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Subject: Is CHESS just a two player solitaire game? rss

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marc lecours
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Many people complain than chess is kind of a boring two player solitaire game. To them chess is basically a race game with a simple auction mechanism for key spaces on the board. The general consensus is that chess has appeal to players who like economic efficiency games but has little appeal to player who prefer a lot of player interaction.

After playing chess several times, I have come to a different conclusion. I find that chess does indeed have enough player interaction to keep my interest up and is indeed conflictogenous (to borrow a great new word from a recent "power grid" review.) But I am getting ahead of myself by giving my conclusion first.

1.Introduction:

Chess is a ancient game predating Board Game Geek. It is now in the public domain and is published by numerous companies.

Chess is basically a simple race game on a 2 dimensional grid. Each player starts with their pieces on opposite sides of the board and races their pieces to the other side. Chess reminds many people of Chinese checkers because of this, BUT chess has several clever twists.

Chess is also a solitaire puzzle game since each of your pieces moves in a different way. This complicates the game and it is challenging to find the optimal path for your pieces from your side of the board to the other.

Chess is also an economic game with a simple bidding system for a scarce resource. The scarce resources are the key squares (remember that your pieces have peculiar movement abilities which makes some squares more valuable than others) that you need to get your pieces from your side of the board to the other.

So Chess is a race game, a solitaire puzzle and an economic game. Where is the fun? Is there any player interaction at all? It is no wonder that many people are turned off chess since all they see is an efficiency optimization game (kind of dull unless you are an actuary).

But those who stick with the game eventually discover that there is indeed some subtle player interaction.

2. The components:

The race board is a square grid measuring 8 squares by 8 squares. Each player gets 16 pieces made out of wood or plastic (or other materials) depending on the publisher. The quality of the components varies quite a bit from publisher to publisher (and that is an understatement). I cannot review them all.

That said, Eurogamers will probably prefer wooden pieces (I have looked around to see if there were any sets with pieces shaped like meeples but I could not find any at my local game store), Ameritrashers will prefer plastic pieces shaped like monsters, and wargamers will prefers cardboard counters on a paper grid.

3. The rule book

BEWARE ! Not all publishers include a copy of the rules. Open the box and check before buying. If you are reading this review then you know that you can always find the rules here on Board Game Geek as a last resort. But still I think that publishing a game without including a set of the rules can turn some buyers off the game completely. Not a good idea for any publisher. It gives your company a bad name.

The rules are generally straightforward and easy to understand. But there are a few rules such as the stalemate rule which are in serious need of clarification. But all in all we were able to learn the game while playing with only occasional reference to the rulebook.

The rules are for the most part elegant and concise. But there are several exceptions that mar an otherwise elegant design. In our first time out, we missed the "en passant" rule but after rereading it several times we think we understand it.

All in all the rules are fairly simple. Even eurogamers should be able to handle them. But don't misunderstand me, this is not a filler.

4 The theme:

Well here I would have to rate Chess a little low. It is a pasted on theme. Chess is a race game and there is no particular reason that it had to be kings, queens and bishops that race to the other side of the board. The movements limitations of the vaious pieces in no way relate to their namesake. Why is the fastest piece is the "queen"? and since when do "bishops" move diagonally? And don't even get me talking about the "knights". This medieval theme was probably chosen to attract wargamers into buying the game, but this is in no way a wargame.

A better theme might have been animals trying to board Noah's Ark. With Kangaroos being Knights, Rhinos being Rooks, etc. And Noah's ark being the the opposing king (with the ark drifting around as the water starts to rise.)

A lighter theme would be a bunch of domestic fowl trying to get to the farm on the other side of a road. (a "Why did the chicken cross the road?" theme). With chickens, roosters, ducks, geese, turkeys, etc. I think such a theme could be made to fit chess quite well. Especially with the concept of pecking order. As each fowl arrives in a space it scares off the previous occupant. The finish line (instead of the king) would be a the farmer slowly carrying a sack of grain. But the fowl, having bird brains, would only spot the farmer on the other side of the road and not the farmer on their own side of the road. Pretty cool theme comparing to the present one.

Chess is in serious need of being re-themed.

5 The aim of the game:

At it's heart, Chess is a race game. The aim of the game is to get one of your pieces to the other side of the board into the space occupied by the opponent's king. The players alternate moving a piece. And the first player to reach the other king wins. The opponent's king is basically a finish line.

To make the game a little tougher, the opponent can move his king, but only a little (one space at a time). This makes it a little more complicated when you are planning your route. In practice you think that you have planned a perfect route to the other side of the board then your opponent moves the finish line (his king). More race games should use this mechanic. It forces you to plan alternate paths to the king anticipating all the places the king could end up.

Since the king can move to the eight areas that it touches, you essentially have maneuver your pieces so that you can reach the king and all the adjacent areas on your next move.

One silly superfluous rule is that the game ends before you reach the finish line robbing you of the glory of actually reaching the king. On the turn before the end, you yell out "checkmate" (a bit like yelling "corner" in Pit) which is fun for kids. But I would prefer to play the extra turn and actually reach the king with one of my pieces.

