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!
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!