Julian Gollop is probably most recognised in recent years for his work on the XCOM series of video games. But when it was announced late last year, that Gollop was working on a new game called “Chaos Reborn”, the industry got it’s heart in a bit of a flutter. Excitement across social media and news articles must have looked odd to those wondering why people cared about a sequel to a game launched on the ZX Spectrum over 25 years ago. That game was Chaos: Battle of the Wizards – or simply Chaos, if you’re down with the kids of the 80s.
Chaos was an early turn-based strategy game, where you took on the role of a wizard, who would compete in a duel to the death with up to 7 opponents, with the aim of being the last one left at the end of the carnage. These duels of 2-8 wizards could consists of any combination of human and AI controlled opponents, and you had the option before each bout of stating how strong you wanted your AI opponents (if any) to be.
Well a wizard wouldn’t be worth his pointy hat if he didn’t have a wealth of powerful spells at his disposal, and the wizards in Chaos were no exception. Each wizard’s selection of spells –different for each duel – provided the games main premise. All wizards involved in the duel started at pre-set places on the “board” and can cast a spell once a turn. The majority of spells are creatures that fight for your wizard – against other wizards and their creatures – and what made this game so fun was that no two creatures were the same.
Creatures were defined by different attack and defence stats, movement allowance, some had ranged attacks, some could fly, some could be mounted by your wizard, and some were undead – which could only be attacked by other undead creatures. As well as creatures there were also other spells that did direct damage, granted buffs to your wizard, or put physical objects into play that acted in many different ways. There could be deadly fire that spreads ferociously through the board, castles that provided safety for your wizard, or magical trees that grant additional spells to wizards able to spend enough time within their boughs.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that each game would be based solely on which wizard had the most powerful spells at the start of the game, but this was also dealt with in a way that not only made it fair, but added even more strategy to the game. Each spell had a % chance of a success, with the lowest success rates reserved for those game-changing spells. You could choose to cast any of your creatures as an illusion which meant they would always succeed in being cast. However, an opponent could cast “Disbelieve” on it (the only spell each wizard was guaranteed and could use more than once) and the illusion would disappear forever. It meant you could try and lie your way out of tough spot if you ever needed.
All this added up to each game being different from the last, and the board being an ever-changing battlefield. The simplicity of moving and attacking creatures and wizards becomes so addictive because of the layers of difference in each creature or spell. And it was this opportunity for variety and tactics that made Chaos such an entertaining game to play. The game was challenging too, with AI ramped up to the highest settings meant you always had your work cut out defeating them, but that in itself presented a greater sense of achievement.
In the days of 30 minute load times, Chaos was a refreshing change from most Spectrum games of its day due to its pick-up-and-play nature, rather than being a lengthy challenging adventure. It garnered a legion of fans due to its charm, variety and engaging duels, and despite a sequel – Lords of Chaos – being made in 1990; fans have wanted an update to this franchise for over 20 years. No wonder then, that news of Chaos Reborn was so well received. If it manages to shine half as bright as the original Chaos, this gamer, for one, cannot wait.