Battle Chess 2: Chinese Chess logo

Roughly two years ago, Electronic Arts thought it would be a nice idea to add some new spice to one of the oldest games in the world: chess. This they did in the form of Battle Chess, an animated action-version of the old masters' fave. Now they have turned their attention to a little-known variant of the game: Chinese chess, and revitalised this too.

This version features many of the qualities that made Battle Chess such good fun: there's the ubiquitous modem/serial link, for playing head-to-head games long distance; you can load and save games at any stage in their development; there are nine different ability levels, giving scope for newcomers and grand masters alike and, of course, there are the detailed death sequences, which is the game's main attraction.

Several new features have been added, just to show that EA aren't slacking. For instance, there are no less than four versions of the board, a 3D, two 2D and a 2D window on the main 3D screen. Byusing these it's a lot easier to clarity where pieces are located, because the 3D board has a habit of obscuring your view.

Music has been added, with a tune for each piece. These are quite cute at first, as their Chinese-style koto sounds are atmospheric and appealing. However, the smaller number of pieces means you get to hear them more often than is healthy. A tad repetitive, once the initial buzz has worn off.

Samurai strategy
The game of Chinese chess itself has been well-implemented, and follows the rules exactly (as you'd expect). It's a good deal different from chess, and unless you know how to play it you're going to be spending the first 10 or so games just getting your head around it.

Kings cannot move more than two spaces from their start-point; queens and bishops are replaced by counsellors and ministers which have more restrictive movement patterns and the knights can no longer jump, this is left to the cannons. Well, they don't actually jump, they just lob cannon balls over the heads of other pieces to move around the board.

All in all, the game is more ruthless and barbaric than chess. Pieces are traded a lot earlier and because there are fewer pieces the whole game is generally quicker to play. It's difficult to learn the game and cope with the obscured 3D at times, and this is where the 2D window really comes into its own. There's even a selectable help mode which highlights all the legal and illegal moves that pieces can make, to really spell it out if you're unsure.

Slow boat to China
The animations are similar in style to those in Battle Chess, and sadly, they suffer the same drawbacks too. Disk-loading is triggered every time a piece is taken, because the animation has to be loaded into RAM. This is a real pain for floppy-drive owners, but hard-drive users can install the game to speed this aspect up dramatically.

The animations themselves are attractive and often highly amusing. Each piece has its own attack and defence sequence against each other piece. Obviously, there are a finite number of possibilities, but only the most frequent ones become boring.



Battle Chess 2: Chinese Chess logo

Anno '88 sorgte der Vorgänger für Aufsehen: Die Amigianer waren von dem exquisit animierten Schachprogramm begeistert! Die BPS weniger, sie setzte das Spektakel kurzerhand auf den Index. Mittlerweile ist es wieder freigegeben - beruhigend für den Nachfolger...

Electronic Arts fährt nämlich auf der gleichen Schiene weiter, nur daß hier in der Fernost-Variante "Chinese Chess" gemeuchelt wird.

Ein knappes Jährchen nach der PC-Premiere sind die exotischen Figuren, etwas befremdlichen Zugmöglichkeiten und das leicht veränderte Brett nun also auch für die "Freundin" zu haben.

Letztlich geht es natürlich immer noch darum, den gegnerischen König mattzusetzen, alle übrigen Regelerläuterungen und ein paar strategische Hinweise finden sich im Handbuch.

Die Präsentation ist mal wieder gelungen: Hübsch gezeichnete Figuren marschieren unter martialischen Klängen zum neuen Standort; beim Schlagen kommt es zu Kampfanimationen, die nach wie vor mit einem beinharten Gag enden.

Die Titelmelodie ist schön, FX wie Pferdewichern sind ebenfalls vorhanden. Gezogen wird mit der Maus, auch sind allerlei schachübliche Optionen wie Zugrücknahme, Level- und Gegnerwahl (Mensch bzw. Maschine), oder eine 2D-Draufsicht im Angebot.

Battle Chess II macht also spaß - fragt sich nur, wie lange. Wer erstmal all die witzigen Animationen kennt, wird bald über schlechte Übersichtlichkeit, lange Wartezeiten und schließlich Langeweile klagen.

Da sich die Spielstärke für einen Mitteleuropäer schwer beurteilen läßt, können wir das Game bedenkenlos nur den Einsteigern ins asiatische Königsmorden empfehlen. (jn)



Battle Chess 2: Chinese Chess logo

A chess game with snazzy animated graphics? Well, yes. But...

