Thursday, December 11, 2008

Review -- TERRAN


Sometimes the relatively new is simply a mirror of something amazingly old.
Such is basically the case with the board game Terran. Self-published by its creator Malcom Lyons in 1993, Terran appears to be a rather modern concept, at least stylistically. The pieces are bright yellow and red plastic rocket ships, with names such as Missiles, Lasers, Smart Weapons and Command Centre. The box itself shows three planets in a night sky.
One might expect the game to be some sort of war game, and in it's simplest form, it is, if you recognize chess as a game of warfare.
Terran is quite simply a chess-variant dressed up in some out of this world garb and verbiage.
That said, one shouldn't automatically turn away from Terran. The interesting thing here is that Terran mimics not the modern game of chess, but rather has a feel much closer to Chaturanga, which is considered the root game of chess. The history of the game suggests Chaturanga was played in India in, or before the 7th Century A.D.
Chaturanga has many of the familiar pieces of modern chess, albeit with somewhat different names and abilities.
The Counsellor, was the precursor of the Bishop, but moved only one space diagonally. The Laser in Terran moves one or two spaces diagonally.
In Chaturanga the elephant could jump two spaces diagonally, just as the Missile does in Terran.
The chariot (rook) in Chaturanga has two general trains of thought re its movement. Most suggest it moved as the modern rook, free ranging orthogonally on the board. But, there are some indications it was limited to only one space, much like the counsellor was. If that is indeed the case, it falls closely with the Laser in Terran, which moves one, or two spaces only orthogonally.
Some early versions of chess also had the queen restricted in its movement, and the Smart Weapon moves one one or two spaces as a Queen now does, while the Command Centre moves as the King.
Only the Knight is missing from Terran for it to be a slightly altered Chaturanga variant.
Terran does utilize a 'central star base', an extra space in the centre of an eight by eight grid, Terran plays on the intersections not the squares, which allow diagonally moving pieces to emerge on a different colour diagonal, which adds a bit of a twist, but would be better left out of the mix.
Since the pieces in Terran have movement restricted to a maximum of two spaces, the game is slower to initially develop, and requires a close-in combat strategy, since you can't mount long ranged attacks as is possible in modern chess.
That close in work takes some adjusting too for those who grew up on chess. You do get an understanding why pieces were likely adapted to longer range moves playing Terran because of the time it takes for the game to develop in the early stages.
However, there is a certain charm to Terran which comes from that sort of time spanning mix of elements. On one hand you have a game with futuristic looking pieces, and yet it plays much like a game created well over a thousand years ago. That combination makes this one worth giving a whirl, to experience the roots of chess dressed up in something more at home on Star Trek.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Aug. 20, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

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