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Moldy Oldies: Archon

On 11/23/2018 at 10:50 PM by SanAndreas

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In the early 80s, a little company called Electronic Arts was born. Back then, they were a genuinely good publisher/developer that came up with a lot of innovative new games, before they became the bland corporate machine we've known them as for the past 20 years. One of the first few games ever released by EA was a little gem called Archon.

Archon was a sort of chess game, set on a game board where white and black pieces faced off against each other with 18 pieces based on medieval fantasy creatures.  However, there was a twist. Remember Battle Chess in the late 90s, where taking a piece would treat you to a canned battle animation of the losing piece getting killed? Archon, a few years earlier, took that a step further. In order to remove a piece from the board and capture a space, you actually had to do battle with it and win in an arcade-style battlefield.

Each side in Archon, Order and Chaos, had 18 pieces, however, they each had pieces with different fighting styles. Order's pieces included knights, archers, unicorns, and a djinn, and was geared more towards straight shoot-em-up action. Chaos had pieces like goblins, basilisks, banshees, and a dragon. Its pieces were generally stronger, but slower and required different strategies as not all of them could shoot. In addition, each side had its own unique super piece. For the Order side, this was the Phoenix, which could only injure enemies within its flames but had the unique ability to use its attack as a shield against enemy attacks. On the Chaos side, you had the Shapeshifter, which would take on the form and abilities of its opponent. However, this also included the melee-only, relatively weak knights, so you took a chance on losing your Shapeshifter by being attacked by a knight. In some cases, pieces could kill each other, resulting in no net gain to either player beyond one player possibly losing a more powerful piece than the other.

Each side's central piece was a spellcaster (Wizard for Order, Sorceress for Chaos), which, in addition to being able to attack and move, also had an array of one-time-only use spells that would heal injured pieces, revive a dead piece, imprison an enemy for a complete day/night cycle, teleport one of your pieces, or summon a random elemental. Unlike in chess, killing your opponent's caster does not result in a loss. Winning is achieved by either wiping out your opponent's entire army or capturing all five of the "power points," spaces which shield characters from magic and slowly heal them.

Archon was reasonably popular for its time. It even got a NES release, courtesy of EA's rival, Activision (fun fact: EA never released a single NES game, believing at the time that consoles were a dead end.)

Archon 2: Adept

EA released a sequel to Archon a couple of years later. Like the original, it was a board game, but with a lot of new twists.

Archon 2's board, instead of being a checkerboard-style game board, had four different bands representing each of the classic elements of earth, water, wind, and fire, plus a couple of "void" spaces. On the earth section, each side had a citadel which only came into play at the end of the game. You also started out with five "adepts" (wizards or sorceresses depending on your side). Each side had an allotment of magical power used to cast spells and build your army, and one of the major goals of the game is to build your side's magical power. You could summon as many creatures as your magic power allowed. Your magic power would build by having your characters occupy power points. Again, the Order side had more straightforward shooting pieces while the Chaos side had more powerful but shorter range pieces. One piece on the Chaos side, the Siren, would drain the enemy's energy by pushing a button. Each side-specific piece corresponded with a specific element on the game board.

The game did try to level the playing field further by giving both sides four "demon" pieces which were common to both sides, including juggernauts, wraiths, gorgons, and chimerae.

Each element had different obstacles. On the earth field, rocks were solid objects. Water slowed down both movement and shots. Air would blow shots off course, and fire, of course, would sap the energy of the pieces.

The ultimate endgame of Archon II, after accumulating hopefully more magical power than your opponent, was to use the Apocalypse spell to challenge your enemy's citadel. At that point, the citadels would transform into a wizard and a sorceress. The accumulated magical power would serve as their lifebars minus the huge penalty the challenging side took for casting the Apocalypse spell. The winner of this battle won the game.

So here you have it, two early games from the history of one of the largest third party developers in history. It's enough to make you wonder what the hell happened to EA in later years. Another side note: the actual people who developed Archon and Archon II would later found Toys for Bob, the creators of the popular Skylanders franchise.



Matt Snee Staff Writer

11/24/2018 at 09:43 AM

Motherfucking Archon! Great blog!

while I didn’t play this as much as my friends who had the C64, I have battled with this. Awesome game.


11/24/2018 at 05:34 PM

One of my first C64 games. Loved it.


11/24/2018 at 10:42 PM

I saw that C64 Mini console at GameStop the other day. It doesn't have the Archon games on it though. 

Neat game! I love board games incorporated into a video game. 

Holy moly. 1983 and 1984. I never knew about this game. 

Cary Woodham

11/26/2018 at 11:06 AM

I've never played Archon, but I did learn how to play Chess by playing Battle Chess so I could see all the animations.  I also learned that I don't really like Chess.

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