Genre: Board Game Developer: Software Toolworks Publisher: Mindscape Players: 1-2 Released: 1993
The first time I saw the cover for this game, I was baffled. In large letters, it says, The Software Toolworks Star Wars Chess, as if the company’s name is more important than the game’s title. I’m still not sure whether that’s really the proper name for this game, but I don’t think anyone will seriously call it anything other than just Star Wars Chess. I had never seen or heard of it before, so when I saw it on eBay, I felt the need to play it just to try something different.
The intro shows the typical Star Wars scrolling text explaining that the Rebels and the Empire declare a temporary truce and decide to fight their battles with chess (apparently there is a plot in this game), and it shows the pieces walking onto the screen, fully animated. It’s a bit disappointing that they are not animated in the actual game, but that may be a good thing considering how slowly some of them seemed to walk. The pieces are obviously represented by Star Wars characters: Luke and Palpatine as kings, Leia and Vader as queens, C3PO and Boba Fett as bishops, Chewbacca and Tusken Raiders as knights, Yoda and AT-ST robots as rooks, and R2D2 and Storm Troopers as pawns (I was disappointed that Han Solo is absent, but, oh well).
Gameplay wise, it’s just chess. Pretty much everyone knows how to play, so I won’t bother explaining it. It’s simple programming that’s been done since computer chess was conceived in the 1950s. You can change some options, like which sides are player-controlled, which side is at the top of the board, the color of the board, or whether to enable the cut scenes.
These cut scenes are the game’s saving grace. Whenever a piece is taken, an animated video clip appears showing the two characters fighting it out. These are quite entertaining and can be pretty funny, especially those involving C3PO, in which he usually wins the fight by accident. Other cut scenes include Boba Fett pulling off his jet pack and blasting flames into people’s faces, or Yoda using the Force to make people shoot themselves. I won’t spoil much else, but they are definitely worth seeing for a few good chuckles.
What kills the game, though, are the unresponsive controls. It takes a second for a piece to light up after you select it with the C button, and sometimes simply moving the cursor causes a bit of slowdown. Thank goodness this is just a chess game, though, because in an action game or something more fast-paced, this would make it unbearable. Also, when a message appears saying “check,” a few seconds from the “Imperial March” song plays, and even when you press a button to make the message go away, you can’t move the cursor or select a piece until the song fades away. This, among other instances where messages don’t instantly disappear, can grow to be very annoying.
This might be related to the fact that the game is pretty glitchy. There are times where the game will freeze when going into a cut scene and will force you to reset the game, which will especially frustrate you if you were two moves from checkmating the computer. Thankfully, you have the aforementioned option to disable the cut scenes in the option screen. I’ve also seen times where the message window didn’t go away until the next capture scene, so I was forced to see a broken pink rectangle in the corner of the screen for several minutes while I played. Sometimes the computer will take a long time to make a move and you will occasionally get a message saying, “it is not your turn to move,” when either it is your turn, or you didn’t actually press a button to prompt it. This seems quite lazy on Software Toolworks’ part, as it’s just a chess game. It’s not very hard to program it, and fixing glitches should have had priority over making the extensive cut scenes, as awesome as they may be.
Overall, the game is somewhat enjoyable, simply because it’s chess. Giving it the Star Wars theme gives it some good appeal, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this game, unless you’re a huge Star Wars fan or president of your school’s chess club. While the slowdown is usually tolerable, it’s pretty hard to overlook the game’s poor programming when it’s apparent during almost every moment you’re playing. You’re better off saving your money and just watching the cut scenes on YouTube while playing chess on a Tandy computer instead.
SCORE: 5 out of 10