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Subject: A good sibling of chess - caters to casual players rss

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Christoph Brinkmann
United States
Machesney Park
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I have played chess for no fewer than 15 years of my life. I am no chessmaster, I am no professional tournament player. I own the famed Chessmaster 9000 computer game, and I have spent many hours listening to the audio tutorials and the "annotated games" from Joshua Waizkin, an International Master (one step down from a Grand Master, the highest chess title) who has beaten IM's at a surprisingly young age. I am not one to study and memorize openings. When I play a game of regular chess, I open with a center pawn, I get my pieces out, I castle, and I look for oppurtunities. One of my main problems is that long-term analysis is not something I work on very much. As such, I am very cautious about sacrificing "material" (chess pieces) unless I am absolutely sure that the move will work. I am an aggressive player.

All that said, I recently got Chess 4 as a birthday present from my girlfriend Sara, (not her real name) who does not really like regular Chess. She knew I was looking for a 4-way chess set for years, yet could never really find an adequate one. Most that I saw on the internet showed flimsy, easily breakable plastic or ludicrously expensive sets that I would never bring out due to fear of breaking such a delicacy. The other problem was that many of the boards and/or pieces simply looked awful. But bless my sweetie pumpkin, she found a set that was firm plastic and cardboard, and at the same had a very good presentation.

So we got to playing it. She, her nephew Alex (also not his real name) and I played with one complete, 16-army each and the 4th remained in the bag. They both viewed me as the greater threat and blatently teamed up to eliminate me first. After the nephew finished me (and therefore gained the right to control what few pieces I had left) the two of them began to go after each other, but despite being up by a considerable amount of material, the nephew made some bad moves and lost all of his pieces. Then my girlfriend got her queen back. Yet she was unable to trap the other king, so it was a stalemate by 50.

In the next game we played a day later, Sara and I teamed up against Alex and his friend Bob (as you may have guessed, his real name is also different)

Teammates sit across from each other and cannot attack each other. Because of this, a king can be in a location that would normally put it into check if the square is covered by an allied piece.

Alex tried to take out Sara early, but his teammate apparently did not do what Alex wanted him to do, so the early offensive failed. I showed Sara that she could take Alex's queen, which left her queen open, but at the further cost of a rook. She was upset at first that I would "sacrifice" her queen, but she later found out that if she had not taken the queen, then she would have lost it anyway. As it was, Alex did not take her queen anyway, so she got out of harm's way.

Eventually, I made a battery (A battery is where two pieces that move in a similar fashion, such as a queen and bishop, two rooks, a rook and a bishop, etc. share a row, diagonal or file) with her bishop that was behind enemy lines but could not be taken. The enemy king was the only piece able to take this, and Sara's knight was guarding it for the time being. A few moves later, I asked her to put her queen diagonally adjacent to mine (so now the battery consisted of TWO queens and a bishop) I put him in check, which was a forced sacrifice. He had no choice but to take my queen with his knight, which allowed Sara to take the knight and checkmate our first rival king.

We played with the rule that states a checkmated pieces now belong to the player who checkmated him/her, so even though turn order was still the same, now a third army was allied with us. Eventually I got a pawn across the large gap and got my queen back. Before too long Bob had lost most of his pieces and was checkmated.

I'll start with the negatives.

This is not a negative aspect for me, but the only real issue is that purists may not like to see all of their hours laboring over positions and memorizing opening moves mean nothing here. The board is slightly larger than a regulation chess board (an 8 x 8 playing area, then 4 areas that are 3 x 8 on every side with the pieces in the back two rows for starting position) and bishops share ALL diagonals with the enemy bishops. So my white light-square bishop is sharing the same diagonal as the gold and silver light-square bishop. Also, all four kings are ALWAYS put on the LEFT back center square REGARDLESS of square color. This puts them on a diagonal to an enemy queen at the start of the game. I cannot stress this point enough, openings, gambits and such mean NOTHING in this game. Castling may or may not be a good idea, since two or three players can agree not to attack each other, sacrifice a piece or two to open up the pawns guarding the king, and push the rooks and queens in (that happened to me in the first game.) On another note, getting your rooks and queen out quickly is not necessarily a bad idea, since a quick offensive can finish a player a few moves into the game.

Also, since all of us here are competitive, sometimes these games bring out the bickering and complaining that hibernates most of the time otherwise.

But these are minor issues. All of us agree that the game is better than regular chess, for reasons I will get into below.

1. The movement rules for all pieces are completely identical, and most people already know how to move the pieces, so teaching them this version is easy. They just have to be more aware of everything that happens on the board, since action comes from all sides.

2. In team games, both players have double the resources they would have normally, so being able to use these resources, both the ones they directly control (by moving the piece to a square on their turn) and indirectly control (by influencing their teammate to move a certain piece to a given square) is key to winning. Two heads are definetly better than one.

3. Diplomacy matters, especially in free for alls. Being able to convince an opponent to stay an attack for awhile can help keep the king from meeting the cutting block later.

4. There are several variations to playing Chess 4 so players can agree on which ruleset to follow. This eases tensions if there is at least one person who wants to play a certain way or try something different.

All in all, the game is all I was hoping it would be and more.

4.5 out of 5 stars.
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Doctor M
United States
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I agree that four-player chess - with four players, is really fun to play -- not the drudge that two-player chess is.

There really are no official rules for four player chess. I made my own set of rules in a version I call 4Chess-Adversaries & Allies

In my version, partnering is not required. It is a cutthroat version with temporary alliances allowed that can be entered into and opted out of at will, ultimately leading to betrayals and intrigues, and not a small amount angst, anger, or desire for revenge. This makes the game really exciting, especially for younger, or weaker players, who are able to gang up on a strong or obnoxious player and eliminate them.

Default rules for my version are as follows:
Standard two-player rules apply, including castling and en-passing, except as follows:
1) A player's king must actually be captured to eliminate the player.
2) A player may move into a potential checkmate
3) A checkmated player may move any of his pieces
4) An eliminated player's remaining pieces stay stagnant on the board (default), but may be captured.
5) Pawns can be exchanged for another piece on reaching any end row (ahead, or to the side).
6) The last king standing is the winner, or the last two kings standing if they declare a truce or an alliance (unless they turn on each other, which is what usually happens.)
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