Review of Knightmare Chess (3rd Edition)

 

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

Card Game Review: Pairs by CheapAss Games

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Pairs (created by James Ernest by CheapAss Games, $10) is a simple card game that hit Kickstarter.com in March of 2014 with a $12k funding goal, and it rapidly escalated to being a Kickstarter phenomenon,  raising an amazing $332k and 7,781 backers before it closed.  Of course I was caught up in the hysteria and backed it.  It was a fun Kickstarter to be a part of as it sailed past stretch goal after stretch goal, unlocking decks with different themes and art to choose from.   I backed at the $16 level, for one copy of the game in the deck theme of my choice. 

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Recently, my copy of the game arrived in the mail.  Of the 12 different themes available, I selected the Barmaids Deck, because it had beer and pretty girls on the cards.  It was a decision that made itself, really. 

Advertised as being a new classic pub game, Pairs is a simple press-your-luck game with cards numbered 1 to 10.  Players take turns drawing a card, trying not to get a pair. If you get a pair, you score points (and points are bad). You can also choose to fold, instead of taking a card, and score the lowest card in play. Folding gets you some points, but catching a pair could get you even more. 

Pairs doesn’t have a winner, just a loser. The first player to reach a target score loses, and the target score depends on the number of players.  For example, with 4 players, the loser is the first player to 16 points.

This simple game mechanic lends itself well to a game played between friends to determine who buys the next round of drinks, and being a small deck of cards, the portability makes it easy to transport and play at a bar.

How enjoyable a game is (any game) has everything to do with the people you are playing it with.  With friends, gamers or not, while having drinks after work, you will probably have a good time.  I think this game almost requires alcohol to appreciate it at its full capacity for enjoyment.  If you pull this out with your hardcore Warhammer 40k group, amped up on Mountain Dew or Monster, you deserve all the contempt you will receive. 

I am reminded of the words of the Grail Knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade “Choose wisely, for while the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you.”

Choose wisely, good gamers.  Choose wisely.

Rating: Retry – This is good. We will actively choose to play this game again, put it in our rotation and consider playing any add-ons and expansions for the game.  Retry is a keeper in our book.

 

-ML

 

Links:

The original Kickstarter for Pairs (now closed)

Official website for Pairs

Pairs on Boardgamegeek.com

Game Review–Dungeon Roll

In Dungeon Roll by Tasty Minstrel Games, $19.95 – The players are adventurers, entering the dungeon with goal is to collect the most experience points by defeating monsters, battling the dragon, and amassing treasure. Each player selects a Hero avatar, such as a Mercenary, Half-Goblin, or Enchantress, which provides them with unique powers. Then players take turns being the Adventurer, who boldly enters the dungeon seeking glory.

Each Adventurer assembles their party by rolling seven Party Dice, while another player serves as the Dungeon Lord and rolls a number of Dungeon Dice based on how far the Adventurer has progressed through the dungeon. The Adventurer uses Champion, Fighter, Cleric, Mage, Thief, and Scroll faces on the Party Dice to defeat monsters such as goblins and skeletons, claim treasure chests, and revive downed companions with potions.

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The game components are excellent, and I love the custom dice and that they matched the colors on each die to coordinate with what character is most effective against what monster (Clerics are the same color as skeletons, for example). The cards have nice artwork, the counters are thick and double-sided, and the box looks like a little (3”W x 3”L x 3”T) treasure chest and is used to store and draw from for treasure tokens during the game.

Spencer and I have played this a dozen or so times now, and it’s a simple and fun game. Playing time for two players is about 15 minutes, and only slightly more for 3 or 4 players, so it’s definitely a quick-play game, suitable as a warm-up game for something longer, or to play while waiting for other players to arrive. It also has a solo mode which plays exactly like the multiplayer, and that strength is the biggest failing of Dungeon Roll.

