Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Game 479: The Warlock's Treasure (1983)

The Warlock's Treasure
United Kingdom
Independently developed; published by Computer Rentals Limited (CRL)
Released 1983 for ZX Spectrum
Date Started: 6 January 2023
Date Ended: 7 January 2023
Total Hours: 3
Difficulty: Moderate (3.0/5)
Final Rating: 11
Ranking at Time of Posting: 39/483 (8%)
This game is another variant of The Wizard's Castle, where you explore a grid of randomized rooms. Meant to be quick and replayable, more like board games than computer games, a lot of the titles in this lineage either aren't really RPGs or just barely qualify. The Warlock's Treasure is one of the former--there are no stats except "strength" (really a hit point pool), and it really doesn't develop. I'm numbering and counting it for the usual reasons: someone else said it was an RPG, and by the time I got done investigating it, it would have taken as much time to BRIEF as to win.
Games of this subgenre usually offer quick or silly framing stories, and Treasure is no exception. The setup here is that the "feared Cambridge warlock" Evil C. Snicliar (a not-terribly-clever anagram of "Clive Sinclair") has just died and left his treasure to whomever can search his mansion, piece together the right clues, and open his vault. The vault in question is locked with a four-digit code, and you have to search the mansion's randomized rooms hoping to find the four digits before you run out of strength. The only setup options are whether the monsters are weak, moderate, or strong, and I found them pretty difficult even at the lowest setting.
The backstory. I forgot to disable scan lines until late in this session.
The mansion consists of four 6 x 6 levels. You start on the ground floor but can find stairs to the two upper floors and a second set of stairs to the basement. The three above-ground floors have halls and doors, creating small mazes, but the basement is wide open. In each room, you can really do only two things: (L)ook, which searches for items, and (O)pen, if the room has anything to open, like a desk or chest (it's best to just hit it in every room to be sure). Other than that, you can just check your (S)tatus (statistics) or move on. Combats are randomized by action, not by room.
A typical room.
Looking or opening can produce several results:
  • Gold. When you find gold, you're given the option to keep what you initially find or risk it all in a search for more. The only value to gold is that you can spend it to restore strength if you run out. The joke is that gold costs strength to pick up in the first place.
  • A lamp, necessary to see in the basement.
  • A trap, which damages your strength.
  • A key, to open the occasional locked door.
Trapped or not, I need it.
  • A clue, which consists of one of the four digits.
  • An axe, potion or good luck charm, all of which restore some strength.
  • Shares of R. Searle Chairs, Inc (another anagram), which adds to your final score.
Do physical stock certificates even exist anymore?
Any one of these options can be accompanied by an attack from a monster. The game's bestiary is a mix of classical mythology (hydra, phoenix, medusa), standard fantasy RPG fare (serpent, spider, gargoyle), pop culture references (triffid), and a few author in-jokes (debsmith, paulus). They really aren't distinguished in anything but name and relative strength.
Monsters don't appear at all on the upper floors until you trigger an alarm. Each floor has one square that triggers the alarm when you look. Once monsters are active, the game becomes a nightmare, with a combat activated about 50% of the time you do anything. Combat presents you with three options: attack, retreat, and gamble. If you don't hit a key within a couple of seconds, the game chooses "attack" for you. "Retreat" is the best option, preserving your strength and working most of the time. When you attack, the game asks you to enter the strength of your punch from 1 to 9; you're essentially "spending" strength to inflict more damage. "Gamble" is the oddest option. It asks you to enter a random number for a roughly 20% chance of not only winning the combat but gaining hit points.
That's rude. Everything in the game is random.
It took me a few hours to get a winning game, mostly because I didn't realize there were two upper floors. I kept searching the main floor and basement and finding only one or two clues. Once I figured it out, I just had to get lucky and not trip the monster alarm until I'd found most of the clues. It took enough tries and a little cheating, and I suspect that an honest player would only be able to win maybe one game in seven.
Once you have the four clues, you have to find the "place to use your clues." It feels that the author could have come up with a better name. You enter the four digits--the order doesn't matter--and if you get them wrong, you immediately die.
That seems harsh.
If you get them right, you're taken to a final puzzle in which you play a game of Mastermind. You have to guess 4 digits, and the game tells you how many you have right, and how many you have in the right positions (but not which). The digits have nothing to do with the previous code. You get a generous 13 guesses before you're automatically killed if you haven't won.
On the cusp of winning.
If you get it right, you're treated to a special colored screen.
For a moment, I thought this was another anagram of "Clive Sinclair."
At the end of the game, no matter whether you won, lost, or died, you get a tally of your final score and a chance to play again.
The GIMLET is a miserable 11, doing best in "Gameplay" (3) for some mild replayability and at mercifully short length. It gets 0s in the key RPG categories of character development, NPCs, and equipment. Nonetheless, it's not bad for what it is--a short, inexpensive, repeatable, single-player diversion. That lackluster description is still better than the contemporary review it got from the May 1984 Sinclair Programs: "Slow-moving and unappealing, lacking sufficient originality to interest a player for long." The author, Ian Smith, seems better known for Alien Research Centre, a graphical text adventure from 1989.


