As one of the most classic ideas possible, you take the task of capturing the king in chess and combining it with Breakout, and you get this superb game as the result. There is a king in each corner of the screen, safely (for the moment) behind his castle (which is actually several colorful rows of low-resolution bricks) and with a shield to deflect fireballs from chipping away at your castle, which you control one or more of the onscreen shields. A fireball is launched, and it bounces around the screen, Pong-style, until it's either deflected by a shield, captured by a shield (this depends on the game variation, which I'll get to), or it hits a castle block. If enough bricks are destroyed, that castle's king is vulnerable to attack, and a well-aimed fireball after that means king a la flambe (or king a la DEAD, actually).
And that's basically it, really. Of course, this doesn't go into account of how furiously fast-paced a game can get, since one of the variations of the game lets you catch a fireball, so someone can act like they're going to release it towards one player, then suddenly spin their paddle and launch it towards a totally different player. Another variation only allows you to deflect the fireball, with no catching allowed...but if you move your shield too late and it hits a brick behind you, you could accidentally deflect the fireball into your king, and then you're out of the game. (Hmmm, maybe a term for that could be "Warlords Roulette", instead of Russian Roulette?)
Thanks to the paddles that Atari made, with two of them per controller port, you can have up to four players on this game, or players controlling two shields / guarding two castles at once. Plus you can play as one player against the computer, but that just isn't as much fun, except for when you destroy a computer opponent, and it's "ghost" shield can deflect the occasional fireball, which is a nice, unpredictable touch.
The graphics are also nice (for back then) and colorful, the sounds really engaging (especially when a king bites the dust; ka-BOOM!), and the controllers respond well, unless your paddles are wigging out in the first place (which is a bummer). Severe, severe classic.
If only our real-life conflicts could be solved by various leaders sitting around and taking out their differences and frustrations on a game of
Warlords, then the world would be a much better place.