Playing the game is really just the player doing hand-control with his party dice vs. the monster dice he is facing, pressing their luck as far as they can without being defeated and having to flee the dungeon. There is no interaction between the players. Yes, another player rolls the monster dice each round and keeps up with what dungeon level you are on, but there is no point where a player can take an action in their turn that affects another player. You are multiple players taking turns playing a solo game, and it feels that way. The only competition at all is when you add up Experience Points at the end of the game to see who had the most and therefore won.

Still, Dungeon Roll is fast, well-themed, well made and despite the lack of interaction, it is still fun. For the price, it’s worth picking up if you play games like Zombie Dice or Cthulhu Dice, or just want a simple filler game with nice components.

We will continue to play this one, but the lack of player interaction kneecaps it severely.

Dungeon Roll
© 2013 by Tasty Minstrel Games
Designed by Chris Darden
1-4 Players
Ages 8+
15-30 minutes play time
Recommended RSP, $19.95

Game Review: NUCLEAR WAR Card Game – A Blast from the Past

Let me be absolutely transparent: This is a review that is heavily weighted by nostalgia.

I was regularly playing this game with my gaming group in the early 1980’s, before a game about blowing up millions of people to win might be considered “politically incorrect” (finger quotes mandatory). It was a go-to game to play before or after a more lengthy game with heavier strategy, and I recall we played the hell out of it and both of the expansion packs. We loved playing Nuke War.

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Surprised it is still in print, I purchased a brand new copy of Nuclear War. The box is almost identical to the copy I had in the 80’s and the cards and spinner have not changed much, either.

You read that correctly – the game has a spinner. The only other game I have played that had a spinner is Twister, where I was reaching to put left hand on green and rubbing body parts with Caroline in the process, when I was still so young I was figuring out what the body parts were for, so… huzzah for spinners!

In Nuke War, each player plays as a country, embroiled in global propaganda, where population are stolen from other player’s countries to join your own. This can only go on so long before someone launches a missile and then propaganda means nothing and the cold war is over – all countries start blowing each other up. The game’s goal is to be the last player with remaining population cards, and there are other random events that shake things up, such as the Super Germ, where 25 million people die from an epidemic.

Nuke War touted it was, “One of the few games where it is possible to have no winners (often everybody loses!).” This is true, and there were quite a few games where we annihilated each other, with no player having any remaining population. In a way, this abstract game felt real. Back in the 1980’s, we worried a lot about someone pushing The Button and starting a global nuclear war.

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Jump to now and I play the game again, 30 years later. I’m playing with a 14-year-old son. I watch him and judge his reaction to the cards, spinner and game play. To me, this is old school gaming and I am almost giddy. We blew each other up with nuclear weapons. Lo and behold, neither of us won. We destroyed each other.

It was almost on queue that my son said, “Seems like the way to win a nuclear war is not to play.”

He’d never seen the movie, War Games, (a parental failing of mine that I will soon rectify) so he arrived at that conclusion on his own. But I thought I had to get it across to him that this is ONLY A GAME. We played again.

This time, I won, but not but much – just 6 million population, after my son’s nation had final retaliation.

We played 4 more games.

He won two of them, and wasn’t very talkative during these games.

“What do you think about the game?” It was a fair question after he played six games in a row.

“Next game, let’s try to keep it to propaganda until the end; until everyone has defected from one country or another. That way, no nukes and nobody gets blown up.”

He doesn’t want to play a game where millions of people are wantonly killed. Despite myself, I am raising a boy that is better than me. I could not hope for more.  Unfortunately, the game is very dull unless you do blow each other up, but we gave a cold war only version of the game a chance.

While I won’t make him play Nuke War again, I make it a point to play games with my son and cultivate the simple enjoyment of sitting at a table and interacting with people over a game.  We just don’t do these sort of things enough.

While the theme is not politically correct, I still love the Nuke War card game

· Game: Nuclear War

· Publisher: Flying Buffalo Games

· Designer: Doug Malewicki

· Year Originally Published: 1965

· Players: 2-6

· Ages: “players of all ages” but realistically, 8+

· Playing Time: 30-45 Minutes

· Retail Price: $29.95

· Serious Game Rating: 4 of 10

· Family Game Rating: 7 of 10

· Component Quality: Excellent except for the population cards, which suck and have to be cut out with scissors.

· In the Box: 100 playing cards, 40 population cards, 1 Bomb Effect Spinner, Rules and 4 playing mats

· Expansions Available: Nuclear Escalation, Nuclear Proliferation and Weapons of Mass Destruction

Card Game Review: LOVE LETTER

The title and premise of the game, LOVE LETTER, will put most guys off but this one is worth a play, for the mechanic of the game alone, if not the theme.

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The premise of the game, Love Letter is exactly this: All of the eligible young men (and many of the not-so-young) seek to woo Annette, the princess of Tempest. Unfortunately, she has locked herself in the palace, and you must rely on others to take your romantic letters to her. Will yours reach her first?

Love Letter is a game of risk, deduction, and luck for 2–4 players. Your goal is to get your love letter into Princess Annette’s hands while deflecting the letters from competing suitors. From a deck with only sixteen cards, each player starts with only one card in hand; one card is removed from play. On a turn, you draw one card, and play one card, trying to expose others and knock them from the game. Powerful cards lead to early gains, but make you a target. Rely on weaker cards for too long, however, and your letter may be tossed in the fire!

The entire game consists of a small, 24 page rule book, 4 reference cards, 16 game cards, 13 “Tokens of Affection,” and a Red Velvet Bag with “Love Letter” embroidered on it to keep everything in.

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If you’ve hung in there, reading this review even after “Tokens of Affection,” and “Red Velvet Bag” – you’re either gay or really secure in the fact that you are not gay. It’s the indecisive men who get weird about this sort of thing. So yay you – you know what gender you are attracted to, or you are a girl and you’re always smarter than guys, anyway.

That said – this game is one of the most original, unique and subtly challenging games on the market, and it costs less than $10. It can be learned in 5 minutes and the more familiar the players are with the game, the more interesting it gets. All that, and it’s a 4-player game that takes only 20 minutes. Maybe I should have opened with that part?

Anyway, the game is remarkably challenging and fun. Designed by Seiji Kanai and published by AEG, it currently has three licensed English versions available, and then some others.

American Original: I don’t know what to really call this version, but American Original works. It is the common version of the game and the one I own, with Victorian style artwork. All components are quality and fit in the red velvet drawstring bag nicely.Love Letter-2

Kanai Factory Edition: The artwork works very well with the theme. It is a boxed version, so no red velvet bag for you, and it has extra cards so you can play for the hand of the Prince, or two different Princesses. Now, this does not change the game at all, but does allow you to flavor it to your group’s preferences.

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Some of the cards are named differently from the American Original version, but play the same and have the same effects as their counterparts in the previous version. The big difference is the Minister, who replaces the Countess.

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While the Countess card is commonly a handicap card, the Minister card can put you out of the round if your total hand of 2 cards is over 12 points (and the Minister counts as 7). In a game of only 16 cards, this can change gameplay dramatically.

Love Letter: Legend of the Five Rings Edition: Different art with a Five Rings influence, and a green velvet bag (instead of red).  It also comes in a two-piece box.

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Rogue Editions: An artifact of a good game mechanic is that someone will theme the game differently to suite their own needs or ego. Love Letter has had unlicensed “Print and Play” versions of the game done to the themes of Dr. Who, Star Wars, X-Files, Alice in Wonderland and more. If you choose one or more of these downloadable versions, consider buying a retail version of the game, so the designer and publisher are compensated for their game being ripped-off.

I admit, after playing this game over and over, I broke down and bought little plastic hearts to use as Tokens of Affection, instead of the red cubes.

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All said, even now, a year later, Love Letter remains on my go-to filler game list. Either retail version has quality components and is well worth the modest price tag. It is one of those rare games that transcends theme. It is also a great gateway game for wives or girlfriends.

If you enjoy any kind of gaming at all that involves other people, Love Letter is a win.