Actually if this was done it would eliminate the need for a silly stalemate rule. Briefly, if the king cannot move without putting himself in the path of an opposing piece and no other piece can move then the game is a tie. This is ridiculous. It ruins the game and is not needed if you play to the end where an actual enemy piece reaches the king.Much more satisfying.

To slow down the race and make the game last longer, the designer put the fastest pieces behind the slower pieces (the pawns). The fast pieces have to maneuver around the "pawn" to get to the other side. Otherwise the game would end too quickly.

As in all race games, the first player to move has an advantage. In chess the same player plays first in every round. This could be fixed by alternating who is the first player in each round (like the governor mechanic in Puerto Rico.) This is a serious flaw in the game design. But I suppose that the designer wanted to keep the rules clean.

6. The movement of the pieces.

Now comes the first of two mechanics that makes the game interesting. Each type of piece moves a different way. Of your 16 pieces you get:

>>>2 rooks that move orthogonally and to any distance as long as they are not blocked by another piece (a little like the penguins in "Hey that's my fish!").

>>>2 bishops that move diagonally to any distance as long as they are not blocked by another piece.

>>>1 queen that combines the movement of the rooks and the bishops.

>>>1 king that moves 1 space in any direction.

>>>2 Knights that jump over pieces in a movement like in Twixt. Kind of fun.

>>>8 pawns that have move one space, but sometimes two, and they move only forward but sometimes diagonally. If there is a second edition this is one place where the rules could be cleaned up.

The 8 pawns start off the game blocking the other pieces that are in the back row. Clever design!

These movement restrictions transform chess from being a simple race game into a convoluted puzzle to solve. What is the most efficient way to move these pieces to the finish line (the opponent's king). You have to move your fast pieces around your pawns (and your pawns move in peculiar ways). Also you have to be careful since there is a penalty to getting to a square first. But more on that later.

I found myself immersed trying to plan out a path for my various pieces to reach the finish line. The knight is particularly interesting to plan out. Also bishops being restricted to diagonals cannot reach every square on the board but they are needed since the opposing king can move (remember) and might end up on a square that your bishop can move.

7. Bidding for the scarce key squares:

All this is very interesting but a bit on the dry side. Only nerds like me would be satisfied with a puzzle race game. But now the designer introduced a geographic bidding mechanism that transforms Chess into a superb economic game with subtle player interaction.

There are 64 squares on the board. Because of the position of the kings and the movement of the pieces, some of the squares will be needed by both players to get to the other side of the board.

Some modern eurogames would have had an auction mechanism but that would slow down the game and you would need to introduce more components (some type of tokens). The natural tendency would be to say that the first player to reach a square gets it and the other player goes around (Like in Ticket to Ride). In chess the brilliant solution is that the most recent player to reach a square gets to have that square (at least until the opponent brings another piece there and takes it back).

In a sense it is a geographic auction. When a piece reaches a square it is a bid. The most recent bid wins the use of the square in making its path to the finish line. Simply Brilliant! It is not an intuitive design mechanic but it is simple, elegant, fast, and it transforms the race game from being mundane to being truly challenging.

The most recent piece to reach a square gets control of the square.(There is a restriction is that you cannot outbid one of your own pieces). The previous occupant of the square is removed from the game. This hurts if that piece had advanced a lot. The strategy is not to advance too fast since losing a piece means that you have masted moves in the race (In chess you have to always keep your mind on the overall objective of winning the race)

Sometimes there are bidding wars for a particularly desirable square that both players want in their path to the finish line. Player A bids on the square by moving a piece there, then player B bids by moving a piece there, then player A bids on the square by moving a second of his pieces there, etc. Experienced players recognize when there is a bidding war and can calculate the eventual winner of the bidding war. Therefore the actual bidding war will often not occur since the loser of the bid will often refrain from bidding. We noticed right from the first game that the first player to bid on a square is at a disadvantage because he will lose his piece when the other player bids. This leads to caution in the race. You must not advance too fast.

Also if you position your pieces to bid heavily on one square then the other player will be able to outbid you for the other squares. So you must constantly try to evaluate the relative value of the various squares on the board.

Yes this is an economic optimization game on top of a puzzle race game. But there is player interaction and lot's of it. The interaction is in the auction of the squares. Some will say "Not another euro auction game".But this is no ordinary auction game. It is really convoluted. Moving a piece changes the bids on many squares. So you find yourself reevaluating all your bids for squares all over the board. In most auction games you use some type of money which is one dimensional. In chess you are bidding by moving your pieces to a square after your opponent. This is two dimensional and rendered even more complicated by the different ways that pieces move.

8. Conclusion:

Therefore chess is a simple (almost solitaire) problem solving game of moving your pieces across the board faster than your opponent. But there is a little bit of interaction introduced by making it a disadvantage to be the first one to reach a particular square. Some people will find that chess has too little player interaction. It is in a sense an economic game of resource allocation. The limited number of squares on the board is the resource that both player need in order to trace a route across the board for their pieces. So in a sense there is a bidding "war" for those scarce squares with the last piece to claim an area winning the bid. Some people will find that economic bidding for a scarce resource is hardly player interaction. But I disagree. I think this economic bidding for scarce squares transforms chess from a simple solitaire game to a truly conflictogenous game depending on the "group think" of your gaming group.
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There is so much wrong with this "review" I don't even know where to begin. Christ on a rubber crutch, how did this get approved and recommended? The author obviously has not even the slightest basic concept of the game.

