Regular readers will no doubt appreciate this gamer is a major fan of games which emulate chess.
The western version of chess, at least the most widely known version has its flaws, a slight first player advantage, strategies over studied to the point there is little of anything fresh to discover on the board that is not already in a book, and the problem of players of even modestly different skill levels finding enjoyment in a game.
The idea of skill discrepancies is of course an issue with an abstract strategy game. When a game relies strictly on skill that happens, whether we're talking golf, tennis, darts or chess. It just gets worse in chess because a dedicated player can study a library full of books to learn ways to dominate.
Still the idea of two armies on the battle field, each player as a commander seeking victory based on their decisions is the great appeal of chess.
Through the centuries there have been literally hundreds of chess variants created, some like Omega Chess expanding the game in positive ways, some overly complex concoctions best forgotten quickly. It is to the point one wonders if there is anything new to explore in terms of a chess variant?
Well, Steven Streetman proved there are still some truly great variant ideas coming down the pipe with his innovative Spartan Chess, a variant which has quickly moved up the list to rival Omega Chess in my own list of chess preferences.
What makes Spartan Chess so intriguing from the start is that it pits two distinctly different army (piece) arrays, against one another.
The white side represents the Persian side. It utilizes the familiar western chess set.
The black side are the Spartans, and here Streetman has changed things up. Every piece moves differently from regular chess, from the diagonal moving hoplites (pawns) to having two kings, both of which must be captured for the Persians to win.
The idea of two distinct armies makes sense considering that is the way of war. Rarely, if ever, are opposing forces on the battlefield mirror images of each other.
The two sides also tend to level the playing field. Tried-and-true chess openings don't work, and since no one knows the abilities of the Spartans well, it equalizes things quickly.
The down side to Spartan Chess is the lack of a commercial set, which will turn some away.
In my case I had fun with the lack of a set. In corresponding with the game designer we came to a joint vision of the Persians as square pieces and the Spartans round. He made up some graphics, I got some wood cut, got out the paint and glue and soon had a really unique looking set (likely the first Spartan Chess set in the world). Since then a couple more sets were fashioned and shipped to Streetman himself, which is just very cool when you think about it.
The set is one I am proud of in terms of a crafting project, but also that it allowed me to dive into a simply great chess variant. It was a blast to play a friend at a local coffee shop a few weeks back using the set, and realizing it was probably the first face-to-face game of Spartan Chess played in Canada (certainly with a dedicated Spartan Chess set).
It is to be hoped far more chess players try this variant, it is certainly among the best-of-the-best.
Check it out at www.spartanchessonline.com
-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper March 16, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada