What Makes Chaos: The Battle Of Wizards A Classic

by Jeff Marchiafava on Feb 25, 2014 at 08:45 AM

Nearly a decade before Julian Gollop created X-COM: UFO Defense, the famed designer released another acclaimed turn-based strategy title, entitled Chaos: The Battle of Wizards. Chaos fans haven't forgotten the series since then, and rejoiced when Gollop announced he was working on a reboot. You can find out more about the project in next month's Game Informer, but in the meantime, we thought we'd check out the original Chaos to see what makes it so special.

Chaos: The Battle of Wizards was released for the ZX Spectrum back in 1985, but despite the limitations of the time, the game sports a number of interesting features. The free-for-all deathmatches support up to eight players on a single screen, and allows any mix of human- and A.I.-controlled characters, with eight levels of difficulty for CPU wizards. Each added player changes the feel of the game, and although it doesn't officially support team battles, that didn't stop players from making up their own rules. While not especially impressive, you can also make up your own stupid names for A.I. wizards, which immature gamers like me are bound to appreciate.

Battles in Chaos revolve around casting spells to defeat your opponents. Strategizing when and where to use spells is the key to victory, but there are a number of random elements that keep things exciting. For starters, each players' spells are randomly chosen from a larger pool of spells, so you can't rely on the same strategy every game. Spells have a wide range of effects. Magic Sword and Magic Bow increase your attack power by imbuing you with supernatural weapons, while Dark Citadel gives you a temporary fortress to hide in. Another spell called Shadow Wood allows you to place eight trees in the environment, which can be used to attack other players if they come too close. Gooey Blob and Magic Fire also affect the environment, by randomly spreading across the map and damaging anyone they come in contact with.

The biggest draw of Chaos' spells, however, are the creature summons. The game features 32 different beasts, from normal animals like bats, bears, and lions to fantasy tropes like dragons, goblins, and giants. Some creatures, such as the unicorn, centaur, and Pegasus, can be ridden into battle. Other creatures like the skeleton, wraith, and zombie are undead and can only be killed by other undead creatures or magic attacks. Each creature has its own unique stats, such as strength, maneuverability, defense, and how many spaces it can move per turn. Once on the battlefield, players control their creatures on subsequent turns just like they do their wizard.

Each spell in Chaos has a success rate – the more powerful the spell, the harder it is to cast. However, the game also contains a bluffing element; every creature summon can also be cast as an illusion. Doing so guarantees the summon is successful, and the creature has all the same stats and abilities as a real character. There is one downside, however; if a character casts Disbelieve (the one spell all wizards are guaranteed to have) on the creature, it is instantly killed and removed from the battlefield. Aside from Disbelieve, every spell in Chaos can only be cast once during battle, which means players have to choose wisely when to use each spell at their disposal. 

There's one more wrinkle to spell casting in Chaos; every spell in the game has a law, chaos, or neutral association (denoted in the menus by an arrow, asterisk, or minus sign, respectively). Each successfully cast spell changes the overall balance of law and chaos in the world. The more chaotic the world becomes, the easier it is to cast chaos spells and the harder it is to cast law spells. The opposite is true if more law spells are cast by players. This too affects when players choose to cast spells (and which they choose to cast as illusions).

Combat in Chaos is quite random. There are no hit points in the game; instead, an attack either kills an enemy or it doesn't. The success of an attack is decided by the power of the attack versus the victim's defense rating. Whichever number is higher is the winner – however, a random dice roll of ten is added to both numbers, so players never quite know what to expect. Because the wizards themselves are weak, gameplay revolves around trying to evade enemy attacks while using your underlings for defense. It's kind of like chess – if kings could shoot lightning bolts and raise the dead and summon bow-wielding manticores.

It doesn't take long for the battlefield to become a mess of creatures and corpses, but gameplay remains relatively brisk; the computer doesn't take much time to move its creatures, and killing a wizard destroys all of its summons as well. This keeps players fixated on chasing down and attacking wizards instead of getting in an endless gridlock with their summoned minions. There's also a turn limit, should cowardly players choose to stay on the run.

Chaos' focus on strategy and randomization makes for a game that's still fun to play today, despite the game's awful control scheme and lack of in-game descriptions of what many of the spells do (those who want to check out the game should bookmark these online instructions). Luckily, Gollop is aware of these shortcomings and is fixing them for Chaos Reborn, along with myriad other improvements. Learn about the reboot in issue 252 of Game Informer.