Play Magnus App Review

Play Magnus App Review

95 | Fun & Trivia

Review by Christine VanCott

Play Magnus is a free chess smartphone app available for Apple iOS (and recently) Android. It includes 99 game levels, training videos, and an interactive tournament feature.

The app runs quickly and smoothly on both iOS and Android, and combines an easy-to-use chess game with social media elements. 

As its Facebook page explains, it's Magnus Carlsen "doing [his] part to help spread chess to more people around the world."

The chess game in the app is beautifully designed and easy to use. There are a few settings you can select: sound effects, showing legal and last moves, and the choice of seven languages.

For the most part though, the chessboard is straightforward and smooth to use. You select your playing level based on Magnus Carlsen's age, and the app touts a custom chess engine designed to play like Carlsen himself.

The virtual Carlsen throws down the gauntlet with playground-like taunts: "I'm only 9, don't be afraid."

Even his training introduction video excites competition: "Here you can gain some tips and tricks...and maybe even beat 10-year old me." (Was that followed by an unconvincing snort...or am I reading too much into that laugh?)

By "beautifully designed," I mean the app is slick, professional, and visually pretty. It's clean, has modern colors, minimalist fonts, and photos straight out of a fashion magazine.

Read the credits, and you'll discover it actually is sponsored by G-Star RAW.

There's no escaping that the app was created with an audience in mind, not just a game. So the branding begins -- literally putting the face of Magnus Carlsen on the game of chess.

To play, you select his cartoon head at any given age. Each level features a black-and-white caricature of the grandmaster: a pirate theme for age 6, pimples at age 13, casino cards at 21, and James Bond opening credits for age 22, et cetera.

You're not just playing his rating, you're also playing against his favorite openings and style, at that age. Play Magnus CEO Kate Murphy explains:

"The chess engine is designed to play like Magnus – in fact, the creator of Stockfish is the same developer who developed our engine. He spent months inputting every single recorded game Magnus had ever played into the engine from the age of ten. So, when you play Magnus in certain years – and even certain months – he will open and play in the same way he had played during that year. When you use the month selector tool, from age 8 – 14, even the months are broken down. The algorithm plays in a similar style that Magnus would as well when he’s out of book. His end games are also built into the engine. It’s the first time that anyone has made an engine that plays like a specific person."

As with any athlete (his chosen Facebook page category) there are sponsor logos on shirts and jacket lapels alongside prominently placed bottles of water.

The social media aspect of the app is unavoidable.  Using the app, it dawned on me: "so this is what young people are doing on their smartphones all the time."

The app links to Facebook and Twitter (where you'll find his YouTube videos), as well as G-Star RAW's website. If you win a game, you'll have the option to "share your victory," even comically adding your profile photo side-by-side with Carlsen's cartoon head.

Some very good players have even shared their losses:

You can vote in the online poll for which caricature should accompany Level: Age 24 (Carlsen's birthday is at the end of the month), and enter the "Live Challenge" competition, vying with contenders all around the world for the chance to actually play Carlsen live.

Carlsen says the app has something for everyone "from beginner to expert," and the training section begins with what is probably the most over-qualified introductory chess lesson of all time.

"The Rules of Chess" (for the absolute beginner) feels surreal as you hear the world's best player himself patiently describe how to move a pawn.

The Play Magnus app is free for now, but the need to unlock several features and the "premium" ad-free version makes me think it may not always be. Carlsen promises surprise new content: appearances, updates, and more lessons.

The app is a nice place to spend some time on your smartphone. The games are fun, though I'm sure the fact that it plays like Magnus Carlsen and not just any incredibly talented 10-year-old may be totally lost on anyone but the very elite.

Is it compelling to put a real name on your opponent? Yes.

Is it giving chess a young and modern icon? Oh sure.

However, if your rating is anywhere close to teenage Carlsen's, you'll probably roll your eyes at that pimply cartoon head every time you have to click it. Considering that Carlsen became a GM at age 13, you'll have to be very good to beat the virtual him.

What do you think of the Play Magnus app? Let us know in the comments.

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