  1. This is my first time hearing of a "triffid". I probably should add "Spectral Congratulations" as well.

    1. They had a copy of Day of the Triffids in my local library when I was growing up - the cover gave me nightmares!


    2. The Day of the Triffids is a great book, I'd also recommend The Chrysalids by the same author.

    3. Arthurdawg posting at work here! Wyndham's books are great little reads! He isn't as well known today but was widely read in his time.

    4. The Chrysalids was actually part of my Grade 12 English curriculum. I also read Day of the Triffids, though I do not recall which book I read first. The latter title has at least one movie adaptation.

    5. The cover of Day of the Triffids does look promising.

    6. Day of the Triffids is a fascinating book to me because of the extent to which it avoids being what it looks for all the world like it's going to be. Namely, the extent to which the Triffids themselves play a comparatively modest role

    7. I always confuse triffids with tribbles.

    8. "The Kraken Wakes" was my favourite of his books. Actually, most of his books would make great backstories for RPGs!

  2. The option to gamble with enemies instead of fighting them is a neat idea, though it sounds like it wasn't executed well.

  3. 'Electrocuted in his car' is presumably a reference to the Sinclair C5.

    1. In an alternate, likely better, timeline we all would be on Spectrum right now, cycling our electric bikes and old Clive would own Twitter. Except it would be called Spectrum Parrot, or some such.

      More seriously, there really weren't that many RPG options for Spectrum or Amstrad, and I probably would have enjoyed this had I had this as a kid.

  4. What's up with the screenshot for the Mastermind clone puzzle? With "1212" and "XX ", you then guess "1212" and it says "NONE"? That seems wrong, one would assume it would say "XXXX". And later when you get a check for "right place right number", like the 3 in 3456, you then guess 4356 and it still says the first digit is correct?!

    1. You get an "X" for each digit that's correct but is in the wrong place. So for the first one, it turns out the 3 and 4 were correct, but neither was in the right position. "NONE" is telling me that none of the digits was even correct, let alone in the right position.

      Second, the check marks don't correspond to the position itself. When I guessed 3456, it's telling me that in that group, I have one digit in the right position and three others that are the right digits, but in the wrong positions. It's not saying specifically that the 3 is the one in the right position.

  5. An axe restores some strength / hitpoints? I understand it for the potion and the good luck charm, but that seems weird to me.

    1. Maybe it's considering weapon degradation as a part of your abstract 'strength' in total? So you're basically getting a fresh weapon.

    2. Yes, that's how I interpreted. I probably should have said "adds to" hit points instead of "restores." I never found one while at full strength, but I suspect if I did, strength would still go up.

  6. You started by explaining that the goal of the game was to enter a 4-digit code to win a treasure. My reaction to that was "why not just brute force it?"
    The. You said that you die if you get the code wrong. My reaction was "Oh, that's why."

  7. If I ever write an RPG, the final boss battle will be a Quordle.

    1. Will there be a stonified adventurer kneeling beside it having spent decades in anguished consideration of whether his very last attempt at ?ERRY should be MERRY or BERRY?

  8. This doesn't seem to appear on the recent/completed list yet. Another one off the list!


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