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Category: Designer

Game #136: Chaos (1985)

[Games Workshop, ZX Spectrum]

– Magos Narwhal, we need to find someone who can lead our forces against the Wizards of Murkwood!
– Well, you called the right person for the job. I have a long experien…
– I am all ears, but can you first go through this door.
– Of course – uh, what’s this? An arena? HEY! WHY DID YOU CLOSE THE DOOR!
– Oh! Just see this as a technical test!

Not sure who this Le Doux is who is not even in the credits, but come on, this is by Julian Gollop

Julian Gollop is famous for 4 series: the Rebelstar series, the Laser Squad series, the XCOM series, and the odd one that does not involve soldiers of the future duking it out with laser rifles: Chaos, in which wizards duke it out with spellbooks.

Chaos throws the player directly in the middle of the arena, in a battle against 1 to 7 peers that will last until there is only one left, or until time runs off. Peers can be human players, and I participated in a 8-human-players battle with the DataDrivenGamer (read his AAR/review!) – but the game is also fully functional in solitaire, so that’s what I am going to showcase here! Full disclosure: usually I launch a “final game” when I feel I have a good grasp at the game, and win or lose I showcase it. In this case, you’ll see my 6th or 7th “final game”: earlier games either ended too early due to a dragon/lightning bolt accident, or crashed, or were played with a boring set of spells that were not showcasing the game as much as I wanted so what follows is my “real final final this time I swear” game.

All magicians start on the edges of a large, featureless arena:

I am the green guy. The human player(s) chooses the name, look and colour of the computer players.

Each wizard has a spell book with a random list of spells (each of which can be cast only once) and personal stats. This is me:

Manoeuvre rating represents the chance to disengage from melee combat (vs being able to attack, but not move away)
Ability is a bonus to spellcasting; to my knowledge, human players always have 0.

I start with solid attack skills [Combat], but the worst possible Defence. In Chaos, melees are solved by the attacker taking a random number between 1 and 10 and adding their Combat value, and comparing the result to the defender’s Defence value + 1-10. If attack beats defence, then the defender is dead – there are no health points. Else, nothing happens. With those stats, I could kill myself anytime.

My closest neighbours are Silence above me and Sara below me. Unfortunately for me, given the difficulty level I chose, they would easily beat me in a fair fight:

Happily enough, this is not a fair fight and pummeling other wizards with a staff is seen as a last resort around here, because we all have our spellbooks:

Disbelieve is the only spell found in all spellbooks and that can be cast as often as needed

Did you know? 50% of wizards don’t survive past turn 3, and with my abysmal defence I am likely to be on the right of the survival curve. Happily, I started with two copies of the spell “Magic Castle” that was designed for this sort of situation: it summons a magic castle that will protect me from absolutely everything as long as the spell lasts, a duration which is random.

I don’t see the point of giving a long range to this spell. Once the castle is there, you want to step into it immediately.

That’s the spell I select, and the first round of casting starts:

I am not the only coward in the arena!

I enter my magic castle and spend the following turns casting all the self-improvement spells: magic armour (failed!), magic knife (failed!) and shadow form (success!). Shadow form allows me to move faster (3 tile/turn) and increases my defence as long as I don’t attack.

Meanwhile, there was some commotion at the gates of my castle: Silence tried to attack Sara with a centaur, but Sara sent an eagle and the centaur lost the duel. After that, Silence moved against his right neighbour Old Whateley, and he is now waiting – along with his personal vampire – for him to leave his castle. In the bottom-right corner, Saruman summoned a “gooey blob” (in green). This creeping ooze can engulf magicians and creatures over time.

Alas, there is no colour code for the summons, so it is not because it is green that it is mine

Soon after that, Saruman kills his Northern neighbour in melee, so we’re down to 7 wizards:

The death of Charles Dexter Ward. All summons disappear at the death of their owner.

My magic castle is still up, so I cast yet another defensive spell: a wall separating me from Sara who stayed too close for comfort. That’s a good choice, Sara and her neighbour Ephraim Waite are summoning some heavy weapons: respectively a vampire and a red dragon!

The gap in the wall is an input mistake

When I finally emerge from my castle a couple of turns later, the situation has changed a bit:

That crocodile close to me is my summoned pet.

Silence has killed Old Whateley, and Sara’s vampire has slain Ephraim Waite’s dragon.

Since I am left alone, I keep summoning animals, and soon I have quite the menagerie: a crocodile, a gorilla and a bear. I should have called myself Radagast! Meanwhile, Saruman summons a magic fire that immediately starts spreading in the top right corner near the top-right wizard Crevecoeur, and the other wizards are locked in two duels (Sara/Ephraim Waite and Silence/Crevecoeur).

Sara’s vampire can fly fast, so I hug the top wall to avoid a surprise bite.

