The Original Battle Chess
While the Battle Chess franchise is, at its core, a by the book chess game (each version includes a 2D non-animated option) it is the three-dimensional action view that makes the series unique and the first Battle Chess a milestone. In the 3D view you move your pieces and then watch them walk to their new location. Pawns step boldly forward while queens sashay across the screen. Every time you take or lose a piece, the game pieces battle it out in the action sequences which are the game’s trademark. Knights slash opponents with their swords, rooks made of stone pound with their mighty fists, and pawns use spears to defeat the enemy. While this seems like standard fare today it was revolutionary in 1988. Battle Chess broke the mold of static computer chess games, giving it life and color. The animations have a friendly, cartoon-like feel. Many of the “deaths” are slapstick. Some, such as the knight beheading the bishop, are more graphic, but there is no spilling blood or gore.
When a battle is forthcoming both pieces move around the square, the winner occupying the top corner, while the loser is banished to the lower corner. There are several different battle animations, so I’ll just describe a few. When the Rook has to kill the Queen, she will frantically cast magic spells, to no effect, the Rook will eat the Queen, spitting out her crown. A Knight slices up the pawn with such enthusiasm and enjoyment. If you are after a quick game of chess, don't worry, because you can turn the battle animations off, but then you might as well just play with a good old-fashioned Chess Board.
The imagery works exceptionally well in the original Battle Chess. The pawns are small-framed foot soldiers, and they carry a spear with some hesitation, but can you blame them? The Rook is a stone tower who transmogrifies into a stone giant when he moves. The Knight has shiny armor with a sword and shield combo, and strides with pride around the board in his usual L-shape patterns. The robes of the Bishop will brush the ground as he walks, an evil expression on his face. The Queen has long robes, and quite an interesting figure for a graphic sprite, giving you the impression that she is the most powerful piece on the board. Lastly, the King is a short old man, probably in need of retirement in Florida.
Battle Chess offers 10 levels of play, with the level determining how long the computer thinks about its move. On Level 1 the computer takes 5 seconds to move, while on Level 9 it takes 20 minutes. The longer the game takes to think, the more careful its strategy is, and the harder it is for you to beat. Keep in mind today's computers can do much more processing in 5 seconds than when Battle Chess was released. This makes even Level 1 play very challenging. I consider myself an average chess player, but Level 1 beat me repeatedly, and even the Novice level gave me a challenge, with the computer making no obvious bad moves. It is pretty humbling to be repeatedly trounced by an supposedly obsolete chess engine.
Battle Chess was by far the most original chess game of its time. It took the Star Wars generation, myself included, by storm. This was the first game to transform chess from a cerebral exercise into an overtly visual escapade. Although not as powerful as today's generation of chess games, Battle Chess has a formidable engine. The Battle Chess series combined great comedy, entertaining graphics, and a serious chess game without compromising anything along the way. It can be played for laughs or played for real. It can satisfy the kid or the Grand Master in all of us.
Battle Chess 4000
In this version of the grand old classic, a Grand Master (the player) has been transported to the year 4000 and deposited on a space station in earth orbit. Within the station is an arena housing a huge, translucent chessboard. On the board is a strange collection of characters. Gone are the standard inanimate medieval icons. In their place is a cast of characters right out of a Buck Rogers novel, each outfitted in a strange and unique manner, equipped with strange and unique weapons, and harboring a strange and unique sense of humor.
Instead of pawns, there are alien worms; bishops have been replaced by mad scientists with infectious cackles; knights have become spaceship captains, and rooks have been transformed into something akin to a BattleMech. The humanoid King and Queen are almost ordinary by comparison, but their repertoire of weapons and skills are anything but ordinary. In this game, there's none of that pawn-takes-pawn stuff. Pieces aren't just captured -- they're vacuumed, blasted, melted, hypnotized, tricked and hugged to death. This is cartoon violence where the characters deliver punchy facial expressions and sound effects with an uncanny sense of timing.
Equally interesting is the unorthodox method of setting skill levels. Program strength is not simply determined by a preset scale, but divided into Weak and Strong categories and controlled by independent variables. Selecting Weak opposition brings up a menu of 10 levels, from beginner to intermediate. Choosing Strong brings up an advanced level with five time-control options, each with its own unique degree of difficult. Of the five, Tournament is the strongest and most aggressive level. In this setting, the program actually manages time according to the difficulty of the position, spending less time in obvious situations and saving it for complex positions and endgame play.
All of this adds up to a killer program, one that easily justified Interplay's claim of a 2000 rating - a Candidate Master class, under the USCF system. Battle Chess 4000 transformed chess from a stuffy, intellectual exercise into a game that is fun to play. It combines great comedy, superb graphics, and a serious chess game without compromising anything along the way. It can be played for laughs or played for real. It can satisfy the kid or the Grand Master in all of us be it 1992 or today.
Battle Chess II: Chinese Chess
One of the few Chinese chess commercial programs ever published in the US, this introduced Chinese Chess to a new audience. This sequel to the original Battle Chess takes on a more Chinese approach, both in the rules of the game and the way it is presented. The Queen and Bishop are replaced by Counselors, Ministers, and Cannon.
The cute animations from original Battlechess remained, and even has even MORE gag-filled laughs (I won't ruin the surprises here). You can always turn off the cute stuff and stick with the regular 2D board, available both in Chinese and Roman versions.
The game engine don't make many mistakes that you can take advantage of, but you can confuse it by attacking on multiple fronts. It however, can really capitalize on your mistakes. On the other hand, you can trick AI into taking your sacrifices. All the proper Chinese Chess rules have been implemented with the exception of one: the "generals may not face each other" rule.
The game was great for its time, and still holds up today. With eight levels of difficulty the computer can keep you on your toes.