There are games you just so want to love .... but.
That is exactly where I find myself with Check: The Chess Card Game. This is a game which had “I'm going to love it” written all over it.
To start with, anything that has even a remote connection to chess is automatically of interest. Chess to me, in all its variant forms, is one of, if not the greatest games ever.
And, yes this game has a definite chess aspect.
Check was released in 2003, by Canadian game designers Alan and Peter Biggs.
The deck of cards is limited to 32, with each player in control of 16 cards, each representing a different piece in a typical chess array.
Once the wrapper was off the card box, you get to look at the art work. The card art, for the power pieces, anything besides the pawns, has an Arthurian era feel to it. It's not highly stylized and detailed art work, yet there is a simplistic charm to the work which is quite appealing.
The rule set is pretty straight forward here too. Each of the cards has a strength and fence values which are the same. For example a common pawn card is a one, while the queen has a value of five.
Each card also has an attack pattern on it. Again as an example a rook attacks straight ahead, while a queen attacks straight ahead, as well as diagonally forward left and right. The pattern is easily identified on the cards too, so there is no way to misunderstand that part of the game.
Game play is pretty straight forward too. A player shuffles his set of 16 cards and draws six.
The first player selects a card and plays it face down in front of themselves. The opponent then does likewise.
The first player then plays a card face up to the right, or left of their first card, the opponent responds, and then the process repeats until each player has three cards in front of them.
The hidden card is flipped over.
Now part of the problem of this game is that in laying out your three cards the decisions are a tad limited. For example, the pattern of attack of a knight really limits it to either outside position, and since you lose if the king is taken, you just never put it into play until the very end of the game when you have only three cards left. The rules even point these observations out as hints.
The queen too, because of its strength, and attack pattern is really relegated to always being the hidden centre card.
So the three-card sets are now face-up on the table. Check becomes a game of math from that point. The attacking player determines what his combined attack is against each opponent card, minus their defence. The card defeated by the highest margin is captured, if tied multiple cards can be taken.
The defending player now attacks with his remaining cards (more math), and a card may be taken – if defences are higher than all attacks nothing is lost.
The remaining cards go to the bottom of your deck, and you redraw to six cards and play another round, with players alternating who attacks first.
Run your opponent out of cards, or capture the king to win.
The game plays fast. But, there isn't much to hold interest. The choices are limited, and the game play is really doing some straightforward simple addition and subtraction.
Advanced rules to give each pawn a different value, which opens the door to a bit more strategy but not enough to really capture interest.
Check is a game which is easily transportable, and quick to play, both good attributes for a game, but this isn't one that I'd suggest very often. It just falls too far short of expectations. Just not enough chess here.
This review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper May 6, 2009.
First off, just in case it's not clear to the reader, Check is not intended to BE Chess. Rather "An original card game inspired by a Classic" - as stated on the box.
Thanks for your honest review. I appreciate the time spent with the game and the anticipation you felt for the game, as well as your appreciation for the style of the card design. Unfortunately it sounds like your raised expectations weren't quite met, but I'm also concerned that some of the main points of the game were not covered in the review.
I think there are more options and a deeper strategy there if you will give it a second chance. If I may, I would like to respond to your comments as objectively as I can as its designer.
It's unfortunate that there is no mention of the special combination attacks - Royal Flush, Wild Ace and Pawn Sequence, which definitely offer more choices to gameplay. In fact they are key aspects of the game which were totally absent from your review. Also the point was missed that the Rook has a defensive aspect as well as an attack.
On a more subtle note, there are deeper strategies in there. The big bonus of laying a Royal Flush is that you will get to take two cards from your opponent: a definite advantage - but at the risk of having to lay your precious King. Also, keeping your King in hand limits your options to five rather than six, so there are advantages to playing the King mid-game when you are certain it will not be taken.
You do not have to place your Knight on the side, nor do you have to lay your Queen in the centre. These are player decisions. For example, laying a Knight concealed in the centre with its strength has a distinct defensive advantage.
All these are subtleties I would not expect a player to necessarily notice on first play. But given time they open up for a richer playing experience.