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Type: Two-player abstract tactical piece-taking
Designed by: Unknown (lost to time)
Luck factor: None
Description: Two players alternate moving pieces, with different movement and attack patterns, around a checkerboard to try to threaten the opposing side's king.
On a checkerboard of eight by eight squares two players engage in an abstract tactical battle. They each have 16 pieces of six different types. Each has a certain simple movement pattern unique to it.
On each turn, a player moves one, and only one, of his pieces. (There are a couple of exceptions to this, but they are beyond the scope of this interview. There are plenty of places to learn about Chess anyway.)
These are the pieces in the game:
Moving a piece into the same space as an opponent's piece "captures" it, removing it from the game and so reducing its owner's arsenal. No piece may move through another, which sometimes creates instances where one's own pieces limit movement and capturing options by getting in the way. This is especially the case at the beginning of the game, where the line of pawns at the front of each player's army block the attacks of the more-powerful pieces behind them.
The king is a weak piece in movement range and attack potential, but it is of great importance because its loss means losing the game. In practice the king is never actually captured; the game ends when it gets in a situation of inescapable danger.
The emphasis, thus, is not to capture the king through opponent error, hoping he does not notice a threat. Instead it is on engineering situations, covering escape routes and pinning down defenders. This emphasis on situations, creating and surviving them, as opposed to meta-game distractions, is an important distinction for serious gameplay. Chess enthusiasts take this to unequaled heights.
The various other pieces have their own movement styles, and studying how they interact and comparing their value is the core of the game. Ultimately chess is a game of tactics, of the worth of individual moves, but a good strategic sense of the game can greatly expand one's options.
If you're making a tactical wargame, then you can't go wrong from making a study of Chess, to which they owe a great debt. To pick a simple example: many video wargames give players a unit whose loss means immediate loss. Most of the time this unit is like the king in Chess -- fairly weak and so best left off the front lines.
Much has been made lately of the great strides made by computer chess programs. Their greatest strength is providing an immensely strong tactical machine, being able to search for strong moves by brute-force computation rather than human insight, but the sheer number of moves a tactics engine would have to examine to exhaust even a simple situation means that, even now, the best chess programs make use of heuristic, strategic play as well.
Another great advantage possessed by these programs is having a vast database of pre-considered situations to work from, histories of pre-played games stored in a database. This is of the greatest value at the beginning of a game, in which the situations encountered are common to many different games.
It has been observed that Chess has become somewhat mired in its vast history of play. Most multiplayer computer games, when you come down to it, have game-breaking strategies that become evident only after a lot of study. A key aim of the multiplayer game designer is to minimize the chances of this, which is difficult without the benefit of an extensive play history to study. No game has as extensive a play history as Chess; it is probably the most studied game in the world, and has innumerable lessons to teach.