It’s All Fun And Games by Dave Barrett is about teenage gamers on a weekend role-playing adventure that turns real. This is seriously one of my favorite premises, and I was excited to read such a fun story. I didn’t love the party makeup of five dudes, one girl, and I didn’t love that the girl was automatically the party healer, though. But still, the transition between nerdy teens playing pretend and brave young heroes righting wrongs and fighting evil was pretty great.
There are a load of LARP guys introduced at once, but Barrett gives each of them enough personality that it’s never confusing. The (guy) friends all take on the roles of their regular LARP characters, and newbie Allison is quickly added to the group. But after a few mini encounters with costumed NPCs, the friends find their foam-covered boff weapons turning into actual weapons…
And… one of their party actually dies. Legit dies. Not comic book dies. He is dead and they bury him and he does not appear again.
The friends find themselves “remembering” things from their character’s lives, and their high school experiences start to feel further away. Our loremaster can tell the history of everyone’s weapons, and the thief starts to remember a really tantalizing backstory (he’s a secret assassin, among other things). They start to take on the physical characteristics of their characters, too, as they pursue their quest.
The beginning of the game opens with an epic call to action, and then a mini-mission, and the characters actually talk about and joke about the format of mini-missions and sidequests leading into the overall epic adventure. So it was particularly odd, after the characters completed the mini mission and discussed the existence of the overall adventure, to have the novel just end.
It just… didn’t go anywhere. Literally nothing in this novel is resolved. We don’t know how the friends got to the fantasy world, how they’re going to fight the Big Bad that’s been teased through the novel, if they can get back to modern day high school, or anything else. There was so much that I thought was foreshadowing that never, ever resolved. I thought the cry for help on the out-of-character assistance horn was a setup for a later encounter with higher level heroes, but that’s never touched again. Neither is the PC death, the assassin backstory, or any of the billion cool hints of the wider world. I also felt like TJ and Allison’s relationship could have unfolded into romance OR just two friends who really care about each other, without automatically becoming a romance, and this was another thread that NEVER RESOLVED.
At the end of the book, I felt more like our party had run out of time for our campaign, so I hope that this is an intentional setup for a future sequel.