Chessplus: Combine & Conquer

For many of us, Chess was our gateway game: the first board game we encountered that wasn't just a Snakes & Ladders-style roll & move luckfest. Some have stuck with Chess over the years, tho' none of the current Board's Eye View review team have yet achieved the status of GrandMaster. Others among us are only occasional players. We drifted away from Chess because of its over-intellectualisation and because we enjoy being seduced by the variety and novelty of other games. That's also part of the appeal of the many 'Fairy Chess' variants: games that share the strategic purity of Chess but which shake up the rules just enough to deliver a game with novel dynamics. Cue Chessplus: Combine & Conquer...

Chessplus is played using a standard Chessboard and pieces that all correspond to those in conventional Chess. The difference is that, with the exception of the King, all the pieces are presented as halves. The pieces all move exactly as they would in standard Chess but the twist in Chessplus is that you can move a half-piece onto a square already occupied by another of your halves in order to combine the pieces so that they then move and capture according to the rules for either of the combined pieces: so, for example, a bishop combined with a knight can either move any number of squares on a diagonal or it can hop as a knight. Combined pieces can also subsequently be split, so you can choose to move just a half piece and leave the other half in situ.

This relatively small and simple Chess variant is quick and intuitively easy to learn yet it opens up a realm of new possibilities and completely changes the dynamics of the game. In the first instance, being able to move to a square already occupied by one of your pieces significantly alters gameplay and tactics. And taking our bishop/knight example, moving the combo with a knight move has the effect of switching the colour of the diagonal controlled by the bishop. The greatest effect tho' is on the pawns. The fact that any piece can be combined with a pawn makes it much easier to get a pawn to the eighth row, where it can be queened. That's why Chessplus comes with three 'spare' queens in each colour: in most games, you'll find players end up promoting one or more pawns so that they are fielding multiple queens. If you're combining to advance a pawn tho', the optimal move will usually be to get the combined piece to the seventh row where you split it and move just the pawn to the eighth row. If you take a pawn to the eight row while it is combined with another, both pieces are removed when the pawn becomes a queen, which is notably less advantageous.

For those who 'keep score' in Chess by tracking the relative values of each piece, the added dimension of combined pieces means that those pieces are more valuable than their individual components: if your opponent takes one of your combined pieces, you are actually losing two pieces not one. Combining pieces then isn't pushing your luck because there's still no luck in Chessplus but it is upping your risk level.

We've had a lot of fun playing Chessplus. Tho' the core rules are all immediately familiar from standard Chess, the change in dynamics fundamentally alters your tactics and we've found it almost invariably makes for a faster and always immersive game. Chess aficionados will get a kick out of this clever variant but it will also revive interest in Chess from those who have previously drifted away from the game. We've yet to find a negative; so there's no minus to Chessplus!

If you can't find Chessplus in your friendly local game store, click here to order direct from the publisher

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