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What makes a game feel chessy?

A topic by Mistodon created Mar 22, 2018 Views: 578 Replies: 12
Viewing posts 1 to 9

I've been thinking about this recently. So far I have obvious stuff:

  1. Chess pieces
  2. Black and white
  3. Squares and grids
  4. Being literally the game Chess

But also more abstract stuff:

  1. Moves being restricted by opponents' positioning
  2. The need to "trap" an opponent to win
  3. The need to think way too far ahead to be good at it

Not sure what I'm going to do yet, but I'm looking forward to it! ^^

There's a lot of obvious stuff (turn-based, variety of piece types with different movements etc) but something I really like is just how old the game is; it's literally ancient and every age we carry bits of it forward and in the end not everybody knows how or why things are the way they are, what different pieces represent or where they came from. It's basically some system of ancient magic we dig up and start screwing around with, hoping to master it (even tho realistically, it's probably beyond any of us as individuals).

I get the same feeling from a lot of other ancient games too tbh, we have rules and boards and pieces but who made them - witches? Probably.

I had an idea for something I wanted to make but your list of abstract properties of chess made me rethink that. What I have is just based on the very basic ruleset of chess.

But maybe I can incorporate them into my existing idea? Thanks for the thoughts.

If you want it to feel close to the original game, you could start with chess itself and do something that adds or removes restrictions to or from the core mechanics. Examples:

  • Let players position their pieces before the match, possibly taking turns and being able to see each other's choices
    • Allow limited customization of how many of which piece a player can have
  • Remove the restriction on pieces moving through each other
  • Add something like the "king" mechanic in checkers to allow pieces to gain or change movement options
  • Have board size variations to fundamentally change the game without changing the rules
  • Instead of removing a piece from the board, switch its owner and put it where the piece that took it was

To me, the key feature of chess is the protection and attack of the king. That you lose the game when this single piece is trapped and cannot escape.

I do find chess magical just in how kind of perfected it is - in the sense that it contains so few simple rules and pieces that return so much complexity. It's basically what any puzzle game designer aims for, but as you say honed over literal ages. It's hard to imagine you would design it the way it is now if you were starting from scratch, but it just works.

Also, for all I said about abstract ideas of chessiness, I think I probably will end up with something mostly following the rules of chess. I think that's fine, as long as you're exploring something that you find interesting about it.

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I've been giving this exact idea some thought recently (mostly since the 7DRL jam, which alas, I couldn't do). I'm still picking away at the design--currently trying to satisfy myself with how I'd want to implement it, bleh.

I came up a few; mechanically speaking, if a game features these in some way, then it smells Chessy.*

  • There are two sides mired in conflict (black/white).
  • The pieces involved have characteristic movement and action
  • Pieces are valued differently.
  • Each unit on the board has coordinates to it (grid- or map-based)--whether it has a chequered pattern or not is just a slider that moves between more and less Chess-like. Pattern could be something else (changes the effect of certain rules).

*Footnote: Oh, I went there. I made that pun.

Edit: Oh, and might I recommend people look at Chess variants for inspiration? Please do. It's fascinating what's come before!

While I'd say your points are mostly... on... point, I'd disagree that pieces have different value in a concrete way.

Any piece's value at any given time is directly related to how much it contributes to protecting your king, attacking the opponent's king, or both. At the start, your pawns are worthless by this measure; however, further on in the game, they can be instrumental in limiting an opponent's movements and avoiding potential check situations. But that value, and all other pieces' value, are constantly in flux -- and your opponent's attempt to figure out which are the most valuable pieces to you is the process of trying to read a player's next few moves.

Which I think speaks to Greg Karber's opinion above: The king's importance creates the central goal and drama of the game.

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Oh, I quite like that! *furiously jots it down*

I'll admit I was approaching it from a more arbitrary 'points = vale' angle. Looking at my notes again, I see why I was doing that (to simplify some of  the complexity in interactions). 

While I agree that a piece's value in context is wildy variable, I also think from a purely utilitatrian perspective (subtracting any other factors) that a bishop  or rook, for instance, are more 'useful' than a pawn--one of  the minor objectives, after all, is the push to upgrade one's pawn if possible.

Which I think speaks to Greg Karber's opinion above: The king's importance creates the central goal and drama of the game

You know, that's an interesting point. I was aware of this but hadnt given it much thought! Makes me wonder if swapping out the King for another piece (pawns  or rooks) would mix things up in a good way or not. Perhaps considering the game lost if all of those units are captured. 

Might make for an interesting puzzle scenario, hmm.

Hi all, I was thinking about this and it got me thinking about Chess variants in general. I posted some writing on a number of variations, a listing of some favorites, as well as some early history of computer chess.

Whoa, thanks for sharing! I really enjoyed reading that (I especially loved Play It By Trust's concept).


If a chessy  game is the same as a chess variant. I have a more simple way of defining it: A game is chessy when you some how can use chess skills to play it.