In the sake of full disclosure, I'd like it known that I do not enjoy chess. I've been a wargamer since I was old enough to be trusted with super-glue, but chess never quite captured my attention. When I sat down with Aubrey Norris of SouthPeak to try out TopWare Interactive's new Battle VS Chess strategy game, I did not have high hopes.
At first glance it looks like a re-skinned chess game- and in some ways, that's just what it is. You'll be able to play normal matches against computer AI based on the Fritz chess-playing software or other humans. You can switch between normal chess-pieces, flat symbols or fully-animated fantasy monsters. As it stands, that game description won't appeal to many of you.
But Battle VS Chess is a much deeper game than that. In addition to "normal" mode, you'll be able to choose from several different placement options. "Madness" places all the pieces randomly on the board, starting your game in an incredibly convoluted melee that adds a TON of replay potential.
You can also try "Tactical" placement, which covers the other side in a fog-of-war while you both place your pieces. There's "Recruit" mode, which gives you a certain number of points to spend on pieces. Want an army of all queens? It's possible, if you don't mind being hideously outnumbered.
The recruit and madness set-up options can also be mixed together, allowing you to buy up your own custom "army" and then have it shuffled onto the table along with your opponent's force.
The placement options are cool, but Battle VS Chess goes deeper than that. It also adds in Battlegrounds like Slasher, which is a normal chess match that prompts you to fight a small tactical skirmish for each square taken. The piece (and the pieces around it) determine what forces you'll get to fight this twitch-based side-game.
The Duel Battleground prompts a short Quicktime style fight between two pieces when one attempts to take another. Hit the given button combo at the right time to down your enemy. Mess up, and they'll damage you back. Piece hit-points do not regenerate mid-fight, which adds an extra layer of strategy.
I had the chance to play Aubrey in the Suicide battleground on the Madness placement setting. "Suicide" changes the goal of the game, awarding a win to whichever player loses his pieces first. At the start of every turn, you are notified which pieces are able to take another piece that turn. If you can make a kill, you have to.
The first few turns of the game were brutal. Aubrey and I were so mixed by the Madness shuffle that half our pieces were in kill-range on turn one. Once the ranks thinned out, the focus of the game switched to delicate maneuvering. Figuring out how and where to place your pieces to keep them OUT of attack range but IN the enemy killzone is not easy.
I won though.
Battle VS Chess looks a deep, engaging game. Plus, the kill animations are awesome. Watching a Rook body-slam a pawn can't help but bring a smile to your face. The version I played seemed very polished. Which is good, because the game is available for pre-order now.