The Light

Archon: The Light and the Dark

Archon: The Light and the Dark is a computer game developed by Free Fall Associates and distributed by Electronic Arts. It was originally developed for Atari 8-bit computers in 1983, but was later ported to several other systems of the day, including the Apple II, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Amiga, IBM PC, Apple Macintosh, PC-88 and NES. It was designed by Paul Reiche III and Jon Freeman and programmed by Freeman's wife, Anne Westfall. Reiche also produced the artwork for the game.


On the surface, Archon appears similar to chess, but there are a number of significant changes.

While the board is similar to a chessboard and the various pieces are similarly designed to have various offsetting abilities, when one piece attempts to take another the removal of the targeted piece is not automatic. Instead, the two pieces are placed into a full-screen 'combat arena' and must battle (arcade-style, with the players running the pieces) to determine who takes the square.


Generally (but not always) in combat, a stronger piece will defeat a weaker piece in either defending or capturing a square. It is also possible for the fight to result in a double-kill, in which both pieces are eliminated. This uncertainty adds a level of complexity into the game, since it is not always possible to predict if taking a square will be successful.

Different pieces have different abilities in the combat phase. These include movement, lifespan, and weapon damage & attributes. The weapons vary by range, speed, rate-of-fire, and power. For example, the pawn (represented by knights on the 'light' side and goblins on the 'dark' side) attacks quickly, but has very little strength; its weapon, a sword or club, has limited reach and power. A dragon is considerably stronger and can attack from a distance, while a golem moves slowly and fires a slow but powerful boulder.

Some pieces have special abilities. The Phoenix can turn into a ball of fire, both damaging the enemy and shielding itself from enemy attacks. The shapeshifter assumes the shape and abilities of whatever piece it is up against.

Power points and cycling

Each character's strength is also affected by the color of the square on which the combat occurs and by a light-and-dark cycle on the 'neutral' squares, indicated by the changing color of the board. The 'light' side is stronger on the white squares and during the light cycle, and the 'dark' side is stronger on the dark squares and during the dark cycle. This strength shows up as characters having more hit points and doing more damage when on like colored squares, and doing less damage and having fewer hit points on opposite colored squares.


Each side also has a spellcaster piece (the Sorceress for the dark side, the Wizard for the light side) which can cast seven different spells; each spell may be used only once per game by each spellcaster. The spells are:

  • Teleport - teleports one of your pieces to any square.
  • Heal - fully heals one piece.
  • Shift Time - reverses the light/dark cycle.
  • Exchange - swaps the board locations of any two pieces.
  • Summon Elemental - summons one of four elementals randomly to a chosen square to battle an enemy piece -- the elemental disappears after the battle.
  • Revive - returns one of your defeated pieces to the board.
  • Imprison - prevents the target piece from moving until the light/dark cycle returns to its color.

The spells may not be cast on pieces currently sitting on one of the five 'power points', which are located at the center of the board and the center of each of the four sides.


The game is usually won when either one side destroys all the opposing pieces or one of the sides is able to occupy all of the five power points. More rarely, a side may also win by Imprisoning its opponent's last remaining piece. If each side has but a single piece, and the two pieces destroy each other in a double-kill, then the game ends in a tie.

Layout and pieces

Each piece has movement restrictions. "Flying" pieces can "jump" other pieces on the board, including opposing pieces. "Ground" pieces cannot jump. Flying also enables to move diagonally on the board, where ground pieces would have to walk two steps. The wizard and sorceress pieces have movement described as "teleport," but are unrestricted like a flying piece.

Archon layout
Valkyrie Archer     Power
    Manticore Banshee
Golem Knight           Goblin Troll
Unicorn Knight           Goblin Basilisk
Djini Knight           Goblin Shapeshifter
Power Point
Knight     Power
    Goblin Sorceress
Power Point
Phoenix Knight           Goblin Dragon
Unicorn Knight           Goblin Basilisk
Golem Knight           Goblin Troll
Valkyrie Archer     Power
    Manticore Banshee

The purple squares fade from light to dark throughout the game. As they become light, the light side becomes more powerful and vice-versa. Pieces abilities are listed below.


