Do you remember the days before your life would fit into your pocket? When I were a lad, before all your entertainment and communication with the rest of the human race came in a magic 4” x 2” box, one of the alternatives were gaming books.
Gaming books were paperback interactive adventures, “where you are the hero”!! Using a pad, pencil and dice, players were taken through what was essentially a sophisticated multiple choice story with random elements provided by the roll of a dice for combat, negotiating with in-game characters and so on. There were skiploads of these books. The highest profile and biggest seller in the early days was “The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain”, the first in the series of “Fighting Fantasy Books”, written by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. They were hugely popular for a time and obviously had an influence on the “Galaxy’s Greatest”, ‘cos Tharg had a go at publishing something rather similar.
Tharg commissioned the Mills droid to write a game featuring a 2000ad hero, to test the water as it were. Mills wrote “You Are Slaine in : Tomb of Terror” which ran in parallel alongside the regular “Slaine” strip, and featured art by Garry Leach, Glenn Fabry and Nik Williams, (according to Wikipedia, anyway – I’ll admit to being too lazy to search through my Progs’) allowing mere earthlets to take the role of Slaine in a battle with the Cythrons, and (largely) following the plot of the main story. This must have been at least reasonably popular as someone had the bright idea of creating an entire magazine out of it, using 2000ad characters, cool idea eh? So, finally, after much fannying about, we actually get to “Diceman” itself.
“Diceman” lasted a grand total of 5 issues, published every two months and £1.45 an issue, expensive for 1986? Possibly, the Prog’ was 24p, that’s quite a jump. It was an early 2000ad spin off and a noble attempt at capitalising on the gaming book boom. I have to admit it kind of passed me by originally. Having a limited attention span, negligible patience and easy access to the digital thrills of my ZX Spectrum, I figured it required effort and ignored it. To cap it all, gaming books needed you to roll dice, write things down and carry out simple calculations. That was me out for definite.
With the benefit of hindsight, an adult’s disposable income, and creeping but indomitable OCD; I decided I would gradually collect all things 2000ad, even the short lived and arguably ill considered (Judge Dredd : Lawman of the Future I’m looking at you), “Diceman” was next. What was particularly appealing about “Diceman” was that almost all my heroes in Toothy were represented in some form or other,( why no Strontium Dog?) and Pat Mills was behind it all. Mr. Mills is a bit of a hero of mine. And of course, there is the art. Oh dear god the art!
There is some absolutely glorious work here by the greats. Due to the demands and function of the games it doesn’t flow like strip art, it’s a slightly different discipline. This is a forgotten hoard of O’Neil “Nemesis” art, Bryan Talbot on “Torquemada” and “Judge Dredd”, David Lloyd on “Slaine”, Steve Dillon draws “Hammerstein” and Mike Collins does some great work on “Rogue Trooper”. Additionally, Mills created a specific hero for the magazine, the titular “Diceman”, a kind of occult gumshoe, drawn in his four adventures by Graham Manley, John Ridgway and Steve Dillon.
The games themselves retain the humour and themes of the strips they are based upon, in the “Slaine” games you have warp spasms, “Rogue Trooper” banters with the bio chips, “Torquemada” is completely over the top as you’d expect but hilarious with it. I have played them, honest. However, I will admit that I have cheated a tad; back to that lack of patience again. Mills and his co writers (including editorial droid Simon Geller and Wagner on Dredd) took some of the most notable elements from the originating strips. “Nemesis” races down the tubes, “Slaine” encounters the Earth Goddess, “Dredd” faces off against the Dark Judges, and “Rogue Trooper“………offs some Norts?
There are some nice touches. Your success in the “Nemesis” story is dependent on your speed : fast or slow; the aforementioned use of the warp spasm in “Slaine”; playing the villain in “Torquemada” and so on. Plus, for all those continuity freaks, “Slaine : The Ring Of Danu” game is canon, referenced in the strip “The Spoils of Annwn” (Progs 493-499)
By issue 5, Mills must have realised the game was up; (excuse the pun) and thought, “Sod it. Let’s go for it”. For that final issue he produced “You Are Ronald Reagan” with Hunt Emerson. Emerson is most famous for a strip called “Firkin the Cat”; published in those magazines you need to be on tiptoe to reach in newsagents, or found under your big brother’s bed (ahem). This being Mr. Mills you can guess its’ political hue and there are plenty of opportunities for his wrecking ball approach to satire : subtle this ain’t – but it is very funny, ably abetted by Emerson’s anarchic artwork. Mills and Emerson later reunited for the “You Are Maggie Thatcher” game book published by Titan, also worth seeking out.
All 5 issues can be found on E-bay quite regularly and it didn’t take me long to find them all. Issue 5 can be a bit elusive, and a little more expensive. Let’s face it :, it’s the last issue. It had a lower print run, and the “Ronald Reagan” strip/ game could be seen as being a smidgen controversial. The whole run is worth hunting for the art, or if like me, you suffer from the condition known as obsessivecompletenesscollectthemallus.