51 Shades of Geek

Star Wars Chess

Star Wars ChessOrder this gameThe Game: Choose either the Dark or the Light Side of the Force and battle enemy forces in this galactic version of chess that takes place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. (Software Toolworks, 1993)

Memories: In the late ’80s, Interplay’s Battle Chess reinvented the computer chess genre. In Battle Chess, each chess piece was portrayed by a character on a three dimensional chessboard. The game followed the same rules as the classic board game – the only difference being when one piece captured another, it was visually portrayed on screen through light-hearted animations. Characters clobbered one another in humorous ways throughout the game, and the game’s sense of humor along with its stunning graphics and animation launched an entire wave of similarly styled chess games.

Star Wars ChessOne such game was Star Wars Chess, by Software Toolworks. Like all the other Battle Chess clones (Terminator 2 Chess, Cyber Chess, Chess Maniac Five Billion and One, etc), Star Wars Chess replaced standard issue chess pieces with recognizable characters, this time from Lucas’ franchise. Each side (light and dark) has unique characters: Luke and the Emperor serve as kings, Princess Leia and Darth Vader act as queens, an army of R2 units and stormtroopers represent pawns, and so on. Although the game’s graphical mode is quite dated, the characters themselves are quite detailed and gamers should have no problem recognizing their favorite trilogy characters.

Most graphical chess games suffered from a few common problems, and Star Wars Chess is no exception. The first problem is that, while it is simple to tell what chess piece a character represents before the game starts, after pieces begin moving it becomes more difficult to remember. Is Chewbacca a rook or a knight? What about Boba Fett, or Tusken Raiders? Chess taxes your brain hard enough without having to constantly try and figure out which piece is what!

Star Wars ChessA second problem Star Wars Chess seems to have inherited from Battle Chess is painfully slow load times. When one piece takes another, first the animation of one piece walking is loaded and displayed, then the animated fight scene must be loaded and displayed, and finally the AI must make its next move. (Also worth noting is that each “capture” only has one animation, taking the cutesy animations from entertaining to boring in light speed.) Chess isn’t known for being a particularly fast-paced game, but Star Wars Chess moves like space-molasses, especially while waiting for the computer to move.

And speaking of the game’s AI, it’s not particularly good. Even moderately experienced players should have no problems making bantha poo-doo out of the computer’s defenses. Star Wars Chess does support two-player mode, but you’ll have to have to find another die-hard Star Wars fan with a lot of free time on his or her hands to complete even one full game.

Star Wars Chess is only recommended for die-hard Star Wars fans who are also computer literate. It’ll take some work to get this game to run on modern computers. The game refused to launch under Windows XP, and I had to install DOSBox (a DOS emulator) and spend several minutes configuring it to get Star Wars Chess to work. The game 1 dime - ouch!ran so slowly that I often thought it had locked up, and the game’s interface is so sparse that I had trouble figuring out what piece I had selected, or occasionally which side of the board I was playing.

The Force is not strong with this one. Not even a little bit.

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