A journey through Chivalry

Filed under Game trail;

Interactive fiction author Wade Clarke recently encouraged me to engage in a two-player game of Chivalry, a 1983 Apple II game I was previously unfamiliar with. So, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, Jess and I played a round.

Chivalry is an electronic board game where players become knights and ladies who are charged with rescuing the medieval king from his kidnapper, the Black Knight. Each turn, a wheel or die determines if a player advances one, two, or three spaces forward on the board. The board itself is never seen, nor are the players' relative positions, so it can be hard to tell who's winning. But each space on the board is a fixed location with its own challenges and encounters, so players start recognizing them as they watch each other move forward and backward.

Each location is either a random encounter or an action-based mini-game. Games include archery and jousting competitions, catching sacks of flour as they are tossed out of a window, crossing a bridge while dodging a troll, and more. Some locations require no dexterity, instead requiring a simple decision, such as which door to open or path to take. Still other locations offer an automatic and random result — for example: if the bear is awake, you get mauled; but if the bear is asleep, you can sneak by.

The encounters that most intrigued me were those that prepared you for future locations. At one point in the game, a dwarven passerby handed me some rope, without any indication what it might be used for. Later, Jess's travels brought her to an insurmountable cliff, requiring she backtrack. I figured if she'd had my rope, she would've been equipped to proceed. At another point, I had the choice to buy one of three foodstuffs from the market, but only one had a distinctive name: "bear potion". Had the bear not been asleep, I could've used this potion to escape a mauling. In both these examples, the items ended up not being used, which seemed a missed opportunity. But it was a clever mechanic that introduced the possibility of each player having a different experience, even at the same points on the map.

The action-based sequences were less interesting, partly because it was difficult to assess the parameters of success. There are two dart mini-games, for example, but with different, invisible goals. Hit the bullseye in the inn, for example, and you win; but hit the bullseye in the thieves' den, and the thieves will punish you for swindling them. Without knowing the rules, success was as much chance as skill.

After about a half-hour of passing the laptop back and forth (Jess and I were playing with keyboard controls, not paddles), Jess reached the Black Knight's castle, which involved a Dark Castle-like action sequence to leap to the top of the parapets. She succeeded on the first try, winning the game — but she wished I had made it there first. "You're more the action gamer and would've enjoyed it more," she commented. Perhaps she was just being chivalrous — but after watching both of us struggle with the previous action-based tasks, it was fun to see one of us get the final level right on the first try.

Chivalry is an interesting way for 1–4 players to spend an hour, and it's an intriguing example of an early attempt to add an electronic component to the classic board-game experience, well before Anticipation or Mario Party hit the scene. Chivalry demonstrates some of the struggles but also creativity that game designers worked with back then, without necessarily offering a sufficiently compelling experience for repeat rounds of play.

  1. You don't see the board in the game because the actual game included a large board and four player tokens. It's one of the few boxed Apple ][ games I've managed to hold on to over the years and remains a favorite. I'd also highly recommend Old Ironsides–which is by the same author(s)–as a great 2-player game.

  2. Ah! Thank you for that explanation, Robert — that makes a lot more sense! Something is indeed lost in emulation… not even the Internet Archive has a photo of the board.

  3. I remember the frustration of this game. However I appreciated the work that would have been required in its coding. From memory it was a double sided disk (or two single sided floppies) and I was impressed by that compactness given the quantity of graphics involved in the game. No doubt that vector fill routines had something to do with that.

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