Gamebook Review: The Citadel of Bureaucracy

I’ve always really enjoyed working my way through interactive fiction. Whether that was the Jackson and Livingstone Fighting Fantasy books, a text adventure game on the ZX Spectrum as a kid, or our more recent review of Alba there’s always been something magical about jumping around the pages of a book, not knowing whether my latest decision would make or break my quest. Even with modern video games serving similar purposes there’s just a certain joy from doing it in book form. And the possibilities are endless – are you on a mission to fight a dragon? Maybe you’re trying to win a rallying championship, or escape a haunted forest.

Or maybe, in the case of J.D. Mitchell’s The Citadel of Bureaucracy, you’re trying to make it through a day at work in one piece.

That’s the general idea behind this – you’re heading into work, you’ve got stuff to get done and only a certain amount of hours in the day to get through it. It’s a Friday, you’ve got deadlines to meet and a holiday to go on, you haven’t even been paid and the whole world seems to be against you. And the most bizarre thing about this is just how much I enjoyed trying to get through my workday. Who’d have thought you could relax from a busy real-life day at work by simulating yet another day at work?

Your journey through your nightmare Friday is logged on your Record of Adventure, a concept familiar to anyone who’s played these kinds of games before. On here you’ll keep track of your inventory, useful notes as well as your starting and current scores for Merit, Time Remaining, Skill, Luck and Stamina. Each of these plays a key role in how your story will pan out, and between your various values and the results of dice rolls you’ll be finding different outcomes cropping up along the way. And the number of possible routes is mightily impressive. I’ve played this through four times now, and each time had very different journeys depending on the choices and dice rolls I’ve carried out.

And for those wondering how a day at work could be exciting, I had the same idea and got gleefully knocked out of that mindset very early on. I had a fight with a goose, fended off a group of smokers, got absolutely hammered while eating too much pizza, got sent home as a result of making a bad choice looking for a toilet, and numerous other cool stuff that I’ll keep to myself so as to not drop any spoilers. Suffice to say the day doesn’t always run smoothly – there are instant day-ending failure scenarios that will cut the game dead there and then, dozens of ways to run out time before you’re finished, and a range of possible options for otherwise running yourself into the ground. It’s a genuine challenge to get through, and if you’re planning on doing this properly and not using one of the many cheat options (which are pleasingly explained at the start of the book) then you’ll really need to combine sensible choices with lucky dice rolls. You might even manage to get paid if you’re lucky.

Make a successful run to the end of the day and you’ll be able to compare your final stats against a list of final outcome scores. You might feel pleased with yourself for making it all the way, but then to be told you could have made a better job of things… yeah that’s the kind of thing that’ll make you want another run. It’s a really addictive gameplay loop, and with so much possible change each time through there’s no reason not to try again. Besides, after a conversation with the author I feel like I’ve bypassed a lot of goose action later in the story, and I want revenge on that vicious creature after what it did to me first thing in the morning…

The presentation throughout is great as well, with some really cool artwork giving a bit more life to certain characters and locations. The quality of the books itself is really decent as well, and even after flicking back and forth for several hours it’s holding its spine shape nicely. The last thing you need when trying to mitigate some IT issues on a Friday afternoon is dodgy glue falling apart – no such issues here though, which is awesome.

So for those of you who, like me, miss those days where you could walk into WHSmiths and see shelves full of this kind of book, or fancy something a bit different from your usual books or games, this is a brilliant option. It’s fun, it’s got great humour running through it, it’s a real challenge to win well, and it does the unexpected miracle of making a dreary Friday at work enjoyable. Very highly recommended.

Want your own copy? Head over to Amazon!