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Knightmare Chess is an interesting but chaotic variant for regular chess. It allows players to take additional moves, combine pieces, and do all manner of different things with their normal chess board.
The second edition cards are much cleaner and easier to read, but both editions feature beautiful medieval-themed artwork. The game would almost be worth owning just for the chance to admire the art. The deck consists of 80 cards in total.
The game does a reasonable job of adding a theme to one of the world’s most famous abstract games. Building on the medieval names of the pieces, the cards add magic and special capabilities to the various pieces. Overall, it creates a nice, if somewhat dark, theme for chess.
The basic rules of the game are fairly simple; most of the difficulties arise when various cards interact.
The basic rules allow for a few different variations on how to use the cards. Players can construct their own decks from the available cards (giving it a CCG like feel) or they can simply shuffle the cards and draw from a common deck. The rules are essentially the same for the two versions.
The basic driver of the game is the standard rules of chess. You move your pieces normally (unless a card changes that) and you win when you capture your opponent’s king (unless a card changes that).
The big difference is that on your turn, you may play or discard one card. You may also play a card during your opponent’s turn. In both cases, the cards will tell you exactly when and how they are played. Some cards are played instead of your normal move, some are played before your move and some are played after your move. Some cards specify that they can be used only after an opponents move. Unless a card specifically says so, you can’t play a card during your opponents turn.
The cards come in two flavors, standard and continuing effect. A standard card is played, has an immediate effect and is discarded. A continuing effect card is played and then stays in effect until something happens which removes it.
The other major rule is “The Checkmate Rule” which basically says you can’t play a card in a way that directly causes a checkmate. You can’t, for example, use a card that lets you move a piece twice to have the second move result in a checkmate.
The rules are well-written and thanks to the games long history, they are pretty clear and the Steve Jackson Games website has an exhaustive history of rulings regarding card interactions in a variety of circumstances.
The game starts by setting up with normal chess rules and then each player draws 5 cards. Players never have to play or discard a card. If they run out of cards to draw, then they no longer draw more cards.
The game is a lot of fun and the deck construction rules help to make it more strategic and more personal. If you favor an aggressive strategy, you can build a deck using many aggressive cards. If you are a fan of a particular piece, you can choose cards that help you make more effective use of that piece.
That said, I have most often played using the combined deck variant where each player simply draws from a common pool of cards.
It can be very useful to have a few extra chess pieces on hand and a small stack of post it notes, particularly if a lot of continuing effects are in play.
This is a great addition to chess. It is probably not for chess purists as they will likely find the cards add too much chaos for their liking.