Chess 2 includes a number of additions to the classic abstract game. The first change is that in win conditions. Your traditional check mate still works but now you can also win by moving your king across the centre half of the board. It’s obviously an attempt to make the game more aggressive and to me it s a good addition, and means that an idiot like me doesn’t have to think 20 moves ahead.
The second main addition is the introduction of a bidding war whenever you attempt to take a piece. After moving in for the take a player secretly bids 0, 1 or 2 beads, whoever looses the bid is the player who keeps their piece on the board. Any beads bid are lost and extra beads can be claimed by taking opposing pawns. The inclusion of a zero bid means you can bluff and try and force your opponent to use their beads on pieces that aren’t important to your strategy.
Of all factors in Chess 2 this has to be the addition I hate the most. Chess has always been solely about reading the board, anticipating your opponent and covering every angle. This addition means that a great move can now be countered by a bid and hoovering up pawns means you’re not going to be short if you need them. To me the system actually detracts from chess and I’d rather the game either didn’t utilise it or had the option to turn it off (more on that later).
The main event in Chess 2 however is the addition of five new sets to play with. Included in these are a huge variety of new pieces and special rules. There are elephants that trample through pieces, grim reapers that can teleport across the board and shape shifting pieces that takes their movement from neighbouring pieces. My personal favourite is a set that replaces the queen and king with a pair of warrior kings who have much more aggressive movement capabilities but at this risk that the game is lost if either warrior king is taken. These new sets add a lot of variety and because you can face off any set against another, the simple symmetrical game becomes a smorgasbord of puzzles and strategies to play with. From the initial plays it feels like all of these chess sets are rather balanced. It’s impossible to know for sure, because if chess takes a lifetime to master then surely Chess 2 is going to take you 6 lifetimes.
Chess 2’s issues aren’t with its balance or the design of these new chess sets; instead the issues are with game as a video game because the implementation just sucks. The problems can be narrowed down into two main categories; options and help. These both stem from all the new concepts that Chess 2 introduces, I’ve already made clear how I’m not a fan of the bidding system and if you’re also not a fan then tough luck because no matter what the game, no matter which sets you play with every single game has this option turned on. The same goes for the mid-line invasion winning conditions and even stretches as far as the music. Just like every video game based on a board game Chess 2 has the horrible plinky plonky twee muzak that drills into your brain and makes you want to go on a killing spree (and who said video games don’t cause violence).
The second of these issues is based purely on the inclusion of all these new sets and play rules, because these rules are completely inaccessible once you’ve started a game. The only guide to how these pieces work is through the video tutorial which means if you’ve forgotten how the elephant works mid game tough, as there is no contextual help and you’re left to a process of blindly clicking on squares to work out.
The two minor omissions make Chess 2 more frustrating than it need be and are simply fixed. Even with these you can always turn the music off, agree with your opponent not to use the beads and download the written rules. Get past these issues and what you’re left with is a real treat for chess fans. The new sets really are something that someone already versed with chess strategy can sink their teeth into and for newer players, or those that aren’t usually interested in chess; there are some new and pretty cool concepts to play around with.
Chess 2 is available on Steam, OUYA and is heading to iOS.