A new variation of the classic game where pieces can combine. Want to find out what a Quite or Bishook is, then read on!
For the purposes of this review I am going to assume that you have played, or at least know about Chess! A perfect two-player battle of minds, patience and forward planning. Considering it has been around for 1300 years you would think it is due an upgrade or at least an expansion, right? How lazy have these designers been?! In truth, there are several chess variants out there such as four-player games, circular boards and even versions where captured pieces then turn coat and fight for their new masters. They are all quite fun and add some novelty to this ancient masterpiece, but none have ever captured my imagination for long.
A few weeks back I was made aware of a new version of chess from an Australian father and daughter team, that had introduced a rule that absolutely intrigued me. You can combine pieces. I was instantly intrigued and have since been playing this game a lot. I play chess fair bit anyway. Mainly online with friends, but more recently with my son who is seven and during lock-down, asked to learn. He is getting quite good and challenges me a lot already. I was unsure how I was going to feel about Chessplus and how my son who had just learnt the classic game would find it; but was very excited to find out.
Good game is a quick game.
What I have found is that this is a completely different game. The simple rule change of pieces combining shakes the entire core of the game and I was amazed at how quickly I accepted this change in my mind. The manufacture and design of the pieces joining is beautiful. The seamless way that the pieces fit together encouraged my mind to accept it as a concept. Because it happened so smoothly in practice, it seemed to make me accept it more in principle. Adam Laws designed the pieces and introduced something that he coined “the Robe” which is shown in the reverse of all pieces and allows for each one to fit snugly into any other. Bar of course the King, which remains as a standard piece.
As such, your opening move could be to combine your Rook with a pawn giving your pawn the chance to charge forward with reckless abandon. Or in a few turns, you can jump your Knight onto your Queen, creating a monster piece that can now go almost anywhere.
Ch, ch, changes!
There are four main differences I want to talk about here. First up the game lengths. More so than any other variation I have tried before, it’s much faster in both the decision time for players and game length. You can move pawns much quicker and acquire up to three more Queens for a possible total of four on the board at any one time. As such games can be won or lost a lot quicker, and it feels a lighter game with less significant consequences of one bad move, so players tend to think less, they worry less and ultimately, have more fun.
You sometimes have to teach an old dog new tricks.
Second major difference to normal chess is all the old moves, tactics and rhythms you are used too are gone. No longer can you play the classic openings your parents taught you, (or that you learnt from YouTube!) Combining pieces opens the game to much more aggressive openings, and pieces being able to combine movement means everything you once focused on, has changed. This is a great leveller for players of different abilities of the classic game.
Wait for me!
When you fall behind in chess early on it can be hard to catch up. Players will often be happy to trade at this point as they remain ahead and going on the attack can lead players to open up their defence and become more vulnerable. There is no catch-up mechanic in Chess, and I would argue that 90% of the time, the better player wins, so sometimes it does feel like you are going through the motions unless you can find a similarly matched opponent. In Chessplus it does not feel this way. As you have the ability to get three extra Queens and getting your Pawns to the end of the board is a lot easier when they can have the power of a rook for example, the ability to catch up is a lot more, and also the opportunity to win when you are behind on points, is much greater. This too, evens out the game for players of different base chess skills.
Four Queens is fun!
Chess is a great game. You cannot argue that. But is it fun? I am unsure. I enjoy the experiences and feel I learn from each game and enjoy the process of very slowly getting little better each time. But it’s the ultimate take-that game and losing, which happens for me a lot, feels bad. It’s not like other board games where I honestly don’t care less about winning or losing. Losing chess feels more personal somehow. Perhaps as people associate intelligence to chess, when I lose, it makes me feel stupid. Also, I am a lazy person by heart and don’t always have the patience to think about each move to the level an amateur like me needs too. Chessplus removes all this. It’s a much more frantic game with so many more variables of moves, you just sort of accept that and play with more freedom. Especially in these first twenty games I have had. I don’t care if I win or lose. I am learning the mechanics and movement options and just having fun. And getting extra queens is really fun! You can get up to four, and I have now done this once, and it was joyful! It didn’t last long as it’s pretty hard to not win quickly with four queens on the board, but still, it was fun!
