Knightmare Chess (3rd Edition) by Steve Jackson Games, $29.95 is chess played with cards that break the rules in unpredictable ways. Some affect a single move and others change the entire game.
Note that playing Knightmare Chess also requires a working knowledge of chess, a chess set and an open mind to play. You’ll also need miscellaneous markers (small post-it notes work well) to place on chess pieces that have been altered through the effects of a card.
Knightmare Chess includes 158 cards, illustrated by artist, Rogério Vilela. Each turn, a player may play a card (which is optional), following the instructions on the card that supersede the classic rules of chess. All of the cards have clear text as to what can and cannot be done, and when they can be played. They have a number in the top right corner, indicating a cost when using the deck building rules.
For example, the card titled Evangelists allows the payer to, “Swap the positions of one of your bishops and one of the opponent’s bishops. Play this card on your turn, instead of making your regular move.”
You can easily see how a card like this could be helpful and possibly detrimental to the player who uses it. It should be played at a key time, probably one that is planned, if it is played at all.
With this sort of rule-bending going on, there needs to be some jurisdiction, and there are some cardinal guidelines that take precedence over everything else.
The Checkmate Rule states that, “No regular card may directly cause a checkmate situation or capture the king.” You could play a card that changes a pawn into a knight for the rest of the game, and that knight makes a move later in the game that results in a checkmate and that would be allowed, but you can’t checkmate or capture a king directly through the play of a card. Ever.
The other rule is regarding conflicts. “When a card conflict with any other rule or the rules of chess, the card takes precedence. When two cards conflict, Continuing Effect cards take precedence. If both or neither are Continuing Effect cards, the last card played takes precedence.” There, that settles that.
The game includes variants where players build decks rather than draw cards randomly, or handicap one player over another by allowing fewer cards in his deck, and these are for more seasoned players. I look forward to joining those ranks.
So, what do I think about Knightmare Chess (3rd Edition)?
I’m impressed by the game’s history. It came out in 1996 and disappeared from store shelves a few years later. I learned of the game afterwards and wanted it, but copies were going for ridiculous prices on eBay, so I stayed away. November, 2014, Steve Jackson Games re-released it, complete with the expansion, Knightmare Chess 2, included. Not much has changed from the earlier versions, as best I can tell and I’m pleased to finally own the game.
While the cards add some random elements to chess, they are not all powerful. They do, however, destroy any strategist’s plans of what to do three or more moves ahead. Knightmare Chess makes the game one that requires adaptability and creativity that the original game of chess thumbs its nose.
I enjoy a proper game of chess and cherish the times I can bring out my tournament set and play. I’m not a great player but I am a good loser, and I lose often. Knightmare Chess is such an aberration to the pure rules of a classic game, I can understand that some people just can’t make the leap, and that’s ok. As for me, I adore the way it changes the game from intentionally foreseeable to shamelessly diverse– the way it puts players on their toes, trying to react to the unpredictable turns the game may take.
Chess purists may be offended that it perverts of the most hallowed of strategy games, but I recommend Knightmare Chess to anyone who enjoys chess and does not take it too seriously. I could even see this being a regularly played game in my circle, particularly regarding the deck building aspect.
Game components include:
158 tarot-sized cards, linen finish (this is all the cards from Knightmare Chess and Knightmare Chess 2)
4-page instructions sheet
2 blank cards, so you can create your own mayhem on the chessboard.
ARIF Game rating: Retry.
I’ll definitely be playing this one again. If you halfway dig this theme, I encourage you to buy it now, before it goes out of print again.
As a side note, I noticed Gary Gygax is credited as being a play tester for the original game. Cool.