On this page we review some other chess products which are suitable for beginners.
LEGO® Chess is an ideal introduction to chess for young children. Using animated characters from the Pirates and Western LEGO® themes, it starts at the beginning with a detailed tutorial explaining how the pieces move and how pieces are captured. The tutorial is well structured, with a comprehensive index and is presented at a suitable pace for beginners. The examples are interactive and are presented with animated puzzles and tests along the way to check that the lessons have been properly learnt. Certificates are awarded for successful achievement at various points. A widely used technique to help develop logical thinking is just to play with the Pawns and Kings. This variation, which is often omitted in more advanced programs, is included as a simple exercise in how the pieces move.
In the games section you play against the computer using Pirate, Western or traditional chess pieces. Games are played either on a 3-D board which can be tilted and rotated to change your viewing angle or on a standard 2-D board. Each capture is celebrated with a short, amusing, film sequence, which adds to the fun! The level of difficulty can be adjusted, but it is not particularly high even at the highest setting. Beginners should have no difficulty winning a few games.
There were many other points which are particularly good for beginners. When you select a piece to move, all the squares it can move to are highlighted. Also, any of your opponent's pieces which can be taken start to jump up and down. This ensures that no possible moves are overlooked. However, we found that the 3-D board could not be tilted enough to see all of the board at once. Also, during each move the camera position zooms in to the action and then out again. The animations, which are amusing to begin with, can become a bit repetitive and annoying later on. While this all adds to the dynamism and fun of the program for young children, it is not really conducive to the detailed concentration necessary once you get beyond the stage of just moving the pieces about. Fortunately, none of these problems applies to the alternative 2-D board and we think that players will naturally graduate to using this.
To begin with you are allowed to change you mind after selecting a piece to move and then choose another one instead. However, for more advanced players there are many options which can be switched on or off. For instance, there is an option to enforce the "touch move" rule used in all serious chess games. Other options include naming the chess squares, showing moves in chess notation, and playing over the internet against other players. The commentary is presented in a distinct American accent. For the international audience a choice of accents would be an advantage. Perhaps the makers could think of this for a future version.
Overall, LEGO® Chess is an excellent introduction for complete beginners and is suitable for children up to around 10. However, we think that most children who develop an interest in the game will progress quite quickly to playing real games or to a more powerful chess program.
LEGO® Chess is distributed by Focus Multimedia on CD-ROM and retails at £9-99 in the UK. This review was written in response to an invitation by Focus Multimedia to comment on LEGO® Chess. LEGO is a trademark of The LEGO Group.
Review Date: December 2003