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Subject: Chess: An interesting concept ruined by too many design flaws rss

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Corey Butler
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Chess is a strategy boardgame in which two kingdoms vie for power over a hypothetical 64 square world. Chess is described as the "game of kings" on the box. It is supposed to be a grand game of warfare, diplomacy, and empire management. But does the game measure up to these lofty ambitions?

First, I'd like to clear up a misconception made by previous reviewers, who have suggested that Chess is a wargame. Chess is not a simulation of military conflict, so it does not fall under the definition of a wargame. Chess is essentially a piece management game and the player who most efficiently optimizes his pieces will most likely be the winner.

Components

The components are pretty bad by contemporary standards. The lightweight cardboard box contains hollow plastic pieces and a flimsy cardboard map. The map is a collection of provinces represented by black and white squares. The publisher should have considered adding some color to the board, and maybe even some little drawings of castles, a la Carcassonne. This would have suited the medieval theme very well. Even a couple of lakes would have helped immensely, like the ones on the map in Stratego. A poor map is one of several design flaws that plague this game.

Chess's rule book is a joke, having been written on the inside of the boxtop. Apparently there are books available that have more detailed rules and advice about how to play, but people shouldn't have to purchase expansions just to play the base game. We already have A Game of Thrones and Mare Nostrum if we want to take that route. The one silver lining is the relatively low cost of the game, which is less than $10 at Walmart. As bang for your buck goes, I would put Chess in the same category as your typical Cheapass Game.

The designer did not include any player aids or quick reference cards in Chess, so you are on your own if you want to design one. Maybe someone will post a PDF file on Boardgamegeek to remedy this situation.



Theme

Other reviewers have criticized Chess as being weak in theme, or even having a "pasted on" theme. I couldn't disagree more. Chess has a much stronger theme than comparable strategy games like Checkers and Through the Desert. As a simulation of running a kingdom or civilization, it is about equal to Tigris and Euphrates. It's not like you could just swap in another theme, like World War II, the Lord of the Rings, or The Simpsons. That just wouldn't feel right in this game. Granted, the theme would have been improved with the addition of suitable artwork on the map, like little drawings of castles and peasants, but I suppose we shouldn't blame the game for the failings of its publisher.

Rules

During a game of Chess, players alternate making moves and capturing pieces while they extend their influence over the map. The rules are pretty straightforward and mostly involve moving your Pawns either one or two squares. Pawns capture diagonally, which makes sense because medieval footmen swung their swords at angles, to either side of their shields. There are many nice touches like that in the rules, which help to bring out the theme of running an army in the middle ages. When all the players have moved their Pawns as far as they can go, the game bogs down a bit and becomes less interesting. The addition of another layer of strategy could have helped at this point. For example, little wooden cubes are conspicuously absent in this game. Why didn't the designer use little cubes to represent food, cloth, wood, stone, or something like that?

One aspect of the rules that almost saves the game of Chess is the diplomacy system. As the game unfolds, players are allowed to talk to each other and give their assessments of the game, their opinion of various positions on the map, their speculations on winning possibilities, and any other information they feel is relevant at the moment. This diplomacy feature is highly innovative and turns an otherwise dry experience into a game that almost works. See the gameplay section below for further thoughts on diplomacy.

One last rule that I didn't particularly like was the one that lets your King and Castle change position during the game. I suppose this was meant to simulate preparations for a medieval seige, but it's a hard rule to remember. And if the King is better off in the corner of the map, why not start him off there? In fact, why not let players choose the starting position of their pieces? Even the old game of Risk follows this common practice. This is yet another of the many eccentricities of Chess that seem at odds with common principles of good game design.

Gameplay

There are three ways to win in Chess: checkmate, victory points, and resignation. Checkmate is pretty straightforward so won't go into it here. If there is no checkmate, then the winner is the player who has the most points at the end of the game. A Pawn is worth one point, a Knight is worth three, etc. This system works pretty well, though it could have been improved by placement of a victory point track running around the board. Why the designer neglected to add this obvious feature is a bit of a mystery. As it is, you have to keep track of your points, which gets annoying and tedious. Resignation of your opponent is the most common way of winning. This usually happens during the diplomacy phase of the game, which involves discussion with your opponent about how he or she is doing.

Chess provides an interesting gaming experience with several decisions to make in the management of one's kingdom. Should I move my Knights to the right side of the map, or to the center? Should I pursue a worker strategy and concentrate on my Pawns, or a more top-down strategy and move my Queen back and forth. After a few games, though, I found myself getting bored while waiting for my opponent to move. There just isn't that much to think about during a game of Chess. Ironically, some players seem to be extremely prone to analysis paralysis, and hardly ever move all, which can really slow down the game.

Chess has been criticized for having a broken endgame, as players are occasionally reduced to having only their Kings on the board. I have personally witnessed games dragging on for hours because of this, but my response is that these players were not playing correctly. Specifically, they neglected the use of diplomacy to bring the game to a speedy conclusion.

During several of the games I played, I found myself falling way behind on points. This runaway leader problem usually indicates some kind of imbalance in a game, or an extreme luck factor. Both of these appear to be a problem in Chess. Fortunately, these factors are partly mitigated by the diplomacy system, once again to the rescue! I quickly learned that I could encourage my opponents to resign by verbal diplomacy and after that I won most of my games. My tentative conclusion is that Chess is primarily a game of skill.

Assessment

Overall, I found Chess to be rather dull, with too much downtime and too little to do. It has some interesting parts, but the numerous flaws discussed in this review tend to bring the game down. It's also too simple and could have benefited from some additional mechanics. The rules of Chess are so easy that even hand held computers can be programmed to play the game well. I seriously doubt that a computer could ever master a more complex game like Antike.

Chess would have benefited greatly by the inclusion of just a few of the additional rules commonly found in modern board games. For example, an auction or area control mechanic could have injected a little more life into the game. Something as simple as a random event deck would have given more depth to the experience. Even lowly dice could have improved things. As it stands, the game is just I-go, you-go, reiterate ad infinitum.

There is rumored to be a second edition of this game in the planning stages, so I hope we see better development and playtesting the next time around. Chess is an OK game, but it won't have the staying power of a true classic like Puerto Rico. I just can't imagine anyone playing Chess ten or twenty years from now.




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W M Shubert
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I think you have the rules wrong. There is no "victory points" ending. Furthermore, there is the "draw" ending, which helps to shorten the painful endgame you mention. Reread your rule book, and try playing again - I can't promise it will change your mind about the game, but you should at least try with the correct rules!

Also, the theme makes more sense when you realize that the bishop piece was originally an elephant, but was changed to a bishop at the last minute by the publisher.
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Corey Butler
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Draw? I don't think so. If you're not winning, you're losing as far as I'm concerned. And if your remark about elephants is intended to suggest that chess could be rethemed, I'll have to dispute that too. By my recollection, there were many cases of elephants being used in medieval warfare, and quite possibly by the clergy. I certainly never read that it didn't happen.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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shotokanguy wrote:
The rules are pretty straightforward and mostly involve moving your Pawns either one or two squares. Pawns capture diagonally, which makes sense because medieval footmen swung their swords at angles, to either side of their shields.


I hope you've got the latest errata, dated 1483. They added a special pawn move that improves play.
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Bruce Linsey
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This is one of the funniest articles I've ever read on the geek!
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Eric Jome
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The really funny thing is, I can't tell if this is supposed to be a joke or a legit review. Because, frankly, most of your criticism is right on.

Chess is a boring, dry, themeless, limited game that has been over analyzed and played to death. It is no longer interesting and is only a challenge for people who can be satisfied with being worse calculators than a pocket computer. We live in the Golden Age of gaming, but still people trot out these tired old has-beens as if they have something going for them... Poker? Backgammon? Fans of these games need to be introduced to real games.

And yes. I am serious.
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Madgit McOgg
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I don't think you have given Chess a fair shake. It is really one of those games that shines when you add in the expansions, much like the GIPF Project. I can personally recommend

Clock:


Water Slide:


and Naked Lady:


These really add depth to the game, and were obviously intended to be part of the original release. I heard a rumor that they were cut due to time constraints, but it is my personal opinion that the publisher has just learned how to gouge us for more cash.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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cosine wrote:
... Fans of these games need to be introduced to real games.

