Thoughts from Chess 2
A couple months ago, Chess 2 caught my eye. I love chess, and don’t buy into “purist” philosophies, so anytime someone comes up with a variant for chess my interest is piqued.
However, there’s one problem: the designer is treating modern-day chess as “Chess 1,” asserting that the game has been static since its inception. That’s patently not true. For example (using some quick Wikipedia research to verify dates):
- Chess grew in the early 2nd millennium from its predecessors. It wasn’t a new game to start.
- Castling was added to European chess in the 14th or 15th century and did not develop into its present form until the 17th century. That’s likely to improve the speed of the game and to vary it up after it started to feel too rote.
- The initial pawn double-move was introduced sometime in the 15th century, to get to the mid-game sooner. Shortly after that was en passant, to cover an edge case due to the double-move.
- The rules on stalemates where solidified in the 19th century.
- The chess clock is the newest addition to the game, so if you think that the game hasn’t changed since the 17th century, you’re not counting the impact of the chess clock.
As game designers, we should keep this evolution of chess in mind before we think of something as sacrosanct, or we make arrogant boasts that we’re bringing innovation to where there was none before.
To move onto Chess 2, I really like the additional win condition: you also win if your king crosses the midline. It turns the king not just from a piece to protect or go after to a piece that can be aggressive — and that’s an interesting design space to peer in. The other bits don’t fire me us as much; people will always come up with novel pieces and boards (point of note, centuries ago the queen was a novel piece). But I suspect we would see very different mid-games (and far fewer stalemates) if that additional victory condition was part of the “chess core.”
Though I don’t care for some parts, I still find all of it valuable to think about, to play with, and to share with others. Games are like everything else in human history: they evolve as we gain understanding and insight, which happens over generations.