If Chess was reviewed like 4e

A new edition of the Rules of Chess has been released, so I guess I ought to review it. I’ve not played chess yet but I have read this book and played checkers in the past, so I feel that qualifies me to tell you what I think. And I’ve got to tell you, I’m not impressed.

Let’s make it clear from the start: Chess. Is. A. Boardgame. If you don’t like boardgames, you’re going to be left out in the cold with this one. This means you can’t just pick up this book and start playing right away. You’re going to need a board and chess pieces, and the back cover of this book says nothing at all about that fact.

What’s more, the pieces aren’t even sold in random booster packs – you have to buy the whole set, or not at all. At least Chess sets range in price from a few dollars to several hundreds but seriously, do they think we’re made of money? Thank God I’ve got my XBox 360, Wii and thousands of dollars of games to fall back on until the Chess companies get their act together and charge us a fair price for what they sell.

Talking of which – did you know you can actually play Chess online? This is clearly just pandering to the World of Warcraft crowd. Do we really want their lot playing Chess? I ask you. Personally, I’ve never met a World of Warcraft player, but they sound a scary bunch.

On to the rules.

As written, Chess assumes there are just two players, and there’s no mechanics at all if you have 3, 4 or 5 people who want to play. Balance is obviously important to the designers as each player starts with exactly the same pieces. Sure, it’s balanced but that sounds as boring as heck! They’ve clearly over-thought the whole “game-balance” thing and left no room at all for anything resembling fun.

The rules are best described as “exception-based” with each piece using the same basic mechanic (moving and combat), but tweaking it in some way. Combat itself has been abstracted down to the simplest form of all – the attacker always wins! I think that’s just power-gaming gone mad and is just designed to appeal to people who think that losing doesn’t have a place in any modern game. Even a lowly Pawn (a form of Minion) can “Take” (ie, defeat) a Knight in just a single round!

No, I don’t see Chess catching on at all any time soon.

Most pieces have a specific pattern to their movement; Bishops move diagonally, for example. Knights are downright bizarre! They can – get this – TELEPORT, moving from one space to another without crossing the intervening space. This is an unlimited ability too as they can make this move each and every turn. This is highly unbalanced – it’s almost impossible to trap a Knight! The King is nominally the most important piece on the board, but he is only able to move a single square in any direction. I expect that to be fixed in the errata.

Some of the pieces have certain Powers that can only be used in a limited way. A Pawn’s first move can be forward two squares rather than the usual one, and a King and Castle can perform a move called “Castling” (a great example of teamwork between the pieces, imho), but each move can only be carried out once. Why set such arbitrary limits on the game? Why can’t a King Castle more than once, or a Pawn charge when it damned well feels like it? These are artificial limits that do nothing to improve my impression of the game.

As I said, I’ve yet to play Chess but look forward to running a game real soon. I hope it’s not as bad as it looks!

Not recommended.

Note: All of which goes to prove that those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. And those who can neither do nor teach, write reviews.
PS: HAPPY BIRTHDAY FOURTH EDITION D&D!

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33 Comments on “If Chess was reviewed like 4e”

  1. “A new edition of the Rules of Chess has been released, so I guess I ought to review it. I’ve not played chess yet but I have read this book and played checkers in the past, so I feel that qualifies me to tell you what I think. And I’ve got to tell you, I’m not impressed.”

    Seriously? You’ve seen people review 4e negatively that hadn’t ever played any versions of D&D before?
    [rq=351,0,blog][/rq]Making Magic Items More Magical

  2. @Stuart If Chess = “4e D&D” and Checkers = “any other edition of D&D”, then yes, that’s exactly what folks did. You wouldn’t review a car without driving it first, but so many folks (me, I confess, included) reviewed 4e D&D before playing it. Big mistake, with hindsight.

    @Aaron Thanks!

  3. You can write trashy reviews about anything you can. The bad thing is to review one game using other game’s perspective, such as chess and D&D. My God, every house or hotel I build in Monopoly is exactly the same. By the D&D perspective it sucks, but by the Monopoly perspective, it’s ok, ’cause that’s the game you’re playing.

    Another whole different business is to review a game by the same game’s perspective, as to say, D&D by the D&D perspective. By that angle, any review, as trashy as it may be, is valid, and that’s not the case here.

