I am not sure if any board game in the world has inspired more game developers to try to improve on, change, twist and alter than has chess.
It is likely a combination of factors, ranging from the sheer age of chess, it has been around for centuries, to the fact it is so widely available with sets on store shelves from specialty gaming shops to many corner convenience stores. As a result of chess' age, and availability, people are generally aware of, and have at least some general knowledge of the game. That has inspired change.
In some cases the evolution of chess has been dramatic, with a variety of new pieces added. In other cases the shape or size of the board has changed. It is the latter category where Beyond Chess fits.
Created in 2006 by game designer David Crockett, Beyond Chess works on a rather simple premise, chess becomes a different game if the board on which it is played changes. In this case Crockett has come up with a system where the board is not a static configuration, but rather changes not only each game, but changes with each move.
The mechanics is brilliantly simple really. The designer took the traditional 64 square board we are all familiar with, and made it modular. Each of the 64 squares is an individual piece.
Initially the pieces are laid out to look like a normal board, although there are options in the rule book to create some alternate starting patterns too.
The pieces are a standard chess array, and they are placed in their traditional spots to begin play.
From there play begins with each player moving a piece as they normally would, and after their move they get a second move, this time sliding a single game board piece one square in any direction.
Only vacant squares can be moved, with the exception of moving a square with one's own pawn on it. That special combination move is termed Gereting, and constitutes both your piece and square shift for the turn.
Board squares can only move to open areas, (no stacking squares), and they must stay in contact with the rest of the board by at least a corner connection, so you cannot completely isolate a square to make it unaccessible.
While you cannot isolate a piece from the rest of the board, it is possible to move squares in such a way that a playing piece is immobilized, and thus not able to move. Of course a player can also work to shift the board back to release that piece as the game progresses too.
Beyond Chess creates a couple of unique aspects to the game of chess. To begin with you have to begin to look to strategies within the ability to move the board pieces, calculating what you want to do with the mechanics, and anticipating what the opponent is up to in terms of creating the lay of the land so to speak.
At the same time, regular chess strategies are out the window here for the most part because the game board movement makes them obsolete.
In many instances long term planning is very difficult in the environment of Beyond Chess based on the increased variables. That results is a game which is more reactive in nature. You have to rely on short term planning, one, two, maybe three moves ahead at most, yet maintain the flexibility to alter that plan should things change from what you anticipated.
The game is much more move and respond in nature, than traditional chess which can be rather methodical in nature given the extensive written material out there on set strategic approaches.
You can purchase extra board pieces too, allowing you to play a game such as Omega Chess (on a 10X10 board) adding on the Beyond Chess board mechanic. That is a nice touch, and one I will have to look into since I do enjoy larger board variants.
The pieces, both chessmen and board sections, are well-made, and they come with a serviceable nylon carry bag, and a storage box that is a moderate size. All are nice touches.
Overall, Beyond Chess adds something to the game of chess, making it a fresh experience. It will never completely replace the original, but it is a rather ingenious way to mix things up on occasion.
Check it out at www.beyondchess.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 24, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada