Let's BattleAfter analyzing chess like a videogame, one simple conclusion may be drawn: chess is dumb.

It brings me no joy to state that self-evident fact. I have been playing chess practically as long as I have been alive. In what can likely be described to a therapist as “generational trauma”, my grandfather taught me how to play chess at a young age. Why? Well, because some forty years before I was born, my grandfather was a naval officer. He served on an aircraft carrier, and, during downtime, he played chess with “nearly every man on that boat”. Given World War II lasted for a period that was greater than a few hours, I have always assumed that he played chess with everyone a lot. And I also assume that, after years of practice and his own generally competitive personality (he was the eldest of seven brothers, that did something to his brain), nobody wanted to play chess with my grandfather. So I have always believed that I was taught chess at a young age because I was the only rube in a sixty square mile radius willing to play the game against a man that would surely claim victory. And, to my grandfather’s credit, he was patient with his fledgling player. I think he even let me win a few rounds! But I still feel in my bones that I only know how to play chess because my grandfather wanted the sweet rush of moving his knight in such a way that turned his opponent into a quivering mass (but then the quivering mass got a grilled cheese sandwich and some crackers, so we coo’).

But! Whereas my grandfather may have taught me the game for reasons that marginally qualify as child abuse, playing chess has benefitted me. I have played chess with friends, enemies, girlfriends, girlfriends’ dads, bosses, and Death (that one time I had to win my soul back). I was a member of the chess club in elementary school, and, as nerdy as that is, it was a place where I forged friendships that would eventually help me survive high school (where, naturally, we all joined computer club). And chess is just plain an analytical game: there are no dice, and there is no randomness involved. You learn the moves, you make the plays, and you recognize the patterns and paths that will secure your victory. In my own life, I can trace a direct line from “understanding chess” to “understanding geometry” to “understanding how computers work”. And that is the kind of thing that keeps me in business enough to maintain a silly blog on the internet. You would not be reading these words without chess!

Get 'erAnd speaking of this videogame blog, as someone who has enjoyed chess since some vague time before Super Mario Bros, I have always played a number of chess videogames. One of the first “computer games” I ever touched was an electronic chess set owned by my grandfather. He had such a device because everyone knew damn well they did want to be his opponent, so the technology of the future may as well bear the burden. And that has been a significant benefit of chess videogames over the ages: you always have an opponent in the computer. And there are difficulty sliders! So you can be Kasparov or Kasparov’s less adept cat (королева) and still find a way to win a match. You can work your way up to higher difficulty levels! Why, in a way, “computer chess” invented much of what is considered standard in today’s videogames. Videogame chess is the ur-videogame! And you might not even need a controller! Just weird little pegs that you will blame your grandson for eating but he totally didn’t do it!


Today’s game is Battle Chess. Battle Chess is just like regular chess, but the pieces “battle” each other with canned animations that were super impressive for the late 80’s. Other than the visual flair, there is nothing particularly battle-y about Battle Chess. So, naturally, that makes me think of one thing…


Chess Kombat appeared as part of Mortal Kombat: Deception. This was back in 2004, and was firmly part of the “dork ages” of Mortal Kombat, when the franchise was desperately floundering to find an audience in an epoch where fighting games were few and far between. MK: D was a straightforward “Mortal Kombat game”, but it was also a 3-D fighter with multiple fighting style options per character, dial-a-combo possibilities, stage-based unique weapons, ring-out fatalities, and moves that literally allow for a character to commit suicide. They were basically throwing every damned thing at the wall to see what stuck. And speaking of which, we have a complete “story mode” that is practically a game unto itself, with multiple realms, cronies, bosses, and a centaur to find in the woods. And on top of all that, we had two distinct modes that we never saw again: Puzzle Kombat (which was vaguely familiar), and Chess Kombat. Of the two, Chess Kombat should be lauded, as it at least included some level of traditional kombat. But past that?


We’ve got chess. Or a variation on it, at least. The Leader piece is a King in function, but we already have two Queens (“Champions”) when the pieces are first put on the board. Sorcerers move the same as Bishops, but can forgo a turn to cast a magic spell that may remove an opponent’s piece, revive one of their own, or swap pieces around. Shifters are conceptually the Rook equivalent, but they have movement that is more like a limited Queen (wherever they want, but only four squares of distance), and they always morph to commence mirror matches during kombat. And Grunts/Pawns can move forwards and backwards. The whole world is topsy-turvy!

