Impressions: Battle Vs Chess

By John Walker on August 20th, 2012 at 6:00 pm.

Is Battle Vs Chess finally the revision of the dusty old board game that has been so desperately needed for so many years? Can we at last see the embellishments the franchise has been longing for, for over 3,000 years? Perhaps today is that day, with the game now out on Steam. I’ve taken a look to see how the game has finally pulled itself out of the dark ages.

The title certainly reads a little strangely. But in the end, it couldn’t really be more appropriate. Battle Vs. Chess is, on the surface – and indeed in practice – a chess simulator. And then it adds some new things. For instance, it echoes that greatest example of the genre, National Lampoon’s Chess Maniac 5 Billion And 1, with animated battles between the pieces as they take each other off the board. And all in all, it seems to do chess. I mean, I have no idea if it’s actually good at chess, because I have the chess skills of roadkill. The only method I have for any notion of success is to give each of my pieces a unique personality, and then have them discuss tactics and play out soap opera scenes in an effort to put off my opponent. That doesn’t work against a computer. But this seems to have all sorts of chessy notation everywhere, and it sure has heck beat me, even when I was following the tips it was giving me. (Bastard.) And then IT GETS WEIRD.

Before we get to the strangest options, let’s first step out of Skirmish, and get into the Battlegrounds Mode. The first of two ways to play is Duel, in which you play the usual chess rules, except taking a piece switches into the barest bones of a rhythm response idea. Arrows drop from the top of a column, and you have to press the corresponding key as they pass a circle. Do well, and you’ll successfully take the piece you were after. Do badly, and your piece moves back to where it was and you effectively miss your turn. Which is, of course, insane.

It gets even sillier when it’s the computer trying to take one of your pieces, and you can defend against it. Winning, which is relatively easy despite the arrows occasionally gathering some decent pace, means you get to have as many goes in a row as you win for. So want to take your opponent’s queen? Line up your bishop in her path, defend against her attack, and then take her. Genius. These sections play out in a cute (if crude) fighting game setting, two energy bars atop the screen, with animations playing out attacks. It’s properly silly in concept, utterly daft in a chess setting, and best of all, delivered with a perfectly straight face. And that’s the most sensible mode.

The second Battlegrounds choice is the excitingly named Slasher. I’m fairly sure this is the first time the word “slasher” has been associated with chess, unless there’s an excellent scandal about a player who would wee during tournaments that I’ve somehow missed. In this mode, as above, all is normal until you take a piece. At this point, well, I think only the in-game instructions can do this justice (all sic):

“You control one piece supported by several chessmen while the opponent also has a number of combatants (depending on the piece and its current HP). The goal is to destroy all enemies. The character you control may move, make quick attack, strong attack, block and dodge.

When you deal damage, your rage gauge fills. When it is full you can perform an unavoidable Strong Attack.

When your character kills an enemy, its HP is recovered by small amount. Pay attention, that the HP recovered in Battle Mode doesn’t carry over to the Chess Mode. So the piece may not end the battle with more HP that it had at the beginning.”

It’s even weirder than that sounds. It’s an extremely frantic mode in which you’re trying to control a character in a 3D fight, awkwardly using keyboard controls, while the AI is in charge of both the enemy and the rest of your team, pretty much deciding the battle around you. As you confusedly stumble around trying to hit something, you pause and think about the great and noble ancient game, and how many hundreds of generations before you have locked intellects to compete across this chequered board.

For years, Jim and I have been documenting the possibility of Chess II in as many publications and places as is humanly possible. Battle Vs. Chess manages to out-deliver anything we could have hoped for. It really is Battling versus Chess, as the latter ludicrously loses any semblance of purpose to the former. But it sure freshens up the concept! It’s berserk. And it has options for even weirder chess, even in the standard Skirmish mode.

You can choose to have your pieces begin on the board in a random starting arrangement in those first two rows. You can even hand-select where they’re placed across the first three rows. Another mode called Madness starts the pieces literally anywhere on the board, scattered completely at random, because that’s what chess was waiting for! And that’s not it. There’s also Recruit. Again, I’ll let the game explain in exactly its words:

“Recruit Placement: No more than 16 pieces for each player. Each player gets random number and type of pieces, according to their value for the overal value of 39 points (Queen – 9 points, Rook – 5, Bishop – 3, Knight – 3, Pawn – 1, King has no value and is always present). The king is placed in the corner, major pieces by his side, starting from more valuable to less valuable, the pawns are places in the second rank starting from the King’s corner.”

