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Riyad: Chaos - Sinclair ZX Spectrum

After kicking off with the most recent game on my list, I thought I might as well jump to the most ancient. Believe me when I say that the screen shots below really give you no indication whatsoever of just how good this game is, or just how talented Julian Gollop (the man behind it) was. Back in the days of 8-bit computing there were a few guys who were considered truly great – guys like Jeff Minter, Matthew Smith and the aforementioned Julian Gollop. In fact it was a tough call on whether to go for Chaos or Gollop’s other classic, Rebelstar, but in the end Chaos just won through.

Chaos was a game that was responsible for mass truancy in my school. The fact that you could have eight people all playing in the same game made it very social, at a point when video games were perceived as intensely insular. Of course having eight people huddled around the keyboard of a Sinclair ZX Spectrum would have been a nightmare, so it’s a good thing that Chaos was a turn based affair.

The basic gameplay involved up to eight wizards populating a fixed board, each with the single minded purpose of destroying the competition. You can facilitate the destruction of your enemies by casting spells. The range of spells is diverse – there’s everything from red dragons, to goblins, to giants, to zombies, to magic swords etc. There are also rather bizarre spells like Magic Wood – cast this and climb into one of the trees and you’ll get a new spell. Magic Castle and Dark Citadel create defensive havens for your wizard to ward off enemy attacks.

Each spell is either Chaos or Law based and every spell that is cast changes the state of the world. If loads of Chaos spells are cast, the world becomes more embroiled in Chaos, and then Chaos spells become easier to cast. Each spell has a percentage chance of succeeding – if you wanted to cast a tough Chaos spell like Red Dragon you’re better off pushing the Chaos level up as high as possible before giving it a try.

There was even a degree of bluffing in Chaos, since you could choose to cast a creature as an illusion – this way there was a 100 per cent chance of the spell succeeding, but if an opponent cast a “disbelieve” spell, your creature would just disappear.

There was a lot of strategy involved in Chaos – did you mind your own business and try to defend your territory? Did you go all out to attack the guy nearest you? Did you wait for another wizard to attack someone else, then attack him while he was weak? Whatever tactic you chose, the balance of power was just one spell cast away from shifting in anyone’s direction.

Despite the fact that many of you will never have heard of Chaos, it was a game that not only controlled my gaming life for a long time, but also all my friends. OK, maybe we would have passed a few more O-Levels if Chaos hadn’t arrived, but it did teach us all about the dog eat dog world that we’d eventually have to survive in.

Oh, and thanks to my friend Scott for sending me over a Spectrum emulator, so that I could play Chaos once more.

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