This makes sense somehowBut how the pieces move is secondary to the actual kombat of Mortal Kombat. Basically, every piece has “stats”, with the most important stat being health. Champions have full health, Grunts… not so much. A player gets some additional health by initiating Kombat (aka “taking the piece”), but past the possible stat handicap/advantage, this is just straight up Mortal Kombat fighting. And, since a Flawless Victory has always been more than possible, you can initiate checkmate with a single Grunt if you have the skills. Your Queen will never be defeated if she is your usual main and you can uppercut your way to victory. In a way, this makes Chess Kombat more chess than regular chess, right? No randomness, only skills.

And it was in revisiting Mortal Kombat’s silly version of chess that I realized what has always been happening:

Chess is a fighting game.

Read up on some chess strategies, and it becomes obvious. Even some of the designations match! You’ve got your basic “moves”, but there are a few “special moves” that have specific uses. Castling has its own distinct input. You have the ability to taunt/bait an opponent into making the move you want to see (let’s call any and all pawns “footsies”), and there are sometimes situations when you want to drop your defense, tank a few hits, but use that opportunity to return fire with an excellent combo (bishop, rook, and queen all taken in three rounds). Hell, let’s go ahead and say four-move checkmate is a perfect round!

We eat well tonightAnd, while it would be easy to claim that every chess piece on the board is its own fighter with unique skills, the more apt metaphor is that every piece is its own “move”. Bishops are your anti-air dragon punches, Rooks close the distance as a fireball, and we’ve got a Knight or two as a throw that bypasses the usual defenses. Queens are your traditional “hyper move” (so don’t whiff it when you decide to take her out on the field), and your King is ironically your greatest weakness. You know your opponent has a 30-hit combo ready for when you are trapped in the corner? Try to avoid that check mate situation. And, since both sides of the board have the same pieces, it’s a mirror match.

Chess is just a fighting game with all mirror matches, all the time.

And I thought chess was getting boring after playing it for thirty years. Apparently this game has not introduced a new character to the roster for a millennium and a half. Chess is already Street Fighter. So when are we going to get its Street Fighter II?

FGC #660 Battle Chess

  • System: Today’s post is brought to you by the ridiculous A500 Mini console, which contains Battle Chess. Battle Chess may be experienced through less absurd means by playing it on the original Amiga, 3D0, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Nintendo Entertainment System, PC-98, X68000, or various versions of DOS, Windows, or Apple OSes.
  • Number of players: It’s a fighting game, so two players. Back in the day, you could use an honest-to-God dial-up modem to find a second player. We have covered over 600 games on this site, and that might be the first time that happened.
  • Looks like it hurtsFavorite Piece: The “Rook” is still a castle here, so naturally he transforms back and forth from some manner of rock monster. This leads to a number of adorable animations, including at least one where the creature devours a queen whole. And that’s why so much of my generation is into vore. What were we talking about?
  • Favorite Animation: Two knights attacking each other leads to a limb disassembly that is strongly reminiscent of a similar scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I can assure you that, when I realized this in 1995 or so, I thought I was the only person on Earth who got the reference.
  • For the Sequel: If you need to play a modern version of Battle Chess right now, Battle Chess: Game of Kings is officially a remake on Steam. It replaces the castle monster with a tubby executioner, though, so I don’t much see the point of bothering.
  • Anticipation: The computer taking time to “think” can often go on for minutes, and that weirdly helps the atmosphere of the game. Is your opponent going to take the bait? Are they going to do their own thing? Will they make a move you never foresaw? Who knows! And you have to wait to find out!
  • Did you know? Battle Chess proports to have an opening library of over 30,000 moves. Is that at all comparable to how videogame AIs work? Like, goombas do not have that many moves. But will a Street Fighter 2 Ryu display 30,000 different behaviors over the course of a number of matches? Do you know?
  • Would I play again: Playing chess again is a lock. Distinctly playing a version of chess from when I was a child is less likely.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy 2! That’s the one with the chocobos! Please look forward to it!

Way to go

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