And as if that weren’t enough, there’s Recruit Madness, which gives you a random number of pieces, and random types, adding up to those 39 points, placed on the board at random. It’s chess as chess inventor, Dr Benjamin Chess, always intended it to be, if only he hadn’t died shortly before his crucial second revision. I’ve not even mentioned the Campaign modes, one for Order, one for Chaos (the correct names for the white and black pieces, as any chessmaster will know), in which chess mini-game puzzles must be completed in order. Or if the narrative there is too gripping, there’s a bunch of minigame collections as well.

This lunacy is on Steam now, currently discounted from £16 to £12 until Thursday. If you’re ready to move up to the next level of chess, beyond what I will now call Classic Chess (or perhaps just Old Chess), then NOW IS YOUR TIME.

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65 Comments »

  1. hatseflats says:

    This is a funny “review”. I like it.

    I have no idea whether the game is any good though.

    • bglamb says:

      How you could be in any doubt over the quality of this game after that review, I have no idea.

  2. HexagonalBolts says:

    ‘As you confusedly stumble around trying to hit something, you pause and think about the great and noble ancient game, and how many hundreds of generations before you have locked intellects to compete across this chequered board.’

    Couldn’t stop laughing for absolutely ages, I have to get this now!

  3. pakoito says:

    Sirlin already invented Chess 2. (http://www.sirlingames.com/products/chess-2-print-and-play) And of course it is asymetrical with several different factions each with its own miniruleset ;)

    For everyone else. Summoner Wars. Chess + Tactics, all in one. Please.

  4. Mr. Mister says:

    Ima watin for Rocks Keep. It’ll probably be the goriest chess ever made.
    http://www.runestorm.com/rook

  5. Cooper says:

    Does Dave Tosser have a twitter account?

  6. Schaap says:

    Jesus Christ John, chess is only 1500 years old. Do your investigative work! This is what’s wrong with game journalism!

  7. corbain says:

    The long awaited Chess:EE, you gotta give kudos to the devs for continuing to develop this long after the game has gone FTP

  8. dogsolitude_uk says:

    Well, it’ll make a change from playing against Fritz I suppose:

    “And now, we are alone…”

    Edit: I take that back, apparently it uses the Fritz chess engine :)

  9. JoeyJungle says:

    This is going to sound painfully dull, but is there a mode that’s like normal chess with character animations? Those game modes all sound really awesome, but I’ve been excited about this mainly because I was thinking about it as a sequel to Battle Chess.

  10. YogSo says:

    So, did they ask permission to Marvel to use the White Queen?

  11. Hunchback says:

    This is all fine and dandy but – does it do… CHESS?

    Also – aren’t the Vatican suing for the use of BISHOPS?

  12. Stellar Duck says:

    I’ll wait for the GOTY pack with all the DLC, including Chess: Origins and Chess: Retributioning.

    • Hunchback says:

      You might as well wait for GO: The Turncloaks!

    • Unaco says:

      There’s a prequel DLC as well, which explains how all the pieces got their positions on the board, and why White always gets to go first.

      Edit: Maybe that’s Chess: Origins.

    • Stellar Duck says:

      I heard tell that Chess: Origins was about a pawns rise to power, overthrowing the tyrannical king and hooking up with said kings femme fatale queen.

      • President Weasel says:

        Yeah but the sequel, Chess 2, was heavily criticised for heavily reusing the same 8×8 dungeon.

  13. NathanH says:

    Howay John, post some of your games for us to analyze!

  14. PC-GAMER-4LIFE says:

    This game came out in early 2011 retail only dual format PC/MAC in EU using GFWL is that still intact in the digital version as Topware also sell this digitially for €39.99 using GFWL for MP & matchmaking.

    • Bluefox says:

      That’s confusing me, too. Green Man Gaming is offering the $40 version under the name “Battle vs Chess.”

      Topware Direct lets you purchase a $40 version from them, though the price is in Euros. I think this is the one that uses GFWL to use matchups.

