Archon: The Light and the Dark is a strategic board game with some similarities to chess. Two sides, a light one and a dark one, consisting of 18 pieces each compete on a board divided into (9 by 9) squares. You win the game by having one of your units on each of the five powerpoint squares, by removing all opposing pieces from the board or by imprisoning the last remaining creature of the opposing side..
However, you can't just remove a piece from the board by landing on it. When two pieces clash, the outcome is decided in the battle arena during one-on-one real-time combat. If the real-time combat takes place on a dark square, the dark monster gets a health bonus (longer life bar). On a light square the light side gains an advantage. There are also some squares whose color changes over time (from afternoon, to dusk, to night, to dawn etc.), which adds an extra layer of strategy to the game.
Unlike chess the two sides are not identical. Both sides consist of mythological creatures. For example the light side has among others unicorns, valkyries and a djinni while the dark side features basilisks, banshees and manticores. The differences are not just cosmetic. Two special pieces are the light wizard & the dark sorceress, they can both cast magical spells like: imprison a unit on the board, shift the flow of time (change day/night cycle to your advantage), bring one unit back from the dead etc.
The different pieces have their own movement restrictions regarding the number of squares they're allowed to travel on the board and whether or not they can jump over other units (like the knight in chess). Units also behave different in combat; some units are faster than others, some use melee attacks while others fire projectiles.
Archon can be played with either one or two players. The NES version, which was released a few years after the other versions, has improved graphics for the real-time combat part. Each type of square has it's own colored background and the unit sprites are larger.
Archon is a definite gem of computer gaming's past. While it never achieved the critical acclaim of some other games, Archon in its own quiet way has maintained a constant following to this day. Archon spawned two direct sequels, numerous remakes, and has inspired many games, a short list of which would include Star Control, Unholy Wars, Wrath Unleashed, and the Mortal Kombat Chess mini-game in Mortal Kombat: Deception.
Archon is a sort of extension of chess, but in a way that can only be realized with a computer. The rules of the game are complex and numerous. Mastering it can be a challenge and winning is deeply satisfying. It's difficult not to gloat when you learn to use the rules to give your piece an advantage and turn the tide of battle.
The board is similar to chess except the squares, instead of being purely black or white can be black, white, or constantly changing back and forth between black and white through shades of gray. Darker squares give an attack bonus to the dark pieces, and lighter squares give a bonus to light pieces. By watching which of your opponents pieces are on what colored square you can force an advantage for your piece when you move to take them. The board also has 5 power points located on the edges and center of the board. Any piece on these special squares gains a health bonus at the end of every turn for as long as they can stay there.
In Archon you do not merely take pieces. Instead you must defeat the piece in top down combat. Depending on the units fighting you must shoot or smash the life out of your opponent, while dodging their blows. Combat is usually quick with the stronger piece overpowering the weaker quickly. However, keep in mind that color bonuses can even the score somewhat.
Mastering Archon means becoming familiar the strengths of the individual units in battle. Each of the sides, black and white, have 8 unique pieces which you watch march in and place themselves on the board before the game, each with their individual attacks and hit point levels. In addition the Wizard or Sorceress on each side can summon at random one of four elemental units, making in total 20 unique units. While each piece on the black side has a similar piece in the white side, no two pieces are exactly the same.
The Wizard or Sorceress on each team is arguably the most influential piece on the board. Powerful in combat, their real strength lies on the board. Each of them can be called on to cast from a selection of seven spells. Each spell can only be cast once and can have a variety of effects from causing the squares that are shifting colors to reverse the order of their shifting (shift time) to bringing back a defeated piece at full health (revive). The twist is that for each spell cast their home square deals a 1 point heath disadvantage in battle to any member of their team who's on it, including themselves. This odd rule means that later in the game if you want your Wizard or Sorceress to be safe, it's best to get them off their home square.
Archon was made for the Apple IIe, Commodore 64, Atari 800 and IBM PC, and later ported to the NES. Little differences exist between each of the version, but generally the game remains true throughout. The IBM version hosted here boasts startling CGA graphics and PC speaker sound. However, since it's simultaneously complex to learn and hard to look at, you may want to just run the game in demo mode a few times so that if you don't get into it, you can still get a sense of the glory of Archon.
The game gets full marks for originality and influence. However its high learning curve with the poor sound and graphics of the IBM version force a significant drop in its score. If I were reviewing the C64 or Atari 800 versions I could give it a 4. However I have to give this version of Archon a 3 overall.
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