The year is 1984. You rush home from the computer store, tear open the brightly colored box, and rummage through it for the floppy disk. Grasping the disk, you insert it into your Commodore 64 and flip the power switch...
**** COMMODORE 64 BASIC V2 ****
64K RAM SYSTEM 38911 BASIC BYTES FREE
SEARCHING FOR *
Released in 1983 by Free Fall Associates, Archon is a truly classic game for the Commodore 64. Despite its simple graphics, Archon blended strategy and action to create addictive gameplay that rivals even games like Starcraft in depth.
The premise is simple. The game board is similar to a chessboard, with the exception that the board measures nine squares to a side instead of eight. To win, a player must capture all five power points or destroy all the opponent's pieces. Each piece has its advantages and disadvantages, as does each side. For instance, the Dark side has the Shapeshifter, which can spell victory if used skillfully, while the Light has the Phoenix with its blast attack that can be both offensive and defensive. Also, the time plays an important role in Archon strategy. The balance slowly shifts from light to dark as the squares change their colors. Light squares give the light side a significant advantage, and dark squares similarly favor the dark side. Some squares remain light throughout the game, while some remain dark; however, most squares shift back and forth from light to dark. This time factor makes for some interesting strategies - Archon isn't a shallow game.
However, the real fun in the game lies in the fights that ensue once two pieces attempt to occupy the same space. These battles are fought using a top-down view somewhat resembling that of Bomberman. The creatures breathe fire, hurl rocks, scream, bash with clubs, or even explode to try to destroy the other. Each attack has a recharge time, however - constant firing will only get a creature killed. The winner of each fight occupies the space, although a fight may be a loss for both sides. Each creature's health is recorded, and a significant blow to a Dragon may be almost as devastating as losing the piece outright.
Skilled Archon players need both strategy and skill to win. Skill in the game combat can often make up for poor strategy; however, skill isn't going to help much when you realize you left your Djinni on a black square within range of a Shapeshifter.
Archon was created by Anne Westfall, Jon Freeman, and Paul Reiche III. This and its sequel were the only major games released by their company, Free Fall Associates. Free Fall Associates still retains the copyright on Archon today, although Curve Software currently holds the license to create Archon: Evolution. The major incarnations of Archon are:
Archon (Commodore 64). This original version of Archon was the version most people are familiar with today. It had basic graphics and no music, with the exception of the opening theme. (The original SID for the theme can be found in the High Voltage SID Collection. The author is unknown.)
Archon (Atari XE). Released in 1987 by the Atari corporation, the graphics for this edition of Archon were similar to those of the Commodore 64.
Archon (NES). A little-known NES version of Archon was released in 1989 by Bullet-Proof Software (makers of the infamous Tetris for the Game Boy) and Activision. This incarnation of Archon featured an annoying tune that played repeatedly while players moved their pieces. (Note that this ROM can't be played with the Nesticle emulator, as it uses illegal palette writes - use FCE Ultra or LoopyNES instead.)
Archon Ultra was released in 1994 by SSI and Free Fall Associates. This edition supported the GUS and ran in 320x200 8-bit graphics mode. Music and sound effects played during the game as well. The most important aspect of Archon Ultra, however, was the modem support.
Archon: Evolution will likely be the final release of Archon. In development by Curve Software, the game will feature more modern graphics and netplay. While the graphics still look somewhat dated by today's standards, the game is nonetheless promising. Jon Freeman is partaking in the development to ensure that the game becomes a worthy successor to the original.
X Archon is a Linux version of Archon. It is skinnable, and it supports sound (using esound) and netplay. Of course, the main feature is that the game is completely free. X Archon was programmed by Ronen Tzur, Galen Johnson, Dan Hursh, Mike Ciul, Shai Roitman, Eric Sharkey, and Robert Paige Rendell.
Other (Archon-likes and sequels)
Archon II: Adept. This sequel is deserving of a writeup in its own right, as it played entirely differently from the original Archon. This version was released for the C64, Atari XE, and Apple II, possibly among others. (This game was more widespread than I had originally thought!)
The Unholy War was a PlayStation game developed by Crystal Dynamics and released by Eidos. The graphics were sleek 3D (for the time). Unfortunately, the game suffers from major balance problems - the Teknos (dark) side far outpowers the Arcane side. In an Archon-like game, this completely destroys the gameplay. Sadly, the promising Unholy War was severely crippled by this drawback.
Some C64 disk images floating around on the net include an "Archon III: Exciter." Disregard this. It isn't really a game in the first place. According to the STIL info in the High Voltage SID Collection, Exciter is "just a hacked-up version of Archon II done by someone with a fairly adolescent sense of humor."
