A well-carved chess set on a solidly-made board will always turn my head. I especially love checking out unusual chess sets with the pieces rendered as American Civil War soldiers, or dragons, or abstract blocks of crystal. They’re something I imagine myself collecting if I were an eccentric rich person. We had multiple sets growing up and a fixture of our living room was a massive, hand-carved board my parents purchased when we were stationed Philippines. It stood a little over three feet tall supported by a thick base carved into a (horse) knight, with felt-lined drawers that held large game pieces of dark wood. Those pieces gave a satisfying, rich *thunk* as they moved around the board.
The family joke is that my Dad and I used to play chess all the time until I got to the point when I started winning regularly. Suddenly, we weren’t playing so much of the game. The family competitiveness is strong. I eventually gained possession of that giant set and have lugged it around with me since, even when I lived in broom-closet studio apartments and barely had a bed to sleep on. Now, it’s wrapped up tightly in storage, to be set up again one day when we’re willing to sacrifice the space.
Even back then I never really got serious about the game. In a way my inherited competitiveness always kept me from going down that road. I’m ok at the game but chess is definitely a game that requires quite a bit of memory-training and dedication. I like playing but I didn’t have an automatic gift for it and didn’t care enough to work at it. Still, I’d boot up a game of Battle Chess when the mood suited me, of course, halfway just to watch the silly murder animations.
Lately, however, I’ve been playing a few games directly inspired by chess and they’ve done well letting me dabble without having to dive into a serious game. First, is a mobile game called Really Bad Chess by Zach Gage. It very much appears as a traditional game of chess but uses completely random pieces each time.
The computer player is no slouch and approaches each game as if it’s very real and very serious. It’s zany, chaotic, and I love it. The app is free with a paid, ad-free upgrade (which I need to go ahead and purchase since I’ve had fun with the game).
Next, I’ve come across a web browser-based game called Chogue by Pippin Barr and Jonathan Lessard. Chogue takes the gameplay mechanics of the roguelike genre of video games and throws in chess pieces. You take your “squad” of pieces and run through a dungeon of sorts, fighting the opposing set using all the same moves of a true game of chess.
Sometimes the narrow corridors of the dungeon get a little frustrating with some of the pieces’ limited move sets (I’m looking at you, bishops) but then, I got a good guffaw with how they handle pawns. Scouting ahead and line-of-sight issues become the main threat in the game, and some of skirmishes I had trying to pin down another piece were a ton of fun to think out. I’m not sure it’s a game I’ll play for any serious length of time, but over coffee it made for a good early morning.
I’ll surely teach my kid how to play chess as soon as he’s old enough to play, though I haven’t decided if I’ll continue the family tradition of quietly “retiring” from the game the inevitable moment he starts to be better than me. Until then I’ll gladly dabble with experimental forms of chess where I can pretend I’m not rubbish at it.