And yes. I am serious.


That's unfortunate. Diversity of taste is not a bad thing. I'm sure many people get just as much pleasure from chess as you get from the games you enjoy, and are equally uninterested in changing.
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Eric Jome
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Sphere wrote:
Diversity of taste is not a bad thing.


Don't get all diplomatic and fair on me! Your so-called "logic" only gets in the way of my perfectly good ranting.
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Eric Jome
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I only have enough money for the water slide expansion or the naked lady expansion... it's a tough call.

Probably water slide.
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Steven
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shotokanguy wrote:
It's also too simple and could have benefited from some additional mechanics.

I enjoy chess with a "metagame" mechanic. Specifically, in between each move, the two players play a different game. This mechanic greatly extends the length of the chess game, but that's a minor cost for its obvious advantages.
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Chris Ferejohn
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Don't forget the boxing expansion!

http://wcbo.org/content/index_en.html
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Marion Jensen
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Quote:
Chess's rule book is a joke, having been written on the inside of the boxtop.


Classic.
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Pieter
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I don't know whether to thumb this up or down.

Ah well, since the Geek does not allow thumbing down, thumb up it is.
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Mark Buetow
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These are pretty funny, too.

http://www.geekdo.com/thread/365852
http://www.geekdo.com/thread/115681
http://www.geekdo.com/thread/395840
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Brandon Richards
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cosine wrote:
I only have enough money for the water slide expansion or the naked lady expansion... it's a tough call.

Probably water slide.


Do you need the actual game to play with these two expansions? Or are they like Dominion: Intrigue and can be played without the base set?
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Bruce Padget
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filovirus wrote:
cosine wrote:
I only have enough money for the water slide expansion or the naked lady expansion... it's a tough call.

Probably water slide.


Do you need the actual game to play with these two expansions? Or are they like Dominion: Intrigue and can be played without the base set?


I understand they thought about the "naked lady" expansion as a stand-alone, but there were IP issues with Busen Memo.
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Bruce Padget
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cosine wrote:
The really funny thing is, I can't tell if this is supposed to be a joke or a legit review. Because, frankly, most of your criticism is right on.

Chess is a boring, dry, themeless, limited game that has been over analyzed and played to death. It is no longer interesting and is only a challenge for people who can be satisfied with being worse calculators than a pocket computer. We live in the Golden Age of gaming, but still people trot out these tired old has-beens as if they have something going for them... Poker? Backgammon? Fans of these games need to be introduced to real games.

And yes. I am serious.

I'll meet you halfway on this. Historically, Chess and Backgammon were more gaming systems than specific games. (Well, to be technically correct, Backgammon was one game in the Tables family.) The idea that there is One True Way to play either game is quite modern, and sucks much of the life out of them.
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jim b
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Thanks for this review! I'm trying to decide between Chess and Clue, this will really help.

Can Chess really be played with just 2 - and is it still the same game?

I'm not that good with miniatures - but, these arrive unpainted??

Would someone be willing to scan the rules, and post online?

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I wanted to come up with some witty reply seeming to take the OP seriously but and too tired to come up withsomething that's actually funny and not by merely making me look foolish.
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Tony Ackroyd
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Can someone post a solo variant please?
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Marshall Miller
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1000rpm wrote:
Can someone post a solo variant please?


Ironically, the picture of Chess: The Naked Lady Expansion, as seen above, contains all the information necessary to play the solo variant. You'd think they'd try to gouge you for more money but they don't.
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(ron lee)
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shotokanguy wrote:

The designer did not include any player aids or quick reference cards in Chess, so you are on your own if you want to design one.


Yes, adding cards to chess...maybe you're on to something big...
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jim b
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ronlee wrote:
Yes, adding cards to chess...maybe you're on to something big...

Yes.. that might address some of the dryness we're hearing about in these reviews.

For example - perhaps you draw a location a1-h8 at random, put a pawn there. But if there's already a pawn there, you have a 'pawn outbreak' to adjacent squares. This would also encourage more conflict, vs 2-player solitaire where everyone hides behind their castles.
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