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Subject: Excellent card variant of chess rss

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Calvin Daniels
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When a game notes it has elements of chess to it, I am generally interested.

It's not that I am a great chess player. Far from it.

The sad fact is I rarely get to play chess.

There has been an on again, off again club locally over the years, but chess is a funny game. It is amazingly entertaining for two players closed matched in skills.

It is however a game which becomes rather tedious and boring if the players skill level varies too greatly. The better player is not challenged enough, and while the lesser-skilled player will learn from the experience, repeatedly losing is a quick way to tire of a game too.

So even in a club atmosphere, unless the group is large enough, it may be hard matching players.

In a city our size one might expect a large enough number of chess players that that would not be a problem, but getting people out to a chess night, like many other activities these days, is more of a challenge.

All that said, chess has prospered as a game for centuries, and the mechanics within the game have been used repeatedly in variants and games with chess connection.

Which brings me to King's Ransom, a 2013 release from designer Frank Zazanis.

The interesting thing about King's Ransom is it a chess-variant contained in a deck of 50 specially designed cards. The cards each represent a piece from a standard chess with one exception, the prince piece, a piece which moves as a king, but that does not invoke check. The piece is one found in a number of chess variants through the years, going back to the excellent Courier Chess circa the 1600s.

"King's Ransom is a two-player strategy game pitting royal rivals against each other. Using the basic mechanics of chess, there's an additional layer of strategy due to each card entering play hidden from the opposing player's view. If you can set traps and lure your opponent into making mistakes, you might be able to snatch their King and ransom him for control of the kingdom," details the rule booklet.

King's Ransom is not a 'prefect information' game like chess. Cards come into play based on a random draw, and are played to the table initially face down. The dual combination of draw, and face down play puts more luck into the game, and lessens the impact of skill level between players.

The game is played out on a 6X3 grid.

Players each put their king in the middle of the row closest to them, draw four cards from their deck and randomly lay them out as hidden cards, one to the left of the one, one to the right, and the other two directly in front of the king.

Players then draw three more cards, which they can look at.

On a turn a player starts by turning one hidden card face up. They then must move one card, movement is as in chess dependent on the card (piece).

Capture is by replacement as in real chess, with the added ability to capture face down cards.

A player then lays another card face down on an open space on their half of the board, and draws back to three cards.

Play then passes to the opponent.

"Just like chess, your goal is to checkmate the other player's King. Checkmate is to attack an opponent's King in such a manner that there is no escape or defense that will stop the attack from succeeding on the next turn. You may also capture the King with a newly flipped card," details the rule book.

In general terms pawns are a bit more powerful in this game based on a smaller board. Otherwise the relative strengths of pieces are the same as in real chess.

King's Ransom shines as an easily transportable, quick chess variant, which favours players not familiar with the intricacies of regular chess. The randomness of the card draw, face down cards and smaller board, all mean luck lies heavy on this one. That is good for some fun games and for non-chess players, although diehard chess fans might not like luck thwarting their best laid plans.

Still a fun little game worth having around for occasional play.

Check out the game at or through Victory Point Games.

-- This review appeared previously in Yorkton This Week newspaper
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