Won’t someone think of the poor Krampus? A simple creature who has the thankless task of punishing naughty children – a task even the most loving parent must on occasion regretfully undertake – while Saint Nicholas rewards the nice children with sweets.
Yet what does Krampus get in exchange for this difficult job? Nothing but scorn. The unlucky creature has been picked on and demonised. One of the latest anti-Krampus propaganda hit pieces is ‘TWAS – The Krampus Night Before Christmas, from Snowbooks.
Author Jonathen Green’s character assassination is a beautifully told tale of a Santa kidnapping, with you exploring a winter wonderland to save Christmas. The charming blend of camp creatures, moments of humour, and genuine horror draws the reader into a world populated by Christmas tropes and characters, dipping into classic stories to further enrich the tale.
Another lovely touch is having the Krampus speak in rhyming couplets, usually using Anapestic Tetrameter, a nod and a wink towards A Visit from St Nicholas, the poem ‘TWAS is inspired by. Green should be ashamed that he’s used his mastery of the gamebook genre and writing in general to drag the innocent Krampus’ name through the mud!
Another person who should hang their head is artist Tony Hough. His beautifully detailed art creates a world of festive terror, enriching and enhancing this well told tale to the point that readers forget that of course it’s the Krampus who is the victim of a brutal smear campaign, and instead believe that they are fighting a demon intent on bringing terror to the children of the world. For shame!
From a technical aspect, the gamebook is another winner. All too often in this genre players are punished for doing something like picking up the silver key instead of the golden bell, and then, three hours later, discovering that without the bell they are doomed to die. All this despite there being no clue what they should have done in the first place!
There are no such cheap frustrations here. Rather the reader is presented with a book that has many routes through, with some clearly making it easier than others, yet with lucky dice rolls you’ll still muddle through to the end.
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This approach rewards casual players only wanting to read through once or twice, as well as diligent gamers who will be keen to explore and enjoy the world of ‘TWAS more fully. Character generation is excellent, eschewing random dice rolls in favour of attributing traits. (Any long-time gamebook players will know exactly how to get the most out of those points!)
The Ace Gamebooks system uses something called ‘The Pen is Mightier Than The Sword’, which allows players to ‘skip’ fights a limited number of times, but with ‘TWAS a second, similar mechanic has been added: ‘Naughty or Nice’. Here, instead of an encounter, the reader is able to take a different path, which may end up being better but, of course, may also be worse. This is a lovely addition that further cements the Christmas setting.
There does, however, seem to be a genuine problem with this book. Without entering spoiler territory, the mechanics for the final battle against the Krampus appear to have a bug that means, without backtracking and going down a path you didn’t choose, in order to check some information, it’s impossible to complete the story.
This is such a let down from what is an otherwise pretty perfect book, and it is shocking that it wasn’t picked up during playtesting. This cannot be underlined enough, and, to avoid frustration, please do make a note of the entry number when you have your final encounter with the Krampus!
The final question must be how can a reader resist such a well told tale presented in a beautifully printed and published package? They cannot. Rather than the true hero of Christmas, it seems that the poor Krampus will have to remain a demon to be defeated. With this book, you’re just the unlikely hero to do so. Grab the opportunity with both hands!
‘TWAS – The Krampus Night Before Christmas is out now from Snowbooks.