    I know you’re being ironic, and I get it. It’s like that 5E review. But, different from the 5E review, you missed the point by using the wrong perspective to review a game.

    The thing is, D&D is all about freedom. Not balance. Ok, balance is somewhat important, but never in detriment of the freedom. This is, in my single and personal opinion, the D&D perspective.

    Cheers, dude.
    [rq=361,0,blog][/rq]Licantropia

  4. I see where you were going with that… but Checkers and Chess are different games (with different names). I’m quite sure if 4e had been called something other than D&D and wasn’t marketed as “the game remains the same” that you wouldn’t have seen a fraction of the people who liked D&D voice any criticism of 4e. After all you rarely hear D&D fans complaining about different (but similar) games like Cadwallon. :)
    [rq=380,0,blog][/rq]Making Magic Items More Magical

  5. The idea of a game not having a clear distinction between a GM and the players is too much for me to comprehend. And what’s with the battle mat having different coloured squares. You also seemed to have left out how dice are used in this game. All truly great games use dice, so this must have just been an oversight on your part. This chess you speak of doesn’t seem to have been very well thought out. It won’t catch on and it certainly won’t last very long.
    [rq=389,0,blog][/rq]Review: Eberron Player’s Guide (Part 2)

  6. @Stuart: Do you have any actual examples of it being marketed as “the game remains the same”? From what I remember their earliest marketing was pointing out the differences from 3rd Edition. But I’m curious if it is actually marketed in some places as staying the same.

    @Fabiano: Are 4E and previous editions of D&D really more similar than Chess and Checkers? I’m not positive of the answer, but my intuition says no.

    “The thing is, D&D is all about freedom. Not balance. Ok, balance is somewhat important, but never in detriment of the freedom. This is, in my single and personal opinion, the D&D perspective.”

    You’ve already weakened your own argument by acknowledging that balance is even somewhat important. If balance is of any concern, than freedom is going to be hindered in some ways. If D&D is all about freedom, which I don’t believe it is otherwise there would no rules and you would just do whatever the hell you want, then balance shouldn’t be considered at all. Clearly with 4th Edition balance is a big consideration, so by your definition 4E is not D&D, so what’s wrong with Greywulf comparing chess and checkers again?
    [rq=395,0,blog][/rq]Maverick Cake Hunter

  7. @Stuart: Ah yes, I get what you were referring to now, thanks! It’s interesting that they touted the differences between editions but also emphasized the the game has remained “the same” from edition to edition.
    [rq=425,0,blog][/rq]Maverick Cake Hunter

  8. I get what you’re trying to poke fun at: people who “reviewed” 4E without playing it. And that’s all well and good.

    But using the checkers/chess analogy confuses the issue, IMHO, because essentially, what Hasbro/WotC did was analogous to releasing the chess rules as the “new” edition of checkers. (Or the Life rules as the new version of Monopoly, or – well, you get the idea.)

    Having the same name does not make it the same game, as much as people may like to pretend it does.
    [rq=427,0,blog][/rq]Scanning Project: Underlord of Cold Mountain, Pt. III

  9. @Bartoneus: you got it all wrong, my friend. The freedom I was talking about is not about the game itself, but about the things you can do in the game. In chess, you can’t make a pact with the opposite kingdom and make peace. In chess you can humiliate the enemy king by saying you slept with the queen and the prince is, in fact YOUR son, not his. In chess you can’t put a pit (or a dungeon) around (or under) the towers.

    In D&D you can do all of that. That’s the freedom I was talking about.

    And I never said that 4E is not D&D, because, for good or for ill, it is.
    [rq=429,0,blog][/rq]Licantropia

  10. Oops, typo.

    Where reads: “In chess you can humiliate the enemy king by saying you slept with the queen and the prince is, in fact YOUR son, not his.”, you should read “In chess you can’t humiliate the enemy king by saying you slept with the queen and the prince is, in fact YOUR son, not his.”
    [rq=435,0,blog][/rq]Licantropia

  11. @Christopher B: So by that theory, which edition of D&D is actually D&D? Chainmail? 1st Edition? 2nd Edition? None of them?

    @Fabiano: Ah, yea I was interpreting freedom with relation to game mechanics not so much storytelling. But the matter of your argument is still relevant, you cannot do any of those things in Checkers either! So what is the problem with comparing Chess and Checkers versus 3E and 4E? If it’s entirely a naming issue, then just pretend that Chess is called Checkers 2nd Edition. :)
    [rq=451,0,blog][/rq]Maverick Cake Hunter

  12. @Bartoneus: well, you can’t do any of them with Monopoly, or Clue, or any other board game.

    The matter of my argument is on the first two paragraphs of my comment, not on the last. The last is just my opinion about the perspective of D&D. In 3E, I can do all of those things. In 4E, too, as in any other edition of the game. Therefore, 4E is D&D.

    I think you misunderstood the nature of my first comment. I wasn’t saying that 4E is or is not D&D, I wasn’t saying that 4E is good or bad, I was just saying that one can’t review a game by using another game’s perspective.
    [rq=478,0,blog][/rq]Licantropia

  13. @Fabiano I think you’ve stumbled on exactly the point I was trying to make; you can’t review a game by using another game’s perspective – and that’s exactly what so many reviewers of 4e D&D did, even without playing it.

  14. I LOVE IT!!!!

    This review makes me want to go out and buy this game. I have seen it in stores now for some time and seen some coverage of its release on youtube.com….but you actually made sense of some it!
    N

    Certainly brought a big smile to read it and see the long column of replies to the post.

  15. @Bartoneus: That’s the big question, isn’t it?

    From a technical standpoint, D&D would have to of course be the game released in 1974.

    Of course, right up through 2E, you could still see that original D&D at the core – it just had a truckload of stuff tacked onto it. And even in 3.5 you could still see a good amount of the original game in there. Can you still say the same about 4E? And even if you can, at what point do you say that the rules have changed enough so that they no longer resemble the original game.

    For many of us, the game has changed enough so that we can no longer condone calling it Dungeons & Dragons – it doesn’t look a thing like the game (in all of its myriad forms) I’ve played over the years, not even under the skin. But that’s my opinion (based on owning the 4E core books and having attempted to give the game a fair shake) – others may take it or leave it. (You may want to consider this from Greywulf’s recent comment, though: “…you can’t review a game by using another game’s perspective.” If 4E is indeed D&D, then why say something like this? Sounds like I’m not the only one who thinks 4E is a different beast entirely…)

    I was just trying to point out that Greywulf went a hair wide of his intended target by including the “this game != that game” analogy of chess v. checkers. I was not – nor have I any interest in – engaging in The Edition Wars.

  16. @Chris B: I still don’t see how you guys can consider chess and checkers MORE mechanically different than two editions of D&D. Just because they’re called by the same name, or are not called by the same name, does not mean the games cannot be compared.

    Example: Both are played on a checkerboard. Both involve 2 players, alternating moves. Uh oh, I’m comparing two games that are not the same! If you have contention with his comparing Chess to D&D, that’s a different issue that has more merit to it.

    No matter how much you don’t want to debate editions of D&D (I refuse to call it “edition war” because we’re being civil and intellectual about it), when you say things like:
    “Having the same name does not make it the same game, as much as people may like to pretend it does.”
    …you’re going to get people debating with you about it.
    [rq=669,0,blog][/rq]Maverick Cake Hunter

  17. @Fabiano Fractal irony is a truly scary thing.

    @All Thanks for keeping this thread fun, enlightening and (above all!) civil. I’m sitting back eating virtual popcorn enjoying this whole discussion.

    I’ll just add one thing into the mix: The Ford Mustang. No really, bear with me here, and I’ll explain.

    What is the “real” Ford Mustang? The 1964 model which started it all, a Mustang II from ’74, an ’87 model with dodgy paintwork, or the latest one to roll off the production line?

    It’s a silly question, isn’t it – after all, they’re all Ford Mustangs even though they might be very different under the hood and on the outside. Different folks will argue which one they prefer, and I don’t doubt they’ll argue about it for years to come – for the simple reason that debating such things is fun.

    But at the end of the day, there’s only one thing which matters in any car, regardless of the make, model, colour or year.

    And that’s you, the driver.

    D&D ain’t so different to a Ford Mustang, when you think about it.

  18. @Bartoneus: Sorry, but you lost me. I never said you can’t compare/contrast checkers and D&D. I said that by using the checkers/chess analogy when referring to D&D/4E, you’re confusing the purpose of a post that seemed to be intended to lampoon people who review games (specifically 4E) they’ve never played. (Assuming, of course, that was the intent of the post – which it may not have been.)

    As for: “Having the same name does not make it the same game, as much as people may like to pretend it does.” Again, you lost me. This is a true statement. What’s to debate? How can two games with significantly different rules be the same game, even if they share the same name? If I call Clue by the name of Monopoly, suddenly Clue becomes Monopoly? (If this were the case, then poker and gin rummy must also be the same game.)

    If folks feel the need to debate what I’ve stated to be my own personal opinion about 4E that in no way needs to be adhered to by others, well, that’s their prerogative. But I wasn’t asking for debate on my personal beliefs. As I’ve already said, I was just trying to point out that it may not have been the best analogy to use, that’s all.

    I should have, on closer inspection, stuck to my gut feeling to not read this post at all, much less comment on it. Please excuse my intrusion.

  19. @Christopher Don’t apologise :D Feedback and opinions are always welcome, and your input in this thread is gratefully received.

    And you’re right – my intention was to lampoon the reviewers, not 4e itself which I rather quite like as a game.

  20. @Chris B, assuming he hasn’t jumped ship: Sorry that I lost you.

    I wasn’t asking to debate my personal beliefs either, but then I saw your comments here that are the complete opposite of them, so I decided I would try to see the logic behind your comments. Now I see that your logic is “what I say is true and not up for debate”, so there’s really no helping either of us in this.

    Please do continue to read and comment on Greywulf’s (and other RPG) blogs though, I in no way wanted to discourage you from doing either of those things! Just beware, people will disagree with you every now and then. :)

    @Greywulf: For the record, if you couldn’t tell already, I liked the chess/checkers allusion and think it worked pretty well towards the effect the post was going for.
    [rq=800,0,blog][/rq]Maverick Cake Hunter

  21. @Bartoneus: It is more accurate to say: ““what I say is true [for me] and not up for debate.” I would never make such a declaration without those two additional words.

    I’ve read too much “I think this!” v. “Well, I think that!” in the edition arena to have any interest in engaging in it myself. There always seems to be someone getting their nose out of joint, or too much harping on silly minutiae. It all seems rather pointless, in the end. I have my opinion regarding 4E; it’s informed and I’m perfectly content with it. If you or others have differing opinions, I’m happy for you/them, and I have no trouble agreeing to disagree. To each his own. (If you want to know why my opinion is such, the best way to arrive at that answer is to simply ask as much.)

    Regardless of which side of the fence I prefer, I think people should spend less time harping on one another and their respective weapons of choice, and get on with the having of fun.

    (Just for the record: Any real issues I have with 4E are solely targeted at WotC, not at the game itself, nor its players. I firmly believe that people should play what they like, in a style that suits them – more power to everybody doing so!)

    @Greywulf: Thanks!

  22. Go is the game I really love, but if some of my friends want to play chess instead, I’ll go and play a game with them. Enjoy the game because I enjoy spending time with my friends. I haven’t been folowwing the whole Chess/Checkers controversy as I came late to those games and don’t matter wich of these games I play.

    When one of my friend tried to tell me that Go was far too complex game and I should be playing only chess instead because it had knights and towers instead of the bland stones. And that technically it was the best boardgame because it had more streamlined rules. I just said to myself, what does he care wich game I prefer, it’s my tastes.

    Loved the analogy by the way.

  23. Call me dense…the chess, checkers analogy just didn’t work for me. But the Ford Mustang analogy…THAT worked. Well put.

    It’s interesting that you’ve come to this conclusion regarding 4E, I’m of the mind that the game isn’t my kind of Mustang. I prefer the older, simpler style. The one where you can pop the hood and find the carburetor, the headers, the camshaft, pistons and such…and work on it yourself.

    These new-fangled models are just alien to me.

    ;-)
    [rq=2697,0,blog][/rq]What to do

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