Chess has been around for centuries, and is one of the most familiar board games. Most know a bit about the game, even if they haven't learned all the joys of checkmating an opponent.The vintage old game has of course spurred the creation of numerous variants which add new pieces, or alter the familiar 64-square board.One such variant is the 2005 creation of Dragon Chess, a game developed by Canadian Lex Parker.First impression, the box itself is stunning. Two dramatic coloured dragons battling. Very eye catching. It's the kind of presentation which attracts attention, and in this case the box is only the start of the good things associated with this game.Inside the box the pieces are nicely sculpted, with descent weight. Far better than the average plastic set in most department stores for sure. As an example the pawns are actual footmen soldiers with shields. However, the true gem pieces are the dragons, sitting atop a stone column with wings flared. They are big and bold just as a dragon should be.The dragons are key to this variant chess set. They move as a queen, chess' most powerful piece, but are limited in their movement to only three spaces in any one direction. Handy yes. Super powerful no. So that is a good thing. In the sense a new piece shouldn't over dominate the games.The game is played on an enlarged 10X10 core board to accommodate the dragons which sit outside the rooks, protected by two additional pawns.In addition to the larger central board a unique feature of dragon chess is two 4 X 3 square areas that are on the wings of the board.At first glance I wasn't sure the additional area would be much of a factor, but in the first game the dragons, bishops and queens soon floated out to the wings to get angles of attack. Granted rooks can't easily utilize the flanks, and the furthest reaches are rarely explored, but it adds a different feel to the contest.So is this the best variant ever? I don't think you will find that anytime you add only one new piece to the mix, so no it's not.That said it has a play style familiar to classic chess, with a little spice that even a novice player can pick up quickly. Look at some variants and the pieces are so complicated it takes a geometry degree to figure out the moves. The dragons are simple, but pesky, and add some nice offensive and defensive possibilities.This variant is a 10 on looks, presentation, a 9+ production quality. Play wise 10 for familiarity with a twist, but probably 6-7 in terms of what it ultimately adds as a variant.Still, with the ability to play classic western chess with the same set, this is a great option as an introduction to variant chess. You really can't go far wrong with this nice chess set which offers a new option in tactics.
-- CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 10, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada