Chess has been around for over 1000 years. Throughout that time, there have been many ways that the game has maintained its popularity. New strategies have been implemented, the board and pieces have been redesigned in countless ways, and there are a bunch of chess-themed puzzles available. Chess has been played competitively on a global level, and it has been the subject of many documentaries and even the hit Netflix series the Queen’s Gambit. No matter how popular chess gets, there are rarely alterations to the core rules of chess. That’s because there is no need. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to take the complex gameplay of chess and tweak it into a strategy RPG. If you did, you would get ChessLocke.
ChessLocke adds a twist to chess by giving special abilities to all of the non-pawn pieces. You unlock new abilities with experience points that you acquire at the end of each mission. The abilities range from upgrading pawns to freezing an opponent’s piece in place to even reviving a captured piece.
Unlike a typical game of chess, the game does not end if a king is captured. Both you and your opponent’s kings start on a throne. The goal is to capture your opponent’s throne and maintain control of it until the beginning of your next turn. Another addition to the game is walls which serve as immovable barricades. Some start in each round as permanent, and some you can summon temporarily to block your opponents.
There is a main campaign that you play through that has a total of fifty (50) missions. While the arrangement and number of pieces vary with each new mission, they all have a unique setup and each side has the same number of pieces. While it would seem that the missions would get harder as you progress, they actually get a lot easier as you acquire more experience and more special abilities.
After completing the main campaign, you get access to the dungeon. The dungeon is similar to the campaign with the key difference being that the AI starts with more pieces and starts you off at a disadvantage, so it is noticeably more difficult.
As good as the campaign and the dungeon are, they don’t distract from ChessLocke’s single biggest flaw. ChessLocke is missing the ability to play against a human opponent. As great as the RPG features are, it would be even better to test them out against another person. While I’m sure that creating an online matchmaking lobby would be expensive and time-consuming, there isn’t even a local multiplayer option, which is incredibly disappointing. The best chess AI can’t compensate for a human opponent, and it can’t, but not because they’re not good enough. It’s because historically chess AI have been superior to humans for decades. This game needs the ability to play an opponent on a similar level.
I’ve also noticed that while a chess AI is very good at anticipating every possible move that both it and its opponent can make and reacting accordingly, the AI in ChessLocke isn’t always great at anticipating your moves if you can counter with one of your pieces’ special abilities. It can play chess well, but whatever strategy it has falls apart as soon as you use a special move.
ChessLocke feels more like a proof of concept than a fully fleshed-out game. It’s a really great concept, but several things are either missing or need improvement. I hope this is not the final stop for this game and that it will continue to grow and flourish.