Hello friends and new readers I don’t yet know, welcome to another edition of Bizzaros’ Bookshelf. In this piece we will be doing something a little different, perhaps even cheating, for we will, in fact, not be reviewing a book at all! No, dear listeners this is an Adventure book, like those excellent Ian Livingstone Fighting Fantasy books of old.
This particular subject is based upon the Cheapshow podcast, which I have been following for a couple of years now and can heartily recommend to anyone who enjoys humour along the lines of Bottom or other such things which involve 2 bickering friends having fun looking for all things cheap on the streets of Great Britain.The adventure book follows the gangs’ adventure as they visit either a car boot sale or a market in search of intriguing tat to argue over in the next episode. It sounds like a bizarre premise for an adventure and yet, as any Cheapshow fan would know, it somehow works an absolute treat!
This adventure book, as well as other editions of the podcasts’ fanzine, are put together and edited by Ivenne Mecking (go find her on Twitter, @Ivenne_NL). Ivenne is from the Netherlands, has a sharp graphic design game and has been a key member of the podcasts’ community for several years now. Art for the adventure book (and indeed other editions of the fanzine) is supplied by the talented Page Branson and equally gifted Tony Vorrath, just two members of Cheapshow’s fanbase who are very talented with the aesthetics (I’ll be honest, I’m a bit jealous!)
So, we now what it is we’re looking at and who created it, now let’s take a look at the product itself…
I’m from the north west of England and was raised in a small town in the countryside during the 80s and 90s. As I’m sure anybody from this time can attest, a favourite weekend activity for grown ups was to drag their bored offspring to a muddy field in the middle of God knows where, where people have driven their cars into neat lines, set up trestle tables or tarpaulins on the ground, and covered them in all the junk they don’t want anymore, all to be sold to the punters for low, low prices! Many was the battered Matchbox car or headless Transformer that I acquired in this way and my parents’ attic is overrun with the fruits of our hunts. These were the car boot sales that I remember, the car boot sales that Cheapshows’ hosts, Paul Gannon and Eli Silverman, have gone to with their most excellent friends, Ash Frith and Paul Rose, aka Mr Biffo.
All of these people are real and work in entertainment, it must be mentioned, and all are very funny people and worth checking out. But that is beside the issue, we’re here to look at Ivenne’s adventure book!
So, as previously stated, the book is split, rather ingeniously, into two stories, London and Trumpington. London is all about the guys visiting a flea market, Trumpington a car boot sale. In each instance, the boys are taking part in a challenge for the podcast. Paul has, rather magnanimously, given his friends a humble budget, such as one would typically take to one of these events, for them to find the most interesting tat possible, which will then be discussed in their next episode. The team must do all of this within a time limit, just to add some burning, hot drama to the proceedings which are already as spicy as those noodles which a dragon gave to Eli Silverman that one time.
All said, this Cheapshow adventure book really captures that eccentric British humour and storytelling. The daft humour, comically low brow stakes and colourful cast of characters mean that there’s something here for everyone, even if they haven’t (yet) listened to the excellent podcast it’s based upon.
Writing Style – 9/10
Cheapshow has, in the time I’ve been following it, grown quite the eclectic, bizarre and, most important, welcoming community among its fanbase. Author Ivenne and artists Page and Tony are all, first and foremost, fans of the podcast and it really shows in the effort they have put into this project (though more on the art later!)
So, has Ivenne managed to convey the bantering, loose tone of Paul and Eli’s conversation into a printed form? Well yes, rather well in fact. Reading each little entry is a treat, full of character and little asides, acting as winks to fans of the show. For example, across several episodes, the hosts discussed the pure audio cheese that is Russ Abbott’s Atmosphere, and were utterly fed up of it after a while. You’d better believe that you can buy it here too, the entry which contains it even mentally prepares you for a trip to the items list with a little statement along the lines of “we’ve seen this somewhere before”.
Ivenne has been honing her style across various episodes of the Cheapshow fanzine and, as we leave the magazine format for an episode and launch into probably the most technical and ambitious fan fiction I’ve ever seen, we can really see how her style has evolved and strengthened into something engaging, funny and full of that car boot character that many know and love, and others should definitely read into, it’s essentially an episode of the podcast that you can read, and challenge your friends to in the name of victory!
The Game – 10/10
Speaking of which, let’s have a goosey gander at the main draw here, the challenge itself! I’ve skirted around some of the facts briefly already, but let’s have a bit of a deeper dive into it, shall we, like going elbows deep in a mysterious box of tat.
So, as said, this adventure starts with selecting your character. We have Paul Gannon, cheeky Wirralite (it’s an area near Liverpool!) and Ghostbusters fan, Eli Silverman, Londoner, tat hunter extraordinaire and vinyl expert, Ash Frith, a talented comedian who comes with a teammate (aka his son) and Digitiser: the Show’s Paul Rose, aka Mr Biffo, who brings his YouTube fame with him to the challenge. Each character has a unique skill, be it passive or a limited use special move. Changing characters for each game really extends the longevity of the adventure (essentially there are eight different scenario/character variations to go with, now that’s what I call value!)
