I recently spent an enjoyable evening playing board game prototypes with Tom Norfolk whom some of you might know is the creative mind behind Stak Bots, a robot battling card game. So when Tom asked me to take a look at another prototype I jumped at the chance… Then he told me it was Chess.
Now... there is nothing wrong with chess, it’s a very good game that people from all over the world enjoy, I, however, am rubbish at it!
I come from a wargaming background, so you’d think tactics and strategy would be ingrained in me, unfortunately I played the Undead, where the loss of troops was a good thing because you would resummon them behind the enemy lines. If you try and do that in chess the old man with the pigeon on his shoulder chases you out of the park.
Anyway, I put off playing the game for a while, much like I am doing with starting this review, until I couldn’t feasibly put it off any longer.
So, Tom’s prototype was actually multiple games in one, and again, for anyone who knows Tom, this is not to be unexpected. The three primary game modes however were Colour Chess, Combo Colour Chess and Lure.
I decided to try out Colour Chess first, the game basically uses Chess pieces and Chess rules but on a brightly coloured board, which will be modular in the final product while mine was simply printed out. I decided to try the game first against my wargaming buddy.
Colour Chess basically works like this. Each player takes a turn moving a piece to a colour, then their opponent must move a piece to that same colour. Then the opponent declares a colour and you must follow suit. So with each back and forth each player takes essentially two moves, one dictated by their opponent, the other of their own choosing.
Unlike normal Chess the game ends when the King is captured, as opposed to when Checkmate is achieved.
My friend and I found this to be a cerebral experience as we worked to try and out position one another, however with neither of us being massive chess-fans we could appreciate the mechanics and the strategy, but we couldn’t manipulate them very well.
Reading on I discovered the Combo Colour Chess rules were a similar beast, except that these rules dictated that any piece that could move when a colour was declared, must move. At first, this feels like chaos, you now have to calculate not only what happens to your own pieces but your opponents pieces too. Pieces would charge recklessly across the board, or abandon their liege lord to instead stand idly in the corner staring wistfully into the distance.
It wasn’t until the third game that combo began to coalesce and we could see that what initially felt like chaos was in fact controllable, like conducting an orchestra, dozens of moving parts but over which you have full control.
For me this was a far more interesting experience, however I would later play the game with a friend of mine who was a chess lover and he preferred the simple experience of Colour Chess to Combo but found both to be a stimulating intellectual challenge (Although his actual words suggested that Tom might have some kind of mental illness for wanting to torture players with such a tactically complex variant to the already highly taxing game Chess.)
Putting the Chess variants aside for the moment let's take a look at Lure. Lure uses the same board but with three unique pieces. The King performs exactly as in chess, except that he cannot capture pieces and should he reach your opponents table edge you automatically win. Shields prevent adjacent Swords or Shields from being captured, while Swords can capture pieces by moving into their square.
Each piece can move 1 space in any direction, making the rules easier to teach than Chess. The aim of the game is to get your pieces to the other table edge, thus scoring a point. Or to capture your opponent's pieces, again for a point. The first to four points wins.
Similar to Colour Chess you declare a colour and then move all of your pieces that can move onto to that colour. If a piece is on the declared colour but still adjacent to the declared colour they may continue to move or they may choose to stop if it would be tactically advantageous to do so. Then your opponent must move all of their pieces that could move onto the declared colour, before declaring their own colour in return.
This procedure is easier to predict than Combo Chess as each piece moves in the same way, however the order in which you move your pieces is hugely important. There is a depth of strategy in how you arrange your Shields and how and when you strike with your Swords. Protecting your King is paramount but Shields are ineffective for him, meaning he is always vulnerable to attack.
What results is a tense back and forth as you try to protect your pieces from capture while still advancing towards your opponent's backline. Games are tight, often coming down to a single point. Using the colour system pieces can move slowly or cover vast distances in a single turn and victory can be ripped from your grasp by a cunning player with a tactical mind.
Colour Chess is not the first, and probably not the last, Chess Variant to be released. For example there is Knightmare Chess, the chaotic variant from Bruno Faidutti or Shuuro, a wargame-esque variant from Alessio Cavatore. However it is an interesting variant, perhaps a little heavy against players prone to analysis paralysis and certainly a touch too brain-burny for me to want to break it out every games night but it is definitely something new and unique. Also with the modular board the game promises to be truly different with every play.
Lure on the other hand is a different beast. It looks like chess, it feels like drafts but it plays like neither and it offers a very interesting, fast playing and strategic game that is easy to teach and play.
Tom’s other game, Stak Bots is crazy, it's random, luck plays a large part and you’re never quite sure what will happen next, well Colour Chess and Lure are the exact opposite of all of that.