First Look: Battle vs Chess

At our most recent meetup with Southpeak, in addition to our hands on time with nail’d and Two Worlds II we got a look at Battle vs Chess. It was described to us as chess with animations akin to Chessmaster and Battle Chess. It uses the Fritz 11 chess engine and is fully licensed, which is good news for those looking for an authentic digital chess experience.

On the surface, it looks like just a shiny and prettied up version of chess, and in Classic mode you get exactly that. There’s also a mode that lets you recreate historic matches if you want to pick up on the strategies experts used. A series of tutorials also helps new players (or those who need some brushing up) acclimate to the rules of the game and details how each piece works and their strategic advantages and disadvantages. The tutorials are interactive, so you’re not just sitting in front of the screen reading blocks of text.

However, there’s also a myriad of modes that distinguish this from other chess games. For those looking for more variety, Random Placement mode puts pieces in different opening places than the standard ones, forcing you to think outside of the box. Recruit mode gives you a random assortment of pieces using point values, meaning that the pieces at your disposal won’t necessarily consist mostly of pawns. There are also puzzles that tasks you with placing certain pieces in certain spots within a given number of turns. Duel mode entails mashing the buttons displayed at the right time in a vis-à-vis battle. Mana mode consists of collecting a certain number of crystals (using the queen) in a specified number of turns, and while it won’t do anything for your chess skills, it seems like it could make for some fun mindless time killing. There’s even a story mode in the form of campaign mode, and it consists of 12 missions for each side. As might be expected, the white pieces acted as the good guys and looked more angelic, while the black pieces took the role of the antagonists and appeared more demonic.

The one that’ll probably stand out most is Battle mode. Each piece has its own lifebar, and each time a piece attacks another, the perspective switches to a closer view of the action. You then take control of your piece (accompanied by a group of soldiers) in a hack and slash battle akin to those in a Dynasty Warriors game, although the battles in this game take place on a smaller battlefield. Pieces lost during battle are out for that game. They get weaker as the battle goes on, so you can’t rely on just one piece to win. As you might be able to surmise, this enables you to button mash your way to victory, making the game accessible to those less than adept at chess.

All modes except crystal are also multiplayer. There is also support of a form of the Elo rating system support, which should gratify the more competitive players. You can toggle between views of the chess pieces as, well, chess pieces and as warriors ready to do battle at a whim, depending if you want an expedited match or one with the flashy animations. From what we saw, Battle vs Chess has plenty to offer both for casual players and serious chess players. Whether it will actually draw in those who normally hate chess (or feel their skills are subpar) hinges on which modes they stick with and how willing they are to go through the tutorials. There will be 8-11 levels of difficulty (which they were still working out at the time of the meeting), which should provide further accessibility.

Eveyr console will get a version of the game. Release date will be September 28 for the PC, PS3, and 360, while the other versions will drop in the first quarter of 2011.