Chessrunner & more Chess Puzzle Games

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 11.42.54 AMChessrunner
Yesterday, my friend Lloyd linked me to Chessrunner (reddit thread), a web-based, chess-inspired endless runner in which you start with only a king, which you have to move forward on an endless chessboard. As you move, you can capture enemy pieces and make them your own. It’s an inspired idea, and one that apparently only took developer/creator Juha Kiili a weekend to implement (in Unity). There has been plenty of positive commentary on Reddit, and hopefully he’ll flush out the idea and (ideally, IMO), bring it to iOS.

Chessrunner’s “timer” mechanic (making it an action puzzle game) is pretty cool in that the gameboard is both expanded (from the top) and shrunk (at the bottom) one square at a time. The opposing colored pieces take one move after every one of your moves. They will ALWAYS capture your king if you give them opportunity, but they are not smart enough to trap you (yet), so surviving is really all about seeing all the attack lines. And that’s why this game really does a good job (IMO) of feeling like something you do while playing chess.

Have I been remiss?
I’ve written before about various chess-inspired puzzle games. (And of course I hope anybody reading this already knows about ActionChess, which was my first app in the app store.) But I realized when I started writing about Chessrunner that there was no way to find those game mentions! (Now there is a Puzzle Chess Games category.) And furthermore, there are several other chess puzzle type games that I’ve played over the last few years that have not (yet) been mentioned here. So I wrote up some mini-reviews:

IMG_3470Pawn’d (available for $1 on iOS, or in Lite form for free) is a chess & match-3 matchup. I had a very similar design idea for this style of game as a game mode for ActionChess, but I never really put any time into it.

Pawn’d takes the concept in a lot of different directions at once, and looks great while doing it. There are three main game modes, each designed around how the game ends, and each with two more difficult variations called “Blitz” and “Master”. Additionally, there are two introductory modes that have neither variation, one called “Practice’d” (play to a certain # of matches), and another called “Clock’d” (play to a time limit). Each of the modes has its own leaderboards, making something like 22 leaderboards in the whole app. There are also a ton of achievements. Basically, if you like this concept, you can keep playing it for a LONG time without running out of things to do.

This game, possibly more than any of the other ones listed here, is decidedly worth playing, and I’ll cop to getting sucked back into it while writing this.

Chess Tower Defense
Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 11.41.24 AMI’m fond of telling the story about how, when asked what he thought of ActionChess, my (then 8-year old) nephew Jake replied with “Could you make it a tower defense game?” I LOL’d. Well I think it was less than a year later that you could play Chess Tower Defense over on Kongregate.

It’s graphic design is quite spartan, but the concept is interesting nonetheless. You must survive waves of attacking “things”. (They are not pieces really.) The things don’t attack your pieces, but instead march methodically toward you (downward), passing right through your pawns. Your pawns (and other pieces) can attack them, in the standard directions, and if they don’t, each thing will remove one of your hearts when it gets past your back row. Between waves, you can reposition your pieces, and buy new ones. It’s an interesting concept, and one also worth spending some time playing, if only just to wrap your head around it, I think.

Knight Defense
knight-defense-screen1136x1136Knight Defense (for iPhone or iPad) appeared in the app store about another year or so later. As good as Knight Defense looks, it’s definitely less on the chess strategy end of the spectrum, and closer to the tower defense end. It’s all real-time, so there is no turn based aspect, and you can move your pieces all over the board at will during the game. In each of the squares your pieces could attack in a real game of chess, those pieces may damage enemy pieces. Like other tower defense games, Knight Defense is played in waves, during which enemies will appear at the top of the screen and move toward your king piece, wherever he might be on the gameboard. Though they are shaped like chess pieces, the enemies don’t move or attack like chess pieces, there just run into whichever of your pieces are in front of them, and “damage” them, eventually destroying them. Your pieces can be upgraded to do more damage at once, and to heal them once they’ve themselves been damaged. This is worth playing for chess fans, (especially so for those of you who already enjoy Tower Defense), but it’s not necessarily at the top of my list.

Cheesy Chess
cheesychess_screen1024x1024Cheesy Chess (free with ads for iOS) is not turn-based or action-puzzle at all. It’s more of a static puzzle game where the goal of each level is to get your king to the other side of a small chess board filled with pieces but for one square. In as much of the game as I’ve seen, there were no captures, only moving pieces around in a very cramped and crowded grid. This felt to me like a chess-themed version of Rush Hour (a sliding block game). Admittedly, I’ve played the least of this game. The mouse chess theme is super cute though, and it’s very well-made.

