Sitting in the dentist's waiting room, I found I couldn't browse the internet on my smartphone anymore. My eyes were tired from reading and there were no headphones to listen to music. There are no magazines at this dentist's office, just an old TV playing Russian music videos ad nauseam. Mostly female Russian singers, and curiously enough they all shared similar traits: they can't dance. They look gorgeous, but the best they could do is small movements and two slow moves at best- a huge difference from western female pop singers, who are expected to dance as well as lip sing.
There was at least thirty minutes more of waiting, what was there to do? I thought about playing games on my phone, but then I remembered my distaste for them. Gaming on smartphones with no keypads is cumbersome. Controls are simplified or slow to respond, so it's hard to play skill based games that rely on accuracy and timing. On graphic heavy games like Dungeon Explorers there are long load times, so long that it kills any of the fun of a quick gaming session. Simple games like Angry Birds are more frustrating and shallow than fun, but that's just my personal preference. Lots of people swear by Angry Birds, but it's not my type of game.
I wanted a simple game, one that would challenge me, and yet be tailor-made for touch phones. A game where accuracy and timing did not matter, but was strategic by the choices made. Strategy games mainly. Not a strategy game where it has a massive setting like Civilization, but more personal like a one on one. Something with a simple interface so that it would load quickly and hopefully be resume-friendly for quick gaming sessions over time. And then an idea came: how about chess?
It's been such a long time. I had friends in the chess club in junior high and would often watch them play. I knew the rules, but in the Super Nintendo era, I would rather play video games with shiny new graphics than a board game with little visual appeal. Chess video games were ugly, trying to be trendy and relevant by displaying themselves in 3D and not doing a very good job at it. Chess and other board games just didn't transition very well into the digital age during that era.
Years later in high school, I got a small chess set to play with my father. He didn't play video games and I wasn't a hands-on person (he spent most of his time fixing our cars and maintaining the yard), so we didn't share many activities together. I thought that if we played chess at least once or twice a week it would give us something to look forward to. But I was wrong. Chess is a one on one game based on beating your opponent. I didn't want to beat my father in chess, I just wanted to play along with him. I didn't want to sit there for thirty minutes playing against him, so we stopped after a few games. With that mistake, chess faded into a not so favorable memory and was left in the past.
Chess, though, has without noticing, become a very viable platform for touch based systems like tablets and smartphones. With touch based interfaces, they play very similarly to their real counterparts. The graphics have also improved. It's not that the 3D of chess sets look any better or less clunky, but now there is a choice of playing a game within a flat 2D surface, where it achieves a very attractive classic and clean look.
Chess is also massively competitive. Taking it seriously, it is now very relevant to today's other competitive online games. Left 4 Dead, SF4, Call of Duty, Star Craft 2, Dota, League of Legends, and other games with a competitive online presence have slowly weaned gamers into a very competitive environment that was not there before. A decade ago most games were single player affairs. Nowadays, most games carry a multiplayer component, even if the game is mostly single player (Uncharted, MSG4). For the most part, a large portion of gamers today expect a certain level of competition, myself included.
Chess fits perfectly with this mindset. You can play against the computer or another person, and gives the same competitive challenge as any of the major video games out today. It boils down all the skills and strategy to its most basic form, giving the player direct access to the core of player versus player mechanics. With this in mind I downloaded the most popular chess game on the android market and I was not disappointed.
To put it simply, as I was playing my first chess game in 14 years, it felt like I was playing a stripped down version of a DOTA (some call it MOBA) game like League of Legends. I saw the pawns, but their functions were more like minions: Always going forward, no special qualities, never stopping. The pieces in the back resembled Heroes with a single skill that made them powerful. These pieces like the rook and the queen moved as they liked, with zeroing in on their next kill as their only intention.
The first game was not the best game. I was slaughtered. Against a beginner level 1 computer AI, I lost in six moves. The second game did not go as well, as the computer's queen moved around the board killing 9 of my pieces in a row, with the eventual checkmate. Every time the queen ate one of my pieces I started to hear this in my head (The voice announcer from League of Legends):
"You have been slained"
"The queen is dominating"
"The queen is unstoppable"
"The queen is godlike"
"Queen is legendary"
My mental image of the queen at this point:
...and as the game went on I really felt the death of every one of my pieces to this magnificent queen. Before I would have thought "oh, the opponent just took my pawn, oh well", but now, seeing this in a different light, I can see how the queen itself individually dismantled my entire army. Just one piece brought so much havoc. I must watch out for this piece, I thought, it is dangerous. In the subsequent games that followed I was able to subdue the queen, but only to have the rook and towers pick up the slack for even more losses.
Chess is now a permanent staple of my gaming diet. I've lost 14 times since that day but the games have gotten longer and more aggressive. Pieces are sacrificed, alternatives routes get figured out, and the sweet satisfaction of taking that darn queen from the enemy is always a good feeling. As a gamer that likes a challenge, chess has now become very relevant due to today's environment. It's a perfect pickup game for your phone and tablet, and it gives you the same amount of challenge and satisfaction as other major, bigger games. If you're bored somewhere and don't feel like browsing on your phone, give chess a try. It's not for everyone, but it never hurts to try a free game.
Want another strategy game? Try Go on Android! Surround your opponents, choke them to death! Well, you get the idea...