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Subject: [Review] QQChess rss

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Tom Vasel
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When I mentioned QQchess (Mozo Edutainment Technology, 2005 - Lewis Lim Ee Hee) on my podcast, the Dice Tower, my co-host Joe Steadman made a disparaging remark about how "just what we need - another four-player chess game." But Joe's missing the point - QQchess has the ability to play with four players but is at its heart a two player abstract game that builds off the both Western and Eastern chess.

And it's an enjoyable abstract game - one that I find superior to chess - although I will be the first to admit that the "newness" of it may have something to do with it. Still, it's a tight game and rewards good strategy. I've enjoyed all of my games immensely; and while I think the two player game is the most enjoyable, I'm still happy with the multi-player game. The ability to have traitors, the way the pieces work together, and the fact that players quickly understand the game make QQchess a tremendous two player abstract game.

Each player receives sixteen pieces, which are placed in a triangular position on a large 169 square chessboard, as shown in the rulebook. On a player's turn, they simply move a piece, possibly capturing an opponent's piece. The pieces a player has are these:
- Leader: If this piece is captured, that player loses. It can be put into "check". Leaders can move one space either vertically or horizontally. They cannot face another leader orthogonally without another piece in between.
- Infantry: These five pieces can move one space horizontally or vertically.
- Brigade: These two pieces can move as many spaces diagonally as possible, but only on the white squares.
- Squadron: These two pieces can move as many spaces diagonally as possible, but only on the black squares.
- Chariot: These two pieces can move as many spaces orthogonally as possible.
- Archer: These pieces move just like a chariot but can only "capture" a piece by jumping over a single other piece.
- Cavalry: These pieces move one square forward, then one square diagonally. Cavalry can jump over their own pieces but not over opponent's pieces. Cavalry can jump onto their own piece and "bounce" off, making another complete move, but only to capture another piece.
The only pieces that can "jump" are the archer and cavalry; all other pieces can capture another opponent's piece by moving into it.

If playing with the assassin variant, each player has a card that shows a chariot, cavalry, archer, or infantry unit on it. The player can play this card at any time, to turn one of the associated pieces into an "assassin", which can move like a chariot, cavalry, archer, and infantry for two turns. Assassins can only make moves that checkmate or kill the opponent's leader; they cannot kill other pieces. After two turns, the assassin turns back into the piece it originally was.

If playing with the traitor variant, each player has a card that shows a chariot, cavalry, archer, or infantry unit from another player on it. The player can play this card at any time, to take control of an associated piece from the opponent. The player can use this piece for three turns and only move it to checkmate or kill the opponent's leader; they cannot kill other pieces. After three turns, the traitor piece is removed from the board, but the player whose piece it was can return any dead piece to their side - anywhere in their "Kingdom" (their fourth of the board). A player cannot use a traitor and an assassin at the same time.

When playing with two players, each player can simply use one army or can use two armies that are allied with each other, needing to checkmate only one of the opponent's leaders to win. In a three player game, one player uses two armies, with the other two players ganging up on him. In a four player game, each player controls one army and can either join up in two teams or can attack the player on their left, while defending the player on their left.

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: The artwork on the box doesn’t have much to do with the game that I can tell - a bunch of manga folk in battle gear - but it might appeal to many. Thankfully for those folk, there is a hole in the box that is specially designed so that one can hang the box on the wall! I'm not sure how many people will do this, but I thought it was a humorous idea. The board is a medium-sized folded piece of cardboard with alternating white and gold squares and diagonal lines splitting the "kingdoms". The pieces are all wooden round tokens of good quality, with stickers showing the symbol of each piece on them. Each army comes packaged in their own bag, and I found the symbols fairly intuitive; it was easy to quickly know which piece did what. Still, a player guide would have been nice; I kept the rulebook open, but a player guide would have been easier and more convenient. The traitor/assassin cards long, thin cards, with manga-style artwork on them, but they work well for the game purposes.

2.) Rules: The rules are fairly clear; although it's obvious that they are a translation, since there is broken English throughout - although it's understandable. The rulebook is nineteen pages, showing examples of how pieces capture each other and some detailed examples of how a leader can be captured outside of checkmate in a multi-player game. I've only taught the game to people who know European chess, so they've easily picked up on the differences and strategy.

3.) Tactics: Speaking of strategy, the game is as deep as chess, and probably deeper. One can easily lose to someone of greater skill, as I found out when playing the designer. He toyed with me, I think, and still I was massacred. But despite this fact, which slightly turns off a game for me - as I like a bit of chance in games, I was and remain intrigued. The board is huge, allowing for more tactics; and when combining the cards with the many different pieces, players have a huge amount of options each turn. Even though the board is bigger, the presence of powerful pieces allows checkmate to happen about the same level of frequency as normal chess.

4.) Cards: I really like the assassin and traitor cards. Rather than give the game the same feel that Knightmare Chess does, with a lot of utter chaos, the cards become a focal point of the game - the nail in the coffin. A player only uses it at their most critical juncture; and since both players know that these cards exist, it's not too great of a surprise. Use the cards too early, and they become useless. Use the traitor card at the wrong time, and you might give the opponent one of their most powerful pieces back. I like using them in games, however the rulebook states that a couple games should be played before incorporating them, and I agree; they raise both the strategy and the tenseness of the game several notches.

5.) Pieces: Most of the pieces correspond to those in normal chess, but with some radical changes (no queen!). My personal favorite is the "bounce strike" of the cavalry. With this ability, a clever player can use their brigades, squadrons, and infantry to supplement their cavalry, giving them a good striking distance along with the element of surprise to the unwary player. I also quite enjoyed the archers, which seemed to be the focal point of almost every game I've played so far. Needing to jump one piece to make a capture sounds like a penalty, but in reality it allows the archer to constantly threaten and harass the enemy leader.

6.) Multiplayer: Multiplayer chess has some problems - namely that players can gang up on each other, and the fact that three pieces move between your turns, making long term strategy much more difficult. I wouldn't buy QQChess for the multiplayer aspect, as I'm quite content with a two player game, but it does work fairly well. Some of the problems with multiplayer chess still exist, but the larger board, as well as the fact that you are only seeking to capture the leader on your left, helps to mitigate it.

7.) Fun Factor: If you hate Chess, I'm not sure that QQChess is going to change your mind; it's certainly a different game, but they definitely have the same feel. I personally like the larger board, the extra movement of most of the pieces, and above all, the cards. This adds a bit of uncertainty to the game (which piece is my traitor?) but not so much as to overwhelm the sheer tactics and strategy. The game has a fairly steep learning curve, as chess does - in the fact that a better player will most likely defeat a newcomer. However, unlike chess, QQChess doesn't have thousands of books written about it, leveling the playing field.

If you like abstract strategy games, like Chess, give this one a try. I personally like it better than Chess because it's more interesting, and the cards add a key ingredient to chess that's not there - surprise. Fans of "pure" Chess may disagree, but I think games like QQChess can revive what sometimes has become a boredom with that ancient game. At least for me, QQChess has replaced normal chess and has earned its place as an entirely different game. Besides, you can hang it on your wall!

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"
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