I am not a chess nut and, while I do enjoy playing, I'm not going to win any tournaments. Interplay's U.S.C.F. Chess may change that. After going through the tutorials included in the game, I beat a computer at chess for the first time I can remember. Not only is the tutorial great, but U.S.C.F. Chess is the only chess program licensed by the United States Chess Federation and the only chess game that can give players an official U.S.C.F. National Rating valid at sanctioned tournaments.
The 'Chess Mentor' (the tutorial in the game) not only teaches you the rules and strategies of the game, but it also helps you understand the logic behind the strategy. Beginning players can use the Mentor to learn the basics of the game, while intermediate players can hone their abilities using a library of over 300,000 opening moves and recommended strategies.
Even advanced players will find a challenge -- you can select timed play against the most advanced artificial chess intelligence ever created for the home computer or play live against a friend via a network or modem hook-up.
The interface in U.S.C.F. Chess is deceptively simple. Starting a standard game is as easy as running the game and the drag-and-drop interface for play is very intuitive. There is a lot of power hidden behind the simple interface, though. You can rotate the board for different views, switch between a 2D and 3D view of the board and bring up help windows for everything from legal moves and game history to the interactive mentor.
The Mentor is what makes this program so useful for beginning and intermediate players. It guides you step by step through the game, giving you comments on the moves at each stage. By using the online Mentor and the strategy guide included with the game you can easily start learning the complex logic needed to become a master chess player.
Also included is a library of some of the most brilliant chess matches in history from the library of Grand Master Tournaments. You can load each game and study the moves to see how the true masters of the game play. U.S.C.F. Chess even supports the standard PGN (Portable Game Notation) format for chess data files so you can download game information files off the Internet and replay recent tournament games on your computer.
The other unique feature is the ability to get an official U.S.C.F. ranking. Simply create a new player file and challenge the computer opponent to several games. The computer measures your skill and will print a certificate with your ranking, which is accepted in national tournaments.
The graphics in U.S.C.F. Chess look great -- both the 2D and 3D boards and pieces are detailed and moving the pieces is very smooth. The only problem I had with them is the resolution choices for the game -- it will run either windowed or full screen, but it is limited to a resolution of 640x480. This is disappointing. Since there are no complicated animations, there is no reason not to support higher resolutions.
The sound in the game is simple but well done. There are audible notifications for the movement of game pieces and check, but that is about it. Anything more would have been distracting -- this is one game where a lack of audio is a good thing.
Windows 95, Pentium 90 or faster, 2X CD-ROM drive, 16 MB RAM. Multiplayer play is supported via serial connection, modem or network. Network play requires an IPX or TCP/IP network.
U.S.C.F. Chess is fantastic for both beginning and advanced players. Its in-depth tutorials will teach new players the basics and skill chess enthusiasts will find the computer a challenging opponent. With the ability to play across a network or the Internet, you have a top-notch package that is hard to beat.