Chess remains a board game which does possess an aura above most other games which are out there. The game has an ancient history, and because of the depth of strategy, and the level of skill which can be achieved in chess, a world ranking system, and local and international tournaments are held. All these factors, while not completely unique to chess, do place the game in a rather special light.
Of course the same popularity over what is literally centuries does mean the game is extremely well-known, with games between good players often coming down to a match of textbook moves. That can lessen the enjoyment of the game for many players, especially those who want to really study the game, and are skilled at memorizing the tomes of material written in terms of chess theory.
There are however alternatives which allow people to experience chess in new ways, ways that are not yet heavily analyzed and written about. What we are talking about here are chess variants, and there are many.
One of the most interesting of these is Omega Chess. This is an alternative chess game which was developed by Canadian Daniel MacDonald in 1992. So this one is a relative newcomer to the scene.
The game is available in a solidly made set. The pieces, while a plastic of sorts, have a nice size, and more importantly a good weight, that enhances the tactile feeling of moving the pieces. You get the feeling you are playing with a very nice chess set.
The board is interesting. It is made of a sort of heavy rubber/foam, which rolls nicely for storage in a tube, yet rolls back out flat, without wrinkles. It too has a nice weight, so if you play on the patio, or out in the park, it won't blow away with the first light breeze.
So what about the game itself? What makes Omega Chess worth our interest?
Well to begin with the game is played on a 10X10 board, as opposed to the traditional 8X8, which in itself changes the game.
However, the real innovation comes in adding two new pieces to the mix, both which have the ability to jump, a technique previously confined to the knight only on a chess board. The two new jumpers balances out the game between sliding pieces, queen, bishop, rook and now the jumpers; knight, champion and wizard.
The champion begins the game in the squares outside the rooks, filling the two additional spaces on the 10-square-wide board. It can slide one space orthogonally (like a rook), or jump two spaces in any direction.
The wizards actually start in four additional corner square, outside the 10X10 grid. It can slide one square diagonally, like a bishop, or leap like an extended knight. The wizard can jump three squares horizontally or vertically and then one square to either side.
The two new pieces are at the heart of Omega Chess. They open the game to numerous more strategies, and also mean pieces must often work in tandem to offer joint protection, rather than simply hiding behind another piece, safe from attack. The leaping pieces create the opportunity to literally jump into the fray when needed.
This game has wonderful symmetry, and when the high quality of the pieces are factored in, it really is one of the best chess variants out there, and you can still play the original version using the pieces and board, so it's a double winner.
This is a variant which deserves to be tried, and it should carve out its own following for years to come.
-- CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 4, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada