I've had a review ready for MSF2 for months now, but I'm lazy so here's a review of an actually recent game, Chess 2: The Sequel.
"CHESS 2????" I don't hear you say, "They made a sequel to Chess?" Yes, the long awaited sequel to Chess is here, and the IP has been renewed by an indie dev, who realized that the current owners of the Chess license can't really sue them, ironically having died long ago in a massive war that resulted in the most bloody stalemate ever known.
Chess 1: The Original
Chess 2 is the result of a guy named David Sirlin looking at the mechanics for Chess 1 and going, "You know, there's not much strategy in Chess anymore. It's all memorization, there's no random elements to have to deal with." And he's right. With every single goddamn move having a name such as the "Queen's Gambit," the "Shinji Triple-Flip," and the "Old Spice Presents Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson's Rook Move," all you really gotta do to play chess is memorize every single move that your opponent might do, and just do the move that counters it, until you draw. And trust me, you will draw. I'm looking at some charts right now, and though I'm not actually aware of what they're telling me, they don't look good.
Chess was a game you played as a kid with your parents and you had fun because you were a dumb kid and they let you win. You played with your friends, and they didn't know about all these openings, and neither did you. Then someone bought a book on how to play Chess, and someone else bought two, and then five, and then there are stacks and stacks of how to play Chess books and it's not fun anymore. It's work. Optimizing out any sort of actual strategy by using what other people have done, over and over again, it is no longer a game. People say Chess is a perfect game, and maybe at one point they would've been right. That point was long, long ago.
What's new in Chess 2
Chess 2 was the result of Sirlin trying to add randomness and asymmetry to Chess, and in my opinion he succeeded. Right away, games are a lot faster and action packed by a new way to win, called midline invasion. If your king crosses the middle of the board, you automatically win. Immediately, this means that the king is in play a lot more than Chess 1, which means actually taking risks. You can be checkmated a lot quicker, but if your opponent isn't careful, you can win the game much, much more quickly.
Another way to add randomization is the concept of dueling. Any piece but the king, when attacked, can initate a duel. What exactly does this mean? Well, each player has a number of stones they can use to wager on their piece. You start with 3, and you gain more by destroying pawns, up to 6 total. When your piece is attacked, you can initate a duel for free if the piece is of the same rank as the attacker or higher. That is, if a pawn attacks your knight or another pawn, you can attack them for free. However, if the attacker is a higher rank than you, you need to pay a stone to start the duel. The ranks go Pawn < Knight/Bishop < Rook < Queen.
Whoever bets more stones wins the duel, and though it won't save the piece that was attacked, it will destroy its attacker as well. You are allowed to bet either one, two, or no stones. The defender can initate a duel and bet nothing, as a ploy to get the attacker to waste his stones trying to save his piece. If the attacker calls the bluff by also betting nothing, they can either gain one stone or destroy one stone of the other player. Needless to say, anyone entering a duel with no stones loses automatically.
The betting is a good idea to really make you consider how much each piece is worth to you. However, I found myself betting either zero or two stones, and not really one. As an attacker, you win any ties, so betting two guarentees you win the duel. As defense, you want them to think you're bluffing, so betting two is the best shot at actually winning. Perhaps defense betting one could work if you're sure they'll try betting zero, but as an attacker betting one doesn't really seem like a good idea, unless you want to conserve stones. I can see why the option exists, but I don't think it'll really be used.
The final, and most notable change, are the new armies introduced. That's right, there's new pieces, and no, they don't suck. While you can still use the classic army, it's the only one that can castle, and if you don't try the new guys you are boring.
So that's Chess 2. Those are the rules. Of course, you can play these with your own chessboard, and Sirlin actually has the rules freely available as a PDF, and has had them up for some time. Ludeme Games are the ones who actually made the video game version of it, so right now I'm gonna talk about the Steam release of Chess 2: The Sequel.
A modern strategy
This game's been out for a while on Ouya, but you probably didn't know that, as nobody on the planet has an Ouya. Recently it was re-released on Steam, and an iPad release is also planned. So, what's the digital version offer?
Online. That's the big thing. Instead of the usual Chess ELO ranking number, which starts at some arbitrary number and goes from there, Chess 2 starts your ranking at 0 and has you work your way up. That's nice, and it feels more like progression then if I saw some number starting in the thousands slowly fall down, because I am bad. The game offers cross-play with the Ouya version, which is nice but pointless, because NO ONE ON THE PLANET HAS AN OUYA. At the time of this writing, however, there isn't a friends option, which is startling considering the time gap between the two releases. Is this a really hard thing to implement? The developer has stated it's coming, but that's some basic shit! There isn't a hotseat option either, but if you're playing hotseat Chess on the computer, there's a bigger problem
Obviously, Chess 2 can be played with a real chessboard, but the digital version has very nice designs for the different armies. I can just picture playing Chess 2 in real life, constantly trying to remember you can't capture that rook because it's not actually a rook, it's a ghost. By moving the camera directly above the board, the pieces become 2D sprites, which is nice to keep track of everything, as it might get a bit cluttered. Soothing classical music plays throughout. It's a relaxing experience.
Which is why I'm disappointed by the price point. This game is a full $25. I got it at launch on sale, for $21, which was still crazy considering I can just pull out a real fucking chess set and use that. I bought TWO COPIES, one for Jerry, because it was his birthday and I figured we could play together. Sadly, this isn't the case right now. Ludeme would be smart to offer a physical version of the chess pieces they designed for the digital version, because I would buy those in a heartbeat. I can only imagine the price comes from the fact that the Ouya version (from what I could tell,) was free to play, and earned money by using microtransactions to use the online services. Considering the total lack of Ouya players, I can understand they might charge a bit more on the Steam release. But this is a game made from freely available rules to be used on a common board. Until friends capabilities are added, don't go for it. When that's added, when the price goes down, then I'd say go for it. But until then, I'd say taking photos of your own board and using email might be a more strategic option.