Chess Crusade, Warmaster Chess and No Chess

Jul 2, 2008, 8:04 PM |

The Nintendo Wii is one of the hottest gaming consoles ever and I believe part of the reason for its success is that Nintendo has been quite clever in indentifying a demand for family-friendly games that emphasize interactive fun with rather straightforward gaming. For example, one of the surprise hits of last year was 2K Plays’ Carnival Games, a title that allowed Wii fanatics to play…yes, little more than those silly carnival games we have all wasted money on at one time or another. With this ‘gaming fundamentals’ formula being its key to success, you would think it would be a relatively easy thing to bring the most classic of all games, Chess, to the Wii, right? Unfortunately, that has not been the case.

Last year, Nintendo announced - to much fanfare - the pending release of Wii Chess. Well, it bombed. Why? It took no advantage of Wii’s all too essential motion-sensitive controllers, a shocking oversight in retrospect. Likewise, the wallflower visuals were more suited to a serious chess crowd than the more playful (amateur?) audience often found using the Wii. Yet while it has the appearance of a more professional program, it lacked essential elements that a more hardcore player would look for, such as a deep analysis capability. The fact that you could only store 20 games and could not play correspondence chess only made things worse. Wii Chess was a surprisingly botched program.

But you can’t keep a good game down for long. A second Wii Chess program is on the way and is called Chess Crusade. According to, Chess Crusade has taken note of Wii Chess’ failure and is trying a different take on the Royal Game:

"The developers behind Chess Crusade seem to have gotten the message, as the game looks positively adorable. The cutesy medieval chess pieces serve to soften our embittered hearts, and add an interesting, colorful take to an often bland-looking game. What's even better is that the chess pieces actually attack each other on the board, à la Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."

However, there seems to be a potentially fatal flaw here as well as Chess Crusade lacks any online multiplayer component! What the heck?!?  That alone could doom Chess Crusade before it gets off the ground! (Really guys, if you don’t ‘get’ the game, feel free to ask a bona fide chess player for some dev help!)

Chess Crusade will be available for the Nintendo Wii and DS on July 22 and will cost $19.99 for the Wii version and $14.99 for the DS version.

The Most Hated Wargame Ever: Warmaster Chess 2000


Warmaster Chess 2000 is officially the “most hated wargame ever,” – well, at least according to Seth Owen over at Pawnderings. As he describes it, Warmaster Chess 2000 was the emergency replacement game that came with Command No. 49 when a different game fell through for that issue. Originally planned as a bonus game, Warmaster Chess 2000 suddenly found itself carrying the load for the whole issue, something it was not capable of doing. Why? Because…. 

"…the initial outing in the Warmaster Chess series was pretty lame. The essential feature of the variant was expanding the playing surface four squares in every direction, ending up with a 16 by 16 grid (256 squares of standard chess' 8x8 64-square grid. That's it. Later there were new pieces, discussed below, but the initial offering was simply a bigger board and a few rules for using it. If some of the later ideas had been included off the bat perhaps the game would have had a chance, but I suspect many, if not most subscribers, were so angry that they never even looked at the later iterations of Warmaster Chess."

Over the next four issues, Warmaster Chess 2000 would be given more chrome with all sorts of different rules. Some of them sound mildly amusing:

"The new pieces include the "Wazir/Sapper" which is a somewhat more powerful pawn and mine remover (see below) and the Uhlan, which can move in just one direction like a rook or change facing. Some new counters that are not pieces are "Mountains" which basically create an impassible square and "Land Mines" which create four potentially "mined" squares. each player places four mines (two real and two dummy) and they will destroy any piece that lands on a real mine.

New rules include "Suicide" which allows player once per game to remove one of his own pieces; "Hop-Skip which allows a once-per-game jump by a bishop or rook over another piece and "Atomic Pawn" which allows a once-per-game suicide blast by a pawn that destroys itself and all adjacent pieces….

Finally there is "Mutually Assured Destruction." With this rule each player secretly picks a counter bearing the name of a type of piece (such as Rook). If the opposing player makes a capture with that piece type the player can expend the MAD counter to destroy the capturing piece, too."

An interesting variant was called Chess Battle:

"The first variant is called "Chess Battle" which actually isn't a Warmaster Chess variant at all, but a 1933 Soviet chess variant that translated 20th century military units into chess-like pieces. The game includes Infantry, Tank, Field Gun, Machinegun, Cavalry, Fighter-bomber and headquarters pieces. The HQ is basically a chess king. The fighter-bomber (one per side) is a queen with the additional power of being able to jump over one friendly piece per move. Tanks (one per side) are rooks, but can move just 2 squares. Field guns (2 per side) move as kings but can "bombard" an enemy piece up to five squares away so long as there is no intervening piece. Machineguns (2 per side) also move like kings and can also remove an enemy piece by fire like a field gun, except only three squares away. Cavalry (2 per side) is knight-like in its moves, except it can vary the move from 2 to 6 squares. Infantry ( 15 per side) moves like kings."

This reminds me of some chess variants from ages past. For example, in 1664, Christopher Weikhmann developed what he called Koenigspiel (King’s Game). It was similar to chess, but added a larger board and created new pieces to mimic the military formations of the day. This version enjoyed mild success and was later modified by another German, of the name C. L. Helwig, in a bid to make the game even more realistic with visible terrain (albeit, still in the form of color-coded squares) and more complex rules of movement. This slow process of chess modification reached its pinnacle in 1797 when Georg Venturini developed an ultra-complex version (including a sixty page rules set!) of war chess that utilized a 3,600 square board(!) that closely replicated the terrain of the Franco-Belgium border, as well as incorporating logistics and a piece for every conceivable military formation and fortification. It can be stated without hesitation that Venturini developed war chess to an unparalleled level of complexity and realism. Indeed, it would never be eclipsed as all future wargames would abandon the chess board in favor of more realistic terrain tables and maps.

Mr. Owen concludes with the following summation of Warmaster Chess 2000:

"Overall grade: “D” – Despite finishing strong, initial impressions counted the most and Warmaster Chess 2000 has to go down in wargame history as one of its biggest failures. For players willing to give it a fair shot – and who have an interest in chess variants – there’s some value in the game. For wargamers – and they were the audience that counted for a wargame magazine – there’s nothing worthwhile and their disappointment and anger is understandable."

Words of (some sort of) Wisdom
And last....

The European soccer (aka football) community can be as rabid as the Chess community….but the resemblance stops there. Case in point: the words of player Lukas Posolski, who once remarked:

"Fussball ist wie Schach, nur ohne Würfel." (Football is like Chess, only without the dice.)

To which sports reporter David Gordon Smith retorted:

“He appeared to be channeling Yogi Berra when he came up with this instant classic....”  Laughing

{And yes fellow hardcore chess historians, I am fully aware the some ancient Chess variants did use dice, but I doubt very much that Mr. Posolski was referencing that fact.}