So bad it’s good: You should be playing Really Bad Chess

What is it?

A simple yet delightful twist on the granddaddy of classic board games.

Play it if you like…

Chess (obviously), but are willing to upend the game’s conventions for extra challenge

  • Format: iOS
  • Price: Free (optional $2.99 for extra features)
  • Release date: Out now

Chess is iconic. The pure philosophy, the elegant strategy, and the modern legacy of man versus machine all combine to make chess a rarified experience that goes beyond the realm of mere amusement. This isn’t just a game. Some would call it the most perfect game ever made.

If all that sounds too fussy and fancy for you, then take a spin with Really Bad Chess. The game takes all that pomp and tradition and throws it into a blender, like a video game margarita. And just like a good margarita, Really Bad Chess is a delicious treat. And although there’s no hangover risk, winning multiple matches will leave your brain well and truly teased. 

The game is a delightful send-up of everything that makes chess kind of a drag. Namely, when you play against a machine, or just a more skilled human, they will always know the perfect move to kick your ass. And if you study the game for years and memorize all the openings and paths to victory, then chess gets boring. 

Since chess should never be dull, artist and designer Zach Gage came up with the idea of using all the game’s usual mechanics, but randomizing the types of pieces each player gets and where they go on the board. All the pieces are still confined to the usual two rows at the start, and each side still has just one king. And the end goal of achieving checkmate is unchanged. But you might wind up playing with three queens, five bishops, four rooks, two knights and one pawn. And a partridge in a pear tree.

That element of randomization means that most prior knowledge of chess goes out the window. No matter how good you are at normal chess, you have to look at these boards with fresh eyes, because threats will be appearing from unexpected places. Besides, you can’t open with a Queen’s Gambit when you have no pawns in your front line and no queen at D4. For practiced players, this means totally new strategy challenges and tests of mechanical skill that can’t be found in standard matches. For the chess newbies, this might still feel chaotic and ridiculous, but at least it’s unabashedly fun. 

I actually did laugh out loud at some of the ridiculous board states I wound up playing through. It’s still a game that demands logic and careful planning, but at least you’ll balance all that hard thinking with a smile. Whatever your relationship is to the original, Really Bad Chess is a fantastic way to experience this essential part of game history.

Really Bad Chess offers several paths to playing this irreverent board game. There are daily boards and weekly challenges. There’s a ranked mode, where the computer AI gets ever-better piece compositions as the player’s skill grows. 

The app is available for free if you just want to dabble with the concept. But unlocking extra undo moves, opening the Versus Mode, and eliminating ads will only run you three bucks. That's cheaper than a margarita!

You Should Be Playing celebrates innovative, unexpected games that belong on your radar, with a new game every Monday at 0900 PST / 1700 GMT. Follow @gamesradar on Twitter for updates.

Anna Washenko
Freelance Writer

Anna is a freelance writer who has written for the likes of GamesRadar, Ars Technica, Blizzard Watch, and Mashable. She's also created games as part of various game jams. Anna likes games about solving puzzles and/or shooting things. She wishes she could trade zingers with GLaDOS and have beers with Garrus Vakarian in real life.