The original Battle Chess made a name for itself as one of those programs you buy so you've got something impressive to show your friends. As a chess game per se it wasn't really up to much, but the (optional) 3D view of the board with its little figures going through their pre-set battle routines when any piece took another one was cute - in look at least, the game was half way towards being the hologram version they played in the Star Wars flick.

A nice thing to own then, but of really of little more than novelty value - two years ago, when it was first released, defeated pieces going through 'amusing' little expiration routines involving the bishop's head falling off (or whatever) were enough to have us rolling in your swivel chairs with mirth, but these days we're less easily pleased, and a second Battle Chess game would have to deliver something rather more.

Electronic Arts know this of course, and have gone to some pains to make Battle Chess II a very different proposition to the first game. For a start, and most obviously, they've based in on Chinese chess, which is a very different game, with different pieces, different moves and even a river flowing down the middle of the board!

They've also made sure you can play the game in straight overhead view mode too, with little counters instead of animated sprites - ideal for when you're bored with the new set of 'amusing' graphics and want to actually get down to playing the game.

They've succeeded too - Battle Chess II is a very different game, it's just not a particular good one.
Problem number one: clever little graphical routines are no longer novel, and while these are different to those in the first one, they're still really only 'okay'. They can be painfully slow too - in normal use each graphical routine takes so long for the disk to access that by the time it's finished you'll have forgotten why you made the move in the first place - though this is less of a problem once you've installed the thing on a hard disk.

Problem number two: Chinese chess itself isn't that interesting - you'll have no trouble working out why it's never really established itself outside of the mother country. It's nowhere near as flexible and challenging as 'proper' chess, and most people's total unfamiliarity with the pieces makes it off-putting to get into.

Problem number three: The software is all over the place. It's hard to get pieces to go where you want them, and trying to use the 'suggest move' option is a nightmare. I played the computer and asked it for some advice, and the bloody thing beat me in three moves. Do you know what it's like to be taken in and cheated by a piece of software? (If you spend £26 on this, you'll find out soon enough).

No, sorry EA, but this just doesn't cut it. If you want to play an alternative game of chess, we still suggest you try Exocet's excellent Distant Armies.



Battle Chess 2: Chinese Chess logo CU Amiga Screen Star

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The game of chess actually dates back to the seventh century. Starting in India (and originally called Chaturanga) it spread through the Far East and into Europe to become the challenging, one-on-one war-game which we know today. On its way through China, however, chess took on a different shape and style to that of its more Westernised counterpart, reflecting the more philosophical culture of that part of the world. Battle Chess II is a simulation of this version.

Played on a 9 X 10 square board with the centre parted by a river, the aim of the game is the same as the more universal form of chess - to beat your opponent by placing his King in a checkmate position.

Each player has a King, two Books, two Cannons, two Knights, two Ministers and five Pawns with which to do the job and, in much the same vein as International Chess, each piece has a limit on the direction and amount of squares which it can move. The game ends when either player takes the opposing King or places him in a stalemate situation, where the player has no legal moves available.

Chess has always been a relaxing computer pastime. Battle Chess was one of the first to appear on the Amiga, and was critically acclaimed for its unusual graphical slant and, more importantly, its ability to play a damn good game of chess.

Battle Chess II - Chinese Chess is, basically, more of the same but with an unusual board and different pieces. There are the usual difficulty levels and the like, and once you're into the program the computer plays a creditable game of what is, after all, a rather unusual pastime.

The humorous graphics which made the original stand out from the crowd are here in all their Oriental glory, complete with lots of fine animation and hilarious touches, such as various pieces scratching their noses if too much time is taken to make a move. Obviously, chess of any sort isn't everybody's cup of tea, and most gamers would much rather blast away at something rather than sit and sweat over that last dodgy move.

But if you fancy something just a little different, which is good to look at and, more importantly, taxing on the little grey cells, there are far worse games available than Battle Chess II.


THE PLAYERS
  • PAWN - Can move a single square forward at a time until crossing the river, after which left and right movement is also allowed.
  • ROOK - Can travel in horizontal direction, any amount of squares.
  • CANNON - Moveable as far as is desired either horizontally or vertically. Must first jump over one piece before capturing another.
  • KNIGHT - Can move one square left, right, forward or backward, followed by one square diagonally left or right. Can only move if its way is unhindered.
  • MINISTER - Moveable two squares diagonally. Cannot cross the river.
  • COUNSELLOR - Can move one point in any diagonal direction within the Imperial Palace.