Strategy games

Tactical and turn-based strategy games on the ZX Spectrum.

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Chaos in-game screen
Dragons, hydras and other creatures slug it out while magic fires spread through the arena. Who will come out on top?

  • Release year: 1985
  • Publisher: Games Workshop
  • Author: Julian Gollop
  • ZXDB archive entry at Spectrum Computing

The game

Chaos is one of those games hailed as a classic by some, while others haven't played it at all. For many it went 'under the radar' - originally released by Games Workshop, it was re-released by Firebird soon afterwards, at a budget price.

Spoiler alert - I'm one of those who hail it as a classic. In fact, it's my favourite Spectrum game.


...Well, if you look beyond the small graphics and single-screen display, there's some deep and balanced gameplay, designed by master strategist Julian Gollop, a name associated with other classic strategy games such as Rebelstar, Laser Squad and X-Com.

Aside from the array of spell types, there's one element that - in my opinion - makes this game great:

- At the start of each game, each wizard's spell list is randomized. This means NO GAME IS THE SAME.

For anyone unfamiliar with it, Chaos is a turn-based strategy game involving wizards, who are trying to defeat each other by summoning creatures to fight on their behalf, and using other magic. Between 2 and 8 wizards can play against each other, any of which can be computer or human opponents. Each wizard can cast one spell each turn.

Although computer opponent AI is predictable, the randomness grants the game endless re-playability. Chaos is one of the few computer games I've consistently played throughout the years since its release, and still play today.

There's a variety of magic available, but the main offensive spells a wizard has is summoning creatures. Each spell has a % casting chance. More powerful spells/creatures tend to have a lower casting % chance. But with creatures, wizards can choose to cast a 100% success ILLUSIONARY creature.

Wizards also have a DISBELIEVE spell - the only spell that is always permanently available to everyone - which will destroy an illusory creature if cast on it. But if the creature's about to attack you - and it turns out to be REAL - then choosing between DISBELIEVE and a spell that could protect your wizard is a calculated risk.


Chaos in-game screen - engaged to enemy
Localised skirmishes break out across the board between summoned creatures. The victor in the battle between the cyan giant and green dragon could end up in a strong position in this game.

Summoned creatures in Chaos are varied. Each has their own physical/magical attack and defence. Some, such as eagles and harpies, can fly, covering large distances on the 'board'.

Other creatures have missile attacks as well as melee attacks, or act as mounts for a wizard to ride and increase their movement range and protection - a wizard's mount is always destroyed before harm is dealt to the mounted wizard.

UNDEAD creatures such as ghosts, vampires and wraiths, can't be harmed by non-undead creatures. A weak undead creature such as a zombie can often hold a much stronger non-undead creature at bay.

Turning the tables

One of the things I like about Chaos is that it's possible to snatch an unlikely victory from what seems like certain defeat. Some spells that can help:

  • SUBVERSION - can make a hostile creature yours. This can swing the balance of power, especially where the creature is a powerful one, such as a dragon or vampire.
  • DARK POWER/JUSTICE/VENGEANCE/DECREE - these are full-board-range magic attacks that can destroy individual creatures, but if cast on an opponent wizard (and not resisted), it destroys everything they've summoned/created.
  • RAISE DEAD - not only can this spell restore life to any dead creature and put it in your control, the creature becomes UNDEAD. Undead giants and dragons are formidable opponents. An undead flying mount can make a great steed for a wizard.

Other spells & tactics

Chaos - in-game screen - spell list
What spells have you been dealt this game? A decent number already, but with two magic wood spells there's a chance of acquiring even more. The arrow/asterisk designates a spell's LAW/CHAOS alignment.

There are other spells which can have an effect on the board as the game goes on.

  • GOOEY BLOB/MAGIC FIRE - these spread around the board, and can envelop both creatures and wizards. If cast early in the game, they can engulf the whole board. There's a game turn limit though, so if cast early, this can result in a drawn game if wizards can't find a way across the screen.
  • MAGIC WOOD - trees that the wizard can hide in, that after a number of turns grant an extra spell. These can be good as part of a defensive strategy, where the wizard keeps a low profile - letting other wizards slug it out and use their spells - before unleashing a contingent of end-game creatures on any survivors.
  • TURMOIL - this spell can only be gained from a MAGIC WOOD. It truly creates chaos, moving every item on screen to a different location. If there are too many things on-screen, the game will crash.

Chaos & Law

Each spell is either CHAOTIC (e.g. wraith) or LAWFUL (e.g. pegasus). Casting a spell of a particular alignment gradually increases the balance in one or other direction. After reaching a certain point either way, spells of that type start becoming easier to cast.

Just to confuse you, there are additional spells, actually named CHAOS and LAW, which don't really do much except slightly shift the balance in either direction.

The computer opponents tend to cast CHAOS and LAW spells at the end of the game. The player can try to use these spells earlier to marginally boost the chance of casting a particular spell, but on the whole it's hard to influence things too much.

Other rules

There are plenty of small, additional elements to this game that can give a player marginal advantages... However, some aren't essential to learn to begin with, for newcomers to the game.

For example:

  • How you can break a creature free when they are engaged in combat
  • Evaluating the stats of a creature or wizard to assess the likely effectiveness of spells, e.g. VENGEANCE or MAGIC BOLT
  • Using your position as wizard number 8, often considered a disadvantage as you go last, to cast a powerful illusionary creature spell that can quickly wreak havoc... At least for one turn, before it's (probably) DISBELIEVED.
  • Moving to a particular position on the board that will let you cast MAGIC WOOD so that 3 trees are right next to you.
  • How to attack a neighbouring creature twice, with both wizard and mount.
  • Maximise movement range with the right order of diagonal/non-diagonal movement.


Chaos - in-game screen with gooey blobs
Gooey blobs everywhere...! It looks as if the wizards on the right may try to hold out for a draw on this one...

So there you have it. As it's a turn-based strategy game I can understand that Chaos isn't for everyone. If you enjoy strategy games then you should find this one nicely balanced, with a nice balance of tactics and randomness.

Being my favourite game I don't have many criticisms of it. One thing I'd say is that an 'easy mode' might have been nice for new players - you can set the level of the computer wizards, but level 1 just puts them equal to yours, with higher numbers making them tougher! Playing against just one other wizard to begin with is a great way to go until you learn the ropes enough to tackle 7 opponents.