      But the one on Steam is only $20, and looks functionally identical, aside from being called “Check vs Mate.” So … what does one get for the extra $20? Why should I *not* get it through Steam?

  15. LionsPhil says:

    I shall henceforth refer to the mere boardgame as Legacy Chess.

    • McDan says:

      I prefer Black and White Chess, Olde Chesse or War: The Boardgame (est. 1000 BC)

  16. TotalBiscuit says:

    The game is currently called Check vs Mate on Steam

    • Melliflue says:

      Maybe that’s a regional thing. The Steam version in Germany is called “Battle vs Chess”. Possibly a legal problem with the name and Interplay. John said in a comment that Interplay are suing so I guess it has something to do with that.

    • bglamb says:

      Was, and still is, Battle vs Chess for me (UK).

    • Eclipse says:

      Hey mate, just checked myself, it’s called Battle (vs) Chess here too.
      This game seems like Battle Chess and Archon had a stupid baby… not good :\

      • Zombie Jesus says:

        It seems the developers thought we would all become pawns of their ambitions to create Chess 2.0.

        • jrodman says:

          What blackguards! Taking shadowy actions, skulking about like thieves at knight.

    • LTK says:

      Must be regional to the US.

    • Zombie Jesus says:

      Yes, I’m a Yank and it’s “Check vs. Mate” for me too.

      Also, TB reads RPS?! I suppose I should have known, considering they also possess cynical Britishness in abundance.

  17. iNf3kTiD says:

    This game has been out since 2010. Did they revamp the graphics or something because it looked like shite back when I first played it.

  18. jorygriffis says:

    Needed to finally register for this site in order to say: I have been trying to remember the name “National Lampoon’s Chess Maniac 5 Billion And 1″ for some years now. I remember playing it as a kid and it being the funniest thing. The funniest. Thanks for the reminder, John.

  19. Kefren says:

    Sounds a bit like the excellent ‘Wrath Unleashed’ (Xbox thing without the two revolutions). I still play that, and wish it had come out on PC (along with the Xbox ‘Aliens vs Predator’ RTS).

  20. Baines says:

    If you think random placement is weird and un-chess, realize that it is the cornerstone of Bobby Fischer’s Chess960. The idea behind it was to reduce the importance of memorization and increase the importance of talent and creativity.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chess960

  21. brog says:

    There’s also Chang Chang if you want a real-time Chesslike with simultaneous turns: http://mightyvision.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/kompendium.html

    • valz says:

      Wait, realtime or simultaneous turns? You can’t have both…

  22. Adventurous Putty says:

    Bring back Dave Tosser!

  23. Ed123 says:

    Huge…tracts of land.

    • CrookedLittleVein says:

      What are you talking about?

      OT: The game sounds like fun, but I’ve heard one or two disconcerting stories of missing keys and other general bugginess. For the time being I’ll be keeping abreast of developments until the price drops a bit more.

      • Groove says:

        I’d assume he’s talking about the 3rd picture’s pair of queens and their…pairs of queens.

  24. tugboat captain says:

    Does it have modes with larger or differently sized/shaped boards?

    • Yezhi says:

      No its not.

      This game based on Fritz engine. It cant understand unusual board size / shape.

  25. e1zorro says:

    Oddly it was Interplay’s Battlechess ( and lemmings ) which convinced me to buy my first computer ( as opposed to the ones my parents had been forced to buy me before )

    Perhaps if it does have a the classic v1 chess mode, it might be entertaining purely from a nostalgic point of view – nothing like a rook squishing pawns after all.

  26. P7uen says:

    The Software Toolworks Presents….

    DUNNUUNNNNNNN!!!!

  27. Hulk Handsome says:

    Anyone remember ARQ, the Quake 3 mod inspired by Archon? Move your pieces on the board, and when they meet you have a deathmatch to determine who wins the square. Each unique piece had their own powers and such. Good times…

    http://openarena.wikia.com/wiki/ModCompat/ARQ

    • The First Door says:

      That sounds utterly bonkers… and really rather worth a play!

  28. razgon says:

    Oh this is brilliant – Thanks…I want this game now!

  29. The Random One says:

    I clicked the link and spent half the day reading all of Dave Tosser, all of it.