It remains to be seen how often I play this over normal chess in the years to come, but my prediction is it will be 50/50 based on what people I am playing prefer. But if it were my choice, I think I would always play this version now. It suits me more. I am unsure how people who are actually good at Chess would feel! But I think for the more casual Chess player, this is a great addition to your collection, and you may just agree with the makers of this game that it is indeed, “better than chess!” A bold claim indeed, but I now see at least where they are coming from. You can of course play normal chess with this set too, so I think that is where this bold statement originates from.
As I said, this game intrigued me, so I wanted to ask the designers of the game a few questions. Christian Simpson and his daughter Amy where the brains behind this, and I was very keen to find out more so we sat down and had a chat.
Thank you for talking with us here at WBG, first up, could you tell us how this game came about? We have had so much fun with it, but I am keen to find out how you even thought of this in the first place!
My daughter Aimee when she was about 9 was playing a game of chess with me and combined the Rook to a pawn in order to get it to the end of the board quicker and we thought what a good idea! One thing led to another and here we are!
Well I am glad she did! It’s a fun game but I am intrigued how this will sit with a hard-core fan of chess. How would you pitch this to someone who loves the original game?
Tough Question! From our experience the hard-core chess fan is of two types. First, the people who study and learn chess, they often take great pride in their chess abilities. Second, people who love a challenge and Chess offers them this opportunity. We find people from the first group are very hard to approach but people from the second embrace the idea and the new strategies and challenges that Chessplus offers. The other factor is age. Children seem to really engage with the game.
So, to answer the question, I think the best pitch would be two pronged First, the new strategies and new world to discover, and second, the opportunities for competitions that competitive players love. Chess players love competitions (and prize money)!
Yes, that rings true with me from my experiences. My son instantly loved this and I, as a more casual player of Chess have really enjoyed the game. How about a person who is not a fan of chess at all? Could this make them appreciate the game do you think?
To someone who is not a fan of chess, Chessplus is a levelling of the playing field bringing new strategies. The old learnt openings don’t work so you are in with a good chance to win against someone who only knows the base game. For others I would talk about the gameplay which in some ways is less complicated than chess because of the ability to promote the pawn. Instead of working out how to checkmate your opponent, players can concentrate on gaining extra queens. This really opens the game up to more players and just gives it that little twist enabling more dopamine hits and rewards! This is fun. The other aspect that springs to mind is the speed of the game. This is faster game so people feel they can make a comeback in the next game and it is not such a big time investment. Also, it feels more engaging with the increased options and surprising moves and outcomes!
Agreed. You market this as better than chess. A bold statement! Do you see this as a replacement for speed chess or all games as you can play normally if you want?
As a board and pieces set it can work just like a Chess set plus you can play Chessplus. So that’s two games in one; theoretically this is all people need. That said people are attracted to tradition. However, in time, tradition changes, so ultimately it comes down to how good is the game, does it have real legs; and if it does why would people buy the traditional set? Particularly for the home user, the average person or school where this can be played as either. The pieces are well designed so it looks good, it’s attractive to play as either or.
We are having some discussions about competition play at events like Comicon in Australia in conjunction with traditional Chess. These little events will give more insight into the potential of the game
I would agree with that. Good luck with the competitions. I hope we can all come together for events like this soon. It was a joy talking with Christian over these last few weeks. I have really enjoyed playing Chessplus and firmly think this could change completely the way I play the game for my lifetime. That is not something I thought I would say when I first herd of this. As Christian quite poetically says, “in time tradition changes.”
WBG Score: 8/10
Player Count: 2
You'll like this if you like: Chess, Onitama, Abalone
Published by Christian Simpson
Designed by Christian Simpson