That would be chess. Oh I know the basic rules and that the horsie moves one forward then one diagonal and the castle can move as far as it wants in a straight line (I even know about castling and en passe! :p) but I’ve never learned a single gambit, opening, or defense. But I just read The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver (fantastic book btw, read it if you get a chance) and one of the chapters in that book was all about chess and that inspired me to talk a little bit about it here.
Like I said, I don’t really know how to play chess. I played with my friends when I was a kid, but our whole strategy was “don’t play quite as terribly as the other guy”. No one I knew was really into chess and I just never developed a huge interest in it. I downloaded a chess app a while back and if I turn the difficulty one notch above easy it wipes the floor with me. Kasparov vs. Deep Blue it ain’t!
I remember one of my community college teachers, who was a bit of a hardcore guy, telling us that he played chess when he was younger but he got so into it that it kind of took over his life and he had to give it up because he just became too engrossed with it. His overall point was to be careful about owning things and make sure they don’t own you, not to avoid chess.
But still, chess is so complex with so much strategy and so much to think about that it probably is good I never got into it. I have however enjoyed some offshoot versions of chess over the years. Things like:
Battle Chess (Interplay Games, 1988)
This was pretty fun but really it was just normal chess with animations when a piece was captured. In other words, all the same rules applied, but when one piece captures another there was a little battle and one piece would get killed. But the piece that died was always the one that was getting captured, so the gameplay wasn’t changed at all. It was still a pretty big hit.
Archon (Free Fall Associates, 1983)
Taking it back even further, we have this gem of a classic. Archon was like Battle Chess (it did come out first though) except when one piece went to capture another there really was a battle. The action changed over to a separate battle screen and the two pieces actually fought it out, either being controlled by the player or the computer. The pawns were slow and weak while the higher ranking pieces were stronger and had nifty powers. It was massively fun and one of my favorite games when I was a youngster. My friend Shawn was the master of that game; he got so good he could take out a unicorn (one of the very best pieces in the game) with a lowly goblin (pawn). It was annoying but also very impressive.
Nightmare Chess (Steve Jackson Games, 1996)
And finally for those of us that have no chess ability at all there’s Nightmare Chess. It’s a set of cards that you use while playing chess that adds a bunch of crazy effects like turning the board 90 degrees, planting landmines on the board, and bringing back your captured pieces. It pretty much eliminates any skill factor, so if you’re a Serious Chess Player it’s not for you, but if you just want to have some fun it’s great.
There are also the 3D variations that people are fascinated by. There have been ones with 3 board, 5 boards, and the original one actually had 8 boards! Not surprisingly, that one turned out to be a little difficult for the players to process. One popular version uses 5 boards that are 5 x 5 each instead of the usual 8 x 8. I’ve never played any of them and while they sound kind of gimmicky to me I wouldn’t mind playing a game or two sometime just to try it. And of course there are all the versions of 3D chess played on the various Star Trek shows. Apparently the creators never made an actual game with codified rules so whenever you see it being played on the show the positions and action are just made up for that scene.
How about you? Have you played chess or any of its variations?