Piece Board movement Weapon Other
Valkyrie flying projectile
Golem ground projectile slow
Unicorn ground projectile
Djini flying projectile
Wizard teleport projectile spell caster
Phoenix flying radial weapon also allows projectile weapons to pass though harmlessly, but stops the phoenix's movement
Archer ground projectile
Knight ground melee


Piece Board movement Weapon Other
Banshee flying radial weapon has similar range of the phoenix's, allows the banshee to move, but cannot be used in defense, and does not affect the area immediately surrounding the banshee
Troll ground projectile slow
Basilisk ground projectile
Shapeshifter flying special takes the form and abilities of whatever piece it is in combat with
Sorceress teleport projectile spell caster
Dragon flying projectile
Manticore ground projectile
Goblin ground melee


FreeFall Associates developed a sequel to the game called Archon II: Adept in 1984 (it appeared on different systems on different dates). Not very similar to the original, it had improved graphics, different creatures and required different strategy to win. The players in this version represented either Order or Chaos and possessed 4 adepts that could cast powerful spells. The game also featured an end-game option called the "Apocalypse spell" where one player or the other could call for a final battle to determine the outcome of the game. The Amiga version featured full stereo sound, unusual for games of the day.

Toys for Bob developed a game in 1994 called Archon Ultra. Being an expanded remake of the original game, it not only had updated graphics and sound, it also had additional features: most notably the units had secondary weapons and the battle sequences were shown from a “isometric” point of view, enabling the game to simulate a third dimension in the battles, which made it more difficult to aim. It also featured a multiplayer mode via modem. However, it performed very poorly in the marketplace. The Unholy War is a PlayStation game also developed by Toys For Bob for Crystal Dynamics and published by Eidos Interactive in 1998. It was designed by Paul Reiche III and featured a similar style of strategy and combat as Archon.

An unofficial sequel, Archon III: Exciter, was produced by unknown Archon fans for the Commodore 64 in 1985.

The game was rewritten for Palm OS in 2000 and was close to the original. The creator, Carsten Magerkurth, of EmperoR Studios contacted the members of former FreeFall Associates and, with their input, developed a new version in 2003 (v1.21) with colors and sounds even closer to the original.

Another rewrite of the game, Archon: Evolution, was developed by Curve Software. The game reached public beta status before disappearing from the Internet, but resurfaced in January 2008. The game used code from the original 8-bit version and had the support of Jon Freeman.

In February 2007, it was announced that Myriad Interactive had purchased the licensing rights from Free Fall Games with an intent to update the idea of the original with modern technology. However, due to internal "shake up" at Mercury Games, production of this game is now unlikely.

Reception and legacy

Science-fiction author Orson Scott Card reviewed Archon for COMPUTE! Magazine in November 1983. Card gave Archon (as well as two other EA games, M.U.L.E. and Worms) a complimentary review, writing: "They are original; they do what they set out to do very, very well; they allow the player to take part in the creativity; they do things that only computers can do."

Paul Reiche and Fred Ford went on to create the Star Control series of computer games. The melee component of the first Star Control game is very similar in that each player has a group of spaceships with different abilities which they send into 1-on-1 combat. Paul and Fred went on to found Toys for Bob, and create many other games together.

Silicon Knights's game Dark Legions (1994) is basically an updated version of Archon with some additions like allowing the player to purchase their army before committing to the game. Archon may have served as the inspiration for Battle Chess, a computer game of chess where the pieces battle for their spaces. It also inspired some more recent games, including The Unholy War for the PlayStation and Wrath Unleashed for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.

The game Mortal Kombat: Deception includes a Chess Kombat mode which is very similar to Archon, including most or all of the wizard spells.


External links

Fan made games

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