Pit Chess / Recent Addictions

On Friday, my game designer friend Patrick alerted me to a post over at Play This Thing about Pit Chess. You can play Pit Chess on Kongregate, and it’s essentially a cross between chess and Drop 7. In case you’re not familiar, Drop 7 is a game where pieces with numbers drop from the top of the screen. You have to match up the numbers with positions on the gameboard to remove them from the board and score points. Pit Chess takes the pieces-drop-from-the-top mechanic and adds chess pieces and movement to the whole thing. Pieces drop whenever you make a move that doesn’t capture a pawn. As long as you continue to capture pawns, the screen empties, and you play cleanup for a while. When you inevitably run out of pawns to capture, you go back to capturing other pieces. The game emphasizes alternating between these two modes of gameplay by giving you a point multiplier that goes up as long as you capture pieces that aren’t pawns. There are Kongregate high score tables for highest multiplier, as well as highest scores in the two gameplay modes. I really dig this game, and sort of wish I’d thought of it. (It would have made a great Action Chess game mode!) Then again, I’ve got a lot of stuff I’ve worked on for ActionChess that hasn’t (yet!) seen the light of day.

I’m going to go back to playing fez now. I tweeted about this already, but there are Tetris shaped constellations in the night sky in Fez! I’m not even a fan of platform games usually, (although I played a fair bit of Mario III, and certainly Mario 64 back in the day), but Fez is just appealing to me on so many levels. I was pretty hyped up about it after seeing Renaud B├ędard talk about the tech behind Fez at GDC earlier this year, and it’s definitely lived up to my high expectations so far. As an aside, we all have our indie developer crushes. One of mine is definitely Renaud. Check out this list of games he’s worked on!


Hatetris is a Tetris variant that chooses the worst piece possible and makes you play it. (Via jttiki, but ultimately via BoingBoing.)

I have a lot of respect for the author, Sam Hughes, as he claims he wrote Hatetris in JavaScript because he feared and/or despised it. I also despise JavaScript, but not so much that I want to write Tetris in it. (And anyways, I already wrote Tetris in ActionScript, which sucks as bad or worse than JavaScript. Hughes’ code is much prettier than mine, I looked.)

Philosophical statements aside, Hateris actually succeeds as a game for several reasons. One is that, because the game is not random, getting even one more line than on a previous attempt requires you to try a different tactic, or approach the game with a different strategy. It’s clear that Hughes knows he’s onto something there, because he’s implemented the ability to replay previous games. It’s quite fascinating to watch the current record (22 lines), and analyze the tactics used.

Following various comment threads on Hatetris, I also discovered that there was previously a similar variant called Bastet (bastard tetris–desktop only), and also that there is not just one, but two playable versions of Randall Munroe’s vision of hell.

Update: One of the playable versions of hell links was broken, so it was removed on May 5th, 2017. Thanks to a reader for pointing that out!

Awesome and new-to-me Internet Tetris variants

First Person Tetris has clearly been making the rounds. (I’ve had three separate people tell me about it in the last week.) Basically, the whole screen rotates and moves while the current piece remains stationary in the center of the screen. I was actually surprised at how easy this was to play, intuitive even. Ultimately though, it’s still Tetris, with nothing terribly different about it, so it’s probably got a fairly limited replay value.

Tuper Tario Tros is tetris meets mario bros. You can also find it on Kongregate. From the developer’s description:

We were playing some Xbox Live games during lunchtime. Guillaume was really excited about “Lucidity” and the idea of playing a “Tetris platform” game… but he finally felt disapointed by the concept.

So, Guillaume decided to create a little Tetris plateformer for fun. William came with the idea to mix up Tetris with another well know game: Super Mario Bros.

This is interesting to me, because I also tried out (and was a tad bit disappointed with) the much hyped Lucidity. It’s definitely very pretty, but the gameplay just felt a bit lacking. Anyway, Tuper Tario Tros is a novel idea. You are basically just playing standard Mario Bros, but then a popup tells you you can switch into tetris mode by hitting the space bar. Then it’s up to you to build the 2d platforms for Mario to traverse using Tetris pieces. Eventually you reach the end of the level, and the gameplay switches to another mode entirely. Those folks at SwingSwing Submarine did a great job of creating not one but two new and interesting gameplay types out of it. The first part is relatively short, so I’d recommend sticking with it until you finish it so you see the second one. Good stuff.

3D Stereogram Tetris has probably been around the longest of these three. When I sent it out at work, one of my coworkers said she’d been playing it for years. It’s exactly like a Stereogram image, where you have to cross your eyes correctly to see the game, and I found out that gives me a headache after a very short amount of time. I only recently discovered this painful Tetris variant a few months back, and it deserves a place on any list of Tetris variants, for novelty alone.

It bears mentioning that Wikipedia has a nice page listing many official Tetris Variants, (I may have linked to this before) but the page doesn’t seem to have any flash games on it, and is most useful when trying to remember which version of tetris existed for which console system. I briefly toyed with adding these, and possibly Go-Tetris to the page, but I think adding my game would be against Wikipedia’s TOS.