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Dragon Chess

Dragon Chess is a variant of traditional chess with an expanded board size, flanks, two more Pawns and introduces the exciting new Dragon piece. The Dragon piece can move three spaces in any direction. 2-Games-In-1, standard chess and dragon chess, with stylized chess pieces and a medieval castle, Dragon Chess is the only chess game you need on the Xbox 360. http://www.dragonchess.net

Lex Parker created Dragon Chess in 2005, a chess variant which mostly kept to the rules of the game aside from a couple of changes. His game is not to be confused with Gary Gygax' DragonChess, a 25-year-old complicated chess variant played along three separate boards. Parker's game still used a single board but expanded the playfield by 40 squares via an additional lane around the outskirts of the board and two smaller 4x3 wings along the sides. Two additional pawns are provided to the player due to the expanded field, but the more noticeable addition is that of the dragons, a new piece type which acts as a sort of incompetent queen who can no longer extend the length of the board as its range has been reduced to three squares. Beyond these changes, the rules of play remain the same, and anyone remotely familiar with the game of chess should have no difficulty picking up Dragon Chess.

This video game version of Dragon Chess offers the same gameplay without the bulky box to store. Unfortunately, trial players can only enjoy matches against the first of three difficulty settings giving them a most dismal AI opponent (queen to pawn, seriously?) along with a local two-player mode. The game promises that on-line multi-player will be included with an update this fall and that perhaps the low 80 points pricing is for early adopters only. This wouldn't be the first an Xbox Indie's price increased due to expanded content; Twin Blades' went from 240 to 400 points after its beefy update, so hopefully if Dragon Chess will simply bump up one level to 240 points if need be. As it is, the game already includes avatar support and an option for traditional chess play, so there's no doubt in my mind that Dragon Chess will make for a fine purchase if and when on-line support is added. Even those who don't subscribe to the liberties taken with Dragon Chess will still find the game playable under normal rules and cheaper than its Xbox Live Arcade alternatives.

I feel as though I should purchase the game myself, particularly with a potential price increase looming, but I'm struggling to find the appeal in the game as-is. Beyond the aforementioned horrendous AI, I'm not finding the game of Dragon Chess appealing. While the expanded wings are excellent at giving more leverage to bishops, they're awkwardly placed and can lead to oddities such as a pawn getting trapped in there after a capture with no means of escape. It also feels as though the expanded board would make for a dreary end game as pinning down a fleeing king can be made more difficult thanks to the expanded room to roam. The dragons themselves come across as a bit overpowered as even a short-range queen is still a queen, and I found them to completely dominate the opposition. I suspect I would end up just playing regular chess with the game, but then will anyone be buying Dragon Chess just for its standard chess game and clinging to a future promise of on-line support? Not being able to see how well the two higher AI difficulty settings fare after seeing how terrible albeit possibly intended the beginner Dragon Squire plays makes me a bit weary of pulling the trigger, too.

Beyond gameplay changes and potential future patch concerns, the biggest distraction in Dragon Chess is the graphics and presentation. While the individual pieces are well modeled, they blend far too much into the environment to make the board easily discernible during play. The darker pieces mesh into the brown squares on the board too easily, and none of the camera angles can display the action satisfactorily. Dragon Chess does indicate via a text message which piece the cursor is currently on, and the cursor itself does highlight the paths available for the selected piece, but the grungy coloring can often encourage poor choices and strategies due to an inability to perceive the board as a player should be able to see it, with the relative positioning of all of the pieces clearly defined. Although the wood grain appearance of the board may suit the theme, the way it obscures the player's pieces is not desired in the least. A game of chess should not entail a battle with the camera to see what is happening on the field.

In its current state, Dragon Chess remains worth a look due to its unique gameplay and being a fairly well respected chess variant in and of itself. However, in its current incarnation, all we have is a somewhat average chess experience limited to local competitive play or against a computer AI which the beginner level trial doesn't do well in making a competent example for single play. Fans of Dragon Chess and the original game on a budget will likely enjoy the game for the most part, but the game's true worth will only be realized if the developer can keep its fall promise which should make this video game version of Dragon Chess the game it should be.

★★★☆☆
August 4, 2010
August 3, 2010 | 80 points
Developer | Video N/A | Download

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