An interlude: Colossus

A long, long time ago, quite possibly before you were born, there were no computers. Which is to say there were computers, but they were large, lunking things that took up entire rooms, made a lot of noise and demanded specific temperature ranges. It wasn’t something you could go out to your local thrift store and buy. It was something your company or your university or your nation’s military bought and used for serious things, like processing payrolls.

In those days, people didn’t play Mario Kart or World of Warcraft for entertainment. Instead they relied on games made out of paper and cardboard, that came packaged in cardboard boxes, with rules printed — with ink on a press, not a laser printer — in long and boring sheets. You might hear your grandparents talking about those days, and not just in reference to the first edition of Dungeons and Dragons. I mean games like Air War. And Dune. And Steve Jackson’s Illuminati. And of course, Star Fleet Battles.

And Titan, an Avalon Hill game which was amazingly simple and at the same time delightfully complex, with no clear thematic element aside from oversimplified combat between fantastical creatures. Roll a die, plot a move, stack an army, collect points, and repeat. The artwork was clean-cut but evocative, the game play was simple but efficient, and for the most part, it was a good way to spend a few hours with friends.

Fast forward a few decades, and while it’s still possible to get the paper game, you might find that rather quaint or even silly — or not have enough friends to fill a table. 😦 All of those things are possible and it’s nothing to be ashamed of, but as a possible alternative, you could always check out Colossus.


I’ve been playing this game for quite some time, and I don’t mean in terms of hours, but years: I think I remember using Java for this on Windows machines as far back as 2001 (yes, you’ll need JRE to play). I suppose it’s probably one of the earliest open-source games I ever played, and probably one of my first run-ins with Sourceforge.

So it’s not new, but neither is the original. If you remember this game, you’ll probably be pleased to see that much of the style and feel of the original has been duplicated in this version. Colors, markers and some monsters even keep their appearance, which is important to those of us who remember the game, because the artwork was an important part of it.

If you don’t remember the game it might take a little getting used to, mostly because the movement and recruitment rules are not exactly intuitive just by looking at the screen. And notice that I use a 1024×768 LCD, which means that in its full size, the board gets cut off slightly. There are options to zoom it in the Preferences menu, as well as to dump that awful glossy Java interface.

But the game itself works in much the same way. Split your stacks, start recruiting and pound on your opponent at any and every opportunity. The game is point-driven too, in that increasing your score opens other options later in the game. That’s important.

The fun part of an electronic version in the open like this, is that there are a number of modifications and variants that are available. There never was an “undead” version of Titan (to the best of my knowledge), but you can recruit skeletons, nagas, and even more unusual creatures, depending on the variant.

Even better, there is now a public server client, which means you could conceivably find all your old friends that you used to play Titan with, wherever they are, and challenge them again. See, you don’t even need a table. 😉

I realize this might be a bit of an esoteric game to you, and if you require animated blood splatters, force-feedback controllers, space zombies or 3D glow effects, this is probably about as interesting as a cold bowl of mashed potatoes. If you’d rather exercise the part of your brain that handles strategic thinking instead of just exercising the nerve sequence that controls your index finger, it’s worth learning.

And if you do remember it, it’s worth playing again. :mrgreen:


3 thoughts on “An interlude: Colossus

  1. JP Senior

    I can’t say I’ve ever been gifted as to have played a pen and paper game with anybody – D&D included, just didn’t have that sort of crowd to hang out.

    After pen&paper D&D, the next item of my list would be the traveller game. The Megatraveller 2 DOS sequel had a nice GUI for pen-and-paper character creation and was always thorough. I would spend hours “Rolling” 70 year old merchant guild veterans for the heck of it.
    The DOS game is available at

    These days I don’t see why an “AD&D” ruleset for any modern game would be exciting at all. The dice are rolled in the background and I just don’t find it very fun.

  2. Mark

    From the title and the opening lines I assumed this was going to be about the most famous resident of Bletchley Park after Alan Turing.


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