The goal is to get to the other side of the board first? Damn, I'd always attempted a checkmate. Guess I have been playing wrong all of these years.

shakeshakeshakeshake
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Amber West
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Ummm... about all I can say is wow. It's obvious that the approval and thumbs this got by people merely looking at the extent of type and length and no one honestly READ this twaddle. A race game and there's no obvious reason they used kings, queens etc.? Holy Moly. surprise
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Witchfinder General
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wow Checkers is really a zombie apocalypse game with a pasted on draughts theme, you just don't know it.

It is more than 9 years old, also. Handy knowledge.
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Simon Skov
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This is obviously meant to be tongue-in-cheek.
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Amber West
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Since when is tounge and cheek something that is blatantly wrong in every aspect? I was always under the impression that humor had some basis in reality. Now granted, if I were the sort to laugh at others ignorance or misfortune, I might find this funny.

If this had been posted on the 1st I would have shined it on as a joke.
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Michael Lavoie
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nom_ wrote:
This is obviously meant to be tongue-in-cheek.


Thank you! I was wondering if anyone else got this.

Of course, the "negative" comments could also be tongue-in-cheek. One would hope so.
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Daniel Danzer
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John Earles
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En passant... this style of review just leaves me in a stalemate.
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Chris Blakeley
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Chess reviewed as Eurogame? I like it!
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Chris McDonald
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I really enjoyed this review on two levels. Not only is it a great satire of boardgamegeek debates about interactivity, but it's also a clever re-imagining of chess that made me see an old familiar game in a totally new way. It reminds me a bit of the poem "A Martian Sends a Postcard Home."
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marc lecours
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There are many eurogames were people complain that there is too little player interaction. So I took a well known game with tons of player interaction and treated it as if it were one of those euros with little interaction.

This was a fun review to write. I wrote it as if it were a serious review. After a few minutes of writing about chess as a race game, I started to realize that in a sense it COULD be viewed that way. Ever since I first played chess some 40 years ago, I have always thought of it a combat game of trying to kill the opponent's pieces and especially the king. Seeing chess as a race game opens a whole new way of looking at the game. You have to develop your pieces quickly because it IS a race. There is actually a sort of bidding auction that takes place for the key squares (such as the middle squares).

Anyways it is fascinating to see the different reactions that people are having for the review.
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John Keener
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Quote:
Chess is a ancient game predating Board Game Geek. It is now in the public domain...


Sniggle
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Roberta Taylor
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This may be the funniest thing I've read in days! It almost makes me want to play Chess again, and I hate chess!
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Yours Truly,
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There must have been a moment at the beginning, where we could have said no. Somehow we missed it. Well, we'll know better next time.
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Chess as a eurogame, I love it! This is brilliant, nice work. It's a great companion piece to the "Chess as a wargame" review:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/365852

What's next, chess as an RPG?
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Richard Irving
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The problem is that parody is not just being intentionally wrong, but being intentionally wrong in the right way.

For chess as actual racing game, Try Racing Kings:
http://www.chessvariants.com/diffobjective.dir/racing.html
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Anthony Sr
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In a game where every move you make,(accept the first move)is based on each and every move made by your opponent.

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Steven Metzger
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If the review was really meant to be tounge-in-cheek, it would have been funnier.
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Jay Sheely
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The OP is just hilarious!!

My next review will be entitled, "Boxing: 2 Player Solitaire or Just an Auction Game Where Players Bid for Space on Your Face?"
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Alexander E. Stevens
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While the review is funny, I think the earnest reactions stole the show. Good. Grief. shake
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Tony Chen
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rri1 wrote:
The problem is that parody is not just being intentionally wrong, but being intentionally wrong in the right way.

For chess as actual racing game, Try Racing Kings:
http://www.chessvariants.com/diffobjective.dir/racing.html

Exactly. Satire isn't just being wrong for the sake of being wrong. There has to be a rhyme and reason to it.
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P Pirilla
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Brilliant.
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Er heisst
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Man or Astroman wrote:
My next review will be entitled, "Boxing: 2 Player Solitaire or Just an Auction Game Where Players Bid for Space on Your Face?"


Then better hurry up, or I'll steal your idea...
 
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Ben Armstrong
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Chess is not a Eurogame!
It is all about player elimination.
Heavy on theme.
Pieces moving along a linear path.
Centered around WAR.
Sold at Walmart...

Chess is Ameritrash all the way!!

Now Go is a worker placement game that is not centered around eliminating the other player but accumulation victory points. Even if you lose you can still try to accomplish something.
That is a true Eurogame!
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Drake Coker
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I've been trying to incorporate this kind of "geographic bidding" into a recent design of mine, but several of the play testers have been complaining about player elimination when they run out of pieces.

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