So, how does it work? Well I’m going to tell you without going too in depth, as I wouldn’t want to spoil this book for anybody going in for the first time, no spoilers from me!
The game is made up of a few different sections, which alternate throughout the book, though they essentially boil down to the two stories and three different item pages. Items are not listed by name throughout the stories, but by numbers. This not only saves on room per entry but also makes the player jump back and forth to the item pages, just like rooting through piles of junk on a stall or a tupperware box full of musty hardbacks from twenty years ago (probably James Patterson ones). Unless you’ve played this a hundred times, and why wouldn’t you, you’ll be rummaging through the lists every time looking for the item, hoping that you’ve got a good one. Not all items are governed by simple numbers on a list, however. Some particularly magical bits of tat are classified as special items, and these are shown on the story entries as [xx]. When you get one of these you must roll 2 D10 (that’s ten sided die, for you non D&D fans) and the resulting two numbers decide what you get, you may even get the infamous Winkie, you never know!
The stories are instantly familiar for anybody who’ ever played an adventure book ala Fighting Fantasy. The story is separated out into a few lines at a time, each assigned a number. These entries are each describing a location or event, for instance a store run by two bickering women containing a few items to be looked up or a lovely burger van which may tempt a player to waste their moolah on a greasy treat. The random placement of the entries means that one cannot just keep reading to see what happens each time they make a decision, hopping from point to point really helps to make the whole experience full of unexpected surprises.
Just like real life, taking on these gnarly markets needs two resources: time and money. Each time you move to a new entry, you use one time slot. Once all time slots are filled, it’s game over, which is all good and well if you have haul of the century but if you’ve had no luck with the tat then you’re all out of luck. This keeps the game to a manageable length of time and stops it going on forever or until somebody gets killed like bloody Monopoly! Needless to say, this is a very welcome decision from Ivenne.
The money situation is our other limiting factor. Each item in the list has a set monetary value and one must deduct that from their kitty if they want to buy it, just like actual life. However, to make things simultaneously more real and fun, you can also haggle over the price. Why pay three pounds when you can pay only 2.50, after all? To manage this system, players must turn once again to those D10s, using the numbers they generate to discern how much they can save (up to a point, no real human could haggle a stern faced old man down from a fiver to 50p). This adds a big dose of luck to the game, for if you are blessed with the rolls the victory will surely be yours, along with having a sound strategy, of course.
Also worth a mention here is that players keep track of their time, money and selected characters’ skills using included player cards. Once all of these are used up one only has to scan a QR code in the book to download some more. This is a really handy little addition that is very player friendly.
To go into any more detail would be to ruin the surprises in store, suffice to say that by expertly wielding several different systems and splicing them together with aplomb, Ivenne has constructed an adventure game worthy of the great Ian Livingstone himself (only with less skellingtons and more dusty old vinyl records).
Art – 9/10
I’m no art critic by any means, I had to study it in college and hated it. That doesn’t mean|I can’t appreciate good work though, which is exactly what I see when looking at this adventure. Let’s begin with the cover art, for instance, illustrated by Page Branson who originally designed the Cheapshow logo, way back when. That cartoonish style works really well, it looks energetic and captures the anarchic nature of the podcasts’ hosts and cohorts well.
The illustrations inside are provided by the ever energetic Tony Vorrath, whose vibrant and recognisable style has been slowly spreading throughout Twitter and Instagram over the last year or so. Whilst his greatest works are full of vibrant and neon colours, his illustrations for this adventure are, understandably given the amount of them, in black and white. There’s a real sense of cheekiness in Tonys’ pictures and, just like Pages’, they capture Cheapshows’ comedic nature so well.
Both artists deliver some really fantastic work here, bolstering Ivennes’ writing and game creation with some really awesome visuals. If ever a sequel was to come along I’d certainly hope that they’re still onboard, as well as other art savvy fans of the community too.
Length – 10/10
You know what, it’s kind of perfect in length. Each adventure rattles by at a good rate, avoiding leaving the players bored and frustrated, and the simple layout means thumbing back and forth between the pages is never much of an issue. Add to this the fact that you get two scenarios for the price of one and it’s an offer you can’t refuse. You could easily whack a game of this out when you have friends over, when you’re bored at home or even on your lunch break at work and no friendships will be tested.
The Cheapshow adventure book has been a very interesting thing to review, not in the least because I get on well with the creator and contributing artists. These three have, between them, crafted something truly unique and special, printed in high quality and shipped with player cards, dice and even a pen. Aside from this generosity and attention to detail, the actual adventure is well put together, easy to learn and truly captures the heart of Paul Gannon and Eli Silvermans’ podcast so well that it’s almost like listening to an episode whilst you play.
All I can really say is “bravo” to all concerned, this particular “Cheapskate” will be looking forward to a follow up for sure in the coming months