The board is laid out as follows:
|# #.X. # |
| #. .#. #|
L |#. #. #. | D
I |. # .# #.| A
G |x...X...X| R
H |. # .# #.| K
T |#. #. #. |
| #. .#. #|
|# #.X. # |
(#) - Dark squares
( ) - Light squares
(.) - "Shifting" squares
(X) - Power points
Following is a brief description of each piece within the game. Knowing each unit's strengths and weaknesses is vital to winning the game. Each side's units are ordered rougly from weakest to strongest, although many pieces are very situational.
Units are marked with their movement type and movement distance. Ground units are blocked by other units in their path, while Fly and Teleport units are not.
Knight (Ground 3) - The Knight is the basic unit of the light side. They have low damage output, a point-blank range, and low health. Their only advantage is their fast attack recharge time.
Archer (Ground 3) - Average ranged unit. No real advantages or disadvantages, besides low health.
Valkyrie (Fly 3) - The Valkyrie is similar to the Archer, with one major difference - the Valkyrie can fly. As a result, the Valkyrie is useful for hit-and-run tactics, especially against weaker pieces.
Golem (Ground 3) - Slow, clumsy, and powerful, the Golem inflicts a powerful blow with its boulders. Golems are useful for tearing through hordes of weak units, although it has difficulty with the faster creatures.
Unicorn (Ground 4) - Unicorns are the assassins of the light side. Their attack is extremely fast, so slower units are usually at the Unicorn's mercy. Their only drawback is their low health.
Djinni (Fly 4) - The Djinni is a powerful all-around unit. They can fly, they have high health, and their attack is damaging if a little slow.
Phoenix (Fly 5) - If used properly, the Phoenix can be the most powerful weapon in the Light's arsenal. The Phoenix has no ranged attack. Instead, it explodes into a large ball of flame when the attack button is pressed. While exploding, it is immune to all attacks. This means that the attack can be used both offensively and defensively.
Goblin (Ground 3) - The Goblin is the basic unit of the dark side. Equal in power to the Knight, it is only truly useful on dark squares.
Manticore (Ground 3) - The Manticore is a basic ranged unit. Compared to the Archer, its attacks are slightly weaker and more accurate. Other than that, the Manticore has no real drawbacks or advantages.
Banshee (Fly 3) - Despite possessing the weakest attack in the game, the Banshee can be a powerful unit if used properly. The Banshee is easily the most mobile unit in Archon, with an area-of-effect attack that can be used while moving. This unique attack makes the Banshee a dangerous opponent when controlled by a skilled player.
Basilisk (Ground 3) - Basilisks have average health, moderately quick movement, and fast attacks. While their attacks are not as fast as the Unicorn's, the Basilisk makes a good fighter nonetheless.
Troll (Ground 3) - Hardier than the Golem, but even slower, the Troll is unmatched in raw attack power. Its disadvantage, of course, is its sluggish speed.
Shapeshifter (Fly 5) - The Shapeshifter is the most unique unit in the game. Its sole purpose is to attack the light units stranded on dark squares - and its fast movement rate gives it the ability to do just that. The Shapeshifter becomes a clone of whatever unit it attacks - although it retains the bonuses granted by the color of the square it is standing on. The Shapeshifter is key in many Archon strategies.
Dragon (Fly 4) - In terms of statistics, the Dragon is the most powerful unit in the game. The dragon moves quickly, fires rapidly, and does huge damage with its ranged attack. This enormous destructive potential makes it one of the first targets of most Light players.
More than anything else in Archon, the spells make up the strategy. Each spell has the ability to decide a game if used properly. This makes the Wizard and the Sorceress the most valuable units in the game.
Each spell may only be used once, and creatures at power points cannot be the target of any spells, whether harmful or beneficial. Since the Wizard and Sorceress begin in power points, they are immune to their own spells (which is necessary, or the first player would simply start out by imprisoning the opposing spellcaster).
These are the spells, roughly ordered in ascending order of usefulness:
Heal - Heals a friendly unit to full health.
Exchange - Swaps the positions of two units on the board (friendly or enemy).
Summon Elemental - Summons a random elemental (water, fire, air, or earth) to attack any creature not on a power point. Win or lose, the elemental is always destroyed after the fight.
Teleport - Transports any friendly unit not on a power point to another square (which must not be a power point).
Shift Time - Reverses the flow of time. Alternately, if the squares are at one extreme (maximum light or maximum darkness), the square colors will completely shift to the other extreme.
Imprison - Renders an opposing creature immobile. The effect wears off once the time reaches an extremity. For instance, an imprisoned black creature will be freed once the time reaches maximum darkness. This spell can be used with Shift Time to lengthen the duration.
Revive - Easily the most powerful spell in the game, this spell allows the wizard or sorceress to bring one dead creature back into the game. The creature must be placed within one square of the caster.
Too often overlooked, Archon remains a true classic. It's a gem from the Commodore 64 era that is still unparalleled in its action/strategy genre today. Thank God for emulators, or this game from over a decade and a half ago might be forgotten.