The ponderous game of chess might not seem like an ideal candidate for quick gaming on the go, but Online Chess Kingdoms stirs in a few new twists that make it more than just a glorified travel chess set.
The marquee attraction is supposedly the persistent online world that serves as matchmaking service. Instead of a plain vanilla lobby, each server option is a different map embroiled in conflict, ranging in size from 8x8 to 16x16 boards of land. Armies, represented by five distinct sets of animated pieces, expand their territory by attacking bordering squares until one faction rules the map. Each incursion initiates a separate chess match.
Attack, and online members of the defending faith may accept your challenge. If nobody has the cajones to challenge your superior intellect within sixty seconds, you may face off against an AI opponent instead. For every win you garner prestige points that raise your online rank from mere Pawn to glorious King.
Though you can play classic matches against a live opponent, spread games out over days worth of alternating turns, or enjoy a speed chess variant that eschews turn-based rumination for fast-paced carnage, the online maps are devoid of any tactical landmarks or meta-game strategy. All it amounts to is competing swaths of color standing between you and a meaningful match-up. A stale lobby might actually be preferable to this sterile layer of pointless maneuvering and complexity.
Strange as it may seem, what saves Online Chess Kingdoms is its offline design. The story mode, with its competing factions, mana-generating cities, landmark objectives, and special powers, is simplistic and hackneyed, but infinitely more engaging. Sneak in a quick battle chess game when you've got a few minutes, take on some relatively sneaky AI opponents, or play hot potato with a nearby pal. The animated sets are cool in their offbeat way, but don't expect the second coming of PC classic Battle Chess from the unimaginative execution animations.
Newcomers to the game will enjoy better introductions elsewhere despite the handy suggest-a-move trappings, and veterans don't get any chess puzzles to tickle their fancy, but at least you won't have to worry about losing pieces in the depths of your carry-on luggage.