some of the books were republished by Wizard Books a few years ago, and this is one such. "Two dice, a pencil and an eraser are all you need", the cover proclaims, for in this book "YOU become the hero!"
A minor point to address before we go on: in the original Puffin publication, this book is called "The Forest of Doom", but for whatever reason Wizard decided to drop the initial definite article. (I sound perilously like Sir Humphrey Appleby here!) As far as I am aware, the actual storyline is identical in both, although Wikipedia informs me that the Wizard edition incorrectly uses rules meant for the first book, "The Warlock of Firetop Mountain", which do differ very slightly. The cover designs for both editions are very similar, though the colours in the Wizard edition are deeper and fuller: think the difference between a 1980s comic book and a 2000s one.
The premise for your adventure is quite simple in this book: after listening to the tale of a dying dwarf, you have resolved to find the dwarfish king's lost hammer (without which they cannot fight the trolls) and return it to him in the village of Stonebridge. You are informed very early on (at least, unless you make a *really* stupid decision) that this is likely to be found in the dreaded Darkwood Forest. Since you are an adventurer, you do not run away home in search of some nice hot chocolate, but instead set off on your quest!
Forest of Doom would make a reasonably good introduction to the world of Fighting Fantasy. The mechanics are simple, with magic confined to special items rather than any innate wizarding ability, and there are none of the extra attributes to keep track of that litter (some might even say blight) some of the later entries in the series. It's also quite an easy book compared to many of the others, and a reasonable amount of common sense and luck is likely to allow even a fairly inexperienced player to win through after a few attempts.
I was disappointed with the lack of any great climactic battle in Forest of Doom. This is something which is a great feature of the Fighting Fantasy series, and it does feel a bit of a let-down when you finally do succeed in getting to the end, but simply present the hammer to the dwarfish king! Another problem, related to this, is that there are not all that many really memorable monsters or locations. It's a forest. It has bears and giants and things. Hey ho. There is a character named Arragon [sic], though, which is perhaps a little bit naughty!
All in all, this is a book that might have got rather lost among the flood had it been written a few years later, but which benefited from its early place in the Puffin publications (no.3; it's no. 8 in the Wizard series) and from being written by Ian Livingstone himself. It is also the first Fighting Fantasy book to have an almost entirely outdoor setting, which does give it some historic importance. However, it's not one of the most inspired entries in the series by any means. Play it by all means, but don't expect any miracles.