Seeing me coming from the left while all his creatures are engaged on the other, Silence summons a “shadow wood”, a group of trees that can attack at close distance. It is very effective: I need to destroy them one after the other with my animals. Meanwhile, the green goo and the fire spread.

Silence also sent a lone orc. It is not very effective.

Sara, who has gained an advantage over Ephraim Waite thanks to her vampire air support, finally gets rid of our common rival:

This is mixed news for me: a vampire is going to be on the loose, and I am woefully underequipped to destroy a vampire. Undead can only be damaged by magic or other undead and my zombies are just not going to do the job:

My zombie needs to do 8, 9 or 10 on their attack roll to have a chance, and then the vampire needs to do respectively 3/2/1 or less… That’s 6% chance for them, vs 85% chance of being defeated when the vampire attacks.

Checking my spells, I have “Justice” which kills the vampire outright if the vampire fails a magic resistance roll, but that’s a spell I want to keep as a last resort weapon. Alternatively, I can summon a spectre – an undead with 4 in combat, so a bit more likely to destroy the vampire.

Thankfully, after the death of Ephraim Waite, the vampire first tries to reach Saruman through an opening in the goo, so I can focus on Silence while Silence harasses Crevecoeur. Sara’s vampire soon joins the party, immediately killing my gorilla.

Silence is behind one of the trees and Crevecoeur is riding a horse. The horse will be killed the following turn by an arrow from Silence’s magical bow, and Crevecoeur will be on foot again. Saruman also summoned magical wings to move quickly in the arena.

Crevecoeur dies during an interturn: Saruman’s magical fire that has been slowly spreading enters Crevecoeur’s tile and that’s instant death for anything or anyone engulfed by it.

With a vampire able to fly directly to me, an abysmal defence and Silence about to pivot his focus, I decide it is high time to use my second magic castle, go inside and presumably have a conversation on the meaning of love with kindhearted candelabras and motherly teapots.

The same turn, my bear mauls Silence, clarifying the general situation on the battlefield:

The problem with said situation is that I have a vampire waiting for me outside of my magical castle, and only one zombie left:

Both Saruman and Sara are out of useful spells at this point, and stopped casting.

Time to unleash my spectre and hope for the best. My problem is that my summon is likely to fizzle: spectres are hard to summon to start with, and the arena is tilting toward Law. When a spell is cast, its nature tilts the arena toward either Law, Chaos or nothing at all, making further spells of the same nature easier or harder to cast. There have been a lot of Law spells (the magic castles, the Eagles, …) so now Chaos spells like summoning a Spectre are hard to cast.

There is a solution though: cast it as an illusion:

Illusions have 100% success rate, but one huge drawback though: they are immediately dispelled by a Disbelieve spell. Still, I hope that my Spectre will be able to attack once before being disbelieved.

My illusory spectre below the castle. Yes, I tried to disbelieve the vampire, but he is the real deal.

My spectre misses its attack, and the vampire does not, so I am back to square one…

I have one card left: the spell Justice. It has three charges, the Vampire resists the first two, but the last one does the trick!

My second and third charges. There was a long delay before the first and second as I double-checked the rules!

The situation in the finale is as follows:

  • My last spell is Shadow Wood. I have a zombie, a crocodile and abysmal defensive capabilities. My bear was “eaten” by the green goo immediately after I destroyed the vampire,
Weaker than Sara, but the best I have.
  • Sara has stopped casting spells and has one skeleton left, but she is well-kitted with a magic shield, a magic bow and a magic dagger,
  • Saruman has also stopped casting spells and is the “owner” of both the goo and the fire, to which he is immune. His lion and his giant rat are stuck on the wrong side of the goo, so he is left with a weak ghost and himself if he decides to fly into action.

I send my crocodile toward Sara. Meanwhile, Sara’s skeleton is eaten by the goo and Saruman’s ghost is killed in melee by Sara.

Moving toward Sara only slighly faster than the goo

Sara attacks my crocodile and fails. My croc’ does not:

This was lucky, given the stats of Sara vs my crocodile

That leaves Saruman and me – and Saruman is too Wise to approach my crocodile when the green goo can do the job:

Smells like the End, and like burned goo.

But just as the green goo was about to reach me, I am saved by the bell! There is a hidden turn limit in Chaos, and I happened to reach it (turn 30 at 8 players). I did not win, but I passed the Test of the Wizards, alive!

Me when launching the session: “I could have found a more original name, but I am sure he will die quickly”.

I guess I am going to raid Murkwood or whatever that place is.

Chaos is fun in solitaire, but it is also fun in multiplayer – I know that because the DataDrivenGamer and myself participated in a game – just go check the AAR on his blog if you have not already! As for me, the next article should be Chaos‘ Rating and Review!