Power Chess is the culmination of a long history of chess games that have ranged from Radio Shack hand-held computer chess games to IBM’s Deep Blue that challenged World Chess Champion Gary Kasparov. Recent innovations in computer chess games include , a lean-and-mean, no-frills, low memory demand, strong chess engine that even displays in 3D; , a much larger version of GNU Chess with more sophisticated graphics and tools for learning chess; and then there’s Power Chess that spans two CD-ROMs and claims a chess engine (Wchess) as sophisticated and powerful as IBM’s Deep Blue. Anticipating that most of us are not Grand Master chess players, the designers at Sierra graciously created a surprisingly sophisticated audio-visual interface for every level of learner. The software provides many variations in chess boards and sets, board views, and opponents as well as an impressive archive of past games by world champions. Internet games are also available if you want to play your buddy across town or in Leningrad. For some reason, Power Chess is outfitted with a quasi-medieval storyline even though its users are probably more interested in their game than in some hokey background literature. A veritable caste system is constructed for your royal pleasure so that you can play the king or queen, the prince, the princess, a host of nobles, or varying intelligence levels of commoners ranging from merchant to milkmaid. Ostensibly, the cast[e] of characters is fashioned after the pieces of the board—the back row comprises the court and the front line the pawn/commoners. The point at which this becomes more personal is precisely when it starts to become personally offensive.
Despite the wonderful interactive nature of Power Chess, it has some really annoying tics. When you choose to select which board and set you wish to play with, you have options for 2D and 3D, fixed board position (straight ahead view) and variable board position (from any angle), whether you want coordinates on the board or not, and your choice of boards and sets. If you choose to play on a 2D board, you have only two sets to choose from, but fourteen boards. In the 3D variable mode, you have only two boards and three sets to choose from. In the 3D fixed angle mode, you have thirteen boards and eleven sets to choose from. Whatever the reason for such discrepancies in choices, it is quite disappointing when you choose the set you like but can’t use it in your favorite mode. Arrrrgh!
Then there is the matter of moving the pieces. For some reason, the game has a predilection for misinterpreting your moves such that if you don’t put the piece exactly where the computer thinks it should be, it’ll interpret your move to another square. Well, so you can take advantage of the take back move feature, right? Not always. Against most opponents, you can take back a bad move or a misinterpreted move except when you are playing the Power King. You are notified of this in advance, but it is no consolation when through no serious fault of your own, the computer decides to interpret your piece’s move to the wrong square, destroying your game plan. Even against any other opponent, if your move is misinterpreted and the result is fatal for you, too bad -- game over! Arrrrgh!
Power Chess has some very nice-looking boards and sets, if you could only take advantage of them all in any combination. When you play the King, he advances into the room and stares at the board. Meanwhile, the Queen’s head appears out of the shadows and lip-synchs advice to you, but only after the game. It’s actually pretty cool to watch. Also, the pieces slide like wraiths across the board and punctuate a capture with an exclamatory royal trumpet call that will remind you of Imperial Margarine. And then there’s the Queen’s campishly seductive voice that sounds like she’s giving advice on your moves from a 1-900-SEX-LINE: "Oh, that was a very nice move!" This is not to say that I wasn’t impressed with the whole concept of warm vocal advice instead of cold, unequivocal text; but the overall effect was a bit smarmy.
The package comes with a manual in MS Word plus on-line help that includes an English translation ofby Aron Nimzowitsch with an introduction by international grand master Yasser Seirawan. The Sierra homepage also has further help in game play, in using Power Chess, and also provides a connection for people who want to match wits using their Power Chess Internet capabilities.
Pentium or faster, 12 MB RAM, hard drive, 2X CD-ROM drive, mouse, SVGA 640x480 @ 256 colors, Windows compatible soundcard with DAC
I've mentioned a few aspects of the program that caused me considerable angst, but if you are a chess enthusiast and want to improve your game, it also has several very attractive features: you can set the skill level of your opponent to approximate your own skill; you can set up The Lab to work through variations starting from any setup that you choose; the Power King starts from your skill level and learns how to play against you, that is, he learns your techniques and style and becomes an increasingly difficult opponent; and the Power Queen walks you through each game against the Power King, evaluating each move and suggesting better moves where appropriate. Also very useful is the Variation List View, which not only tallies the moves but provides variations or alternatives for many of the moves that you make. When all is said and done, Power Chess is a powerful tool for learning chess and a formidable opponent when the clock is ticking, especially when you decide to challenge the Power Queen.