December 21, 2010

Solitaire Chess

This year, ThinkFun launched a new puzzle called Solitaire Chess, designed by Vesa Timonen. Tanya Thompson was kind enough to send me a copy for helping them test out another puzzle they are working on. Thanks Tanya!

The idea of Solitaire Chess is to set up the pieces as shown one of the challenge cards and, by capturing pieces with every move, end up with only a single piece remaining on the board. In this way, it is similar to the peg-solitaire game that became so widely known. The standard movements of the chess pieces apply. However, there are no black and white pieces, only blue, so there are no alternating turns like in regular chess. As such, you can repeatedly move the same piece.

There are sixty challenges on double-sided cards that are divided into four levels of difficulty. I thought that the challenges progressed quite well, and even the beginner ones were challenging at times. Some I was able to solve right off, but others took me a minute. As the difficulty increased, the challenges got quite hard!

When you get stuck, there is a great hint system that is provided in the instruction booklet. You can look up which piece moves first, which often times in just the nudge you need to get started. If you're still stuck, you can look to see which piece that first piece captures, which further helps you out. If that still doesn't narrow it down enough, you can also look up what the final piece on the board will be. Working backwards from there is quite helpful. Finally, if you give up completely, the solutions are provided.

This hint system was really good, though I'm always reluctant to use it. On a few of the more difficult challenges I found myself peeking at a hint when I was completely stumped as to where to begin. For the more difficult challenges, there are more pieces on the board so finding out where to start is quite challenging.

In all, I would say that the range of difficulty is quite good: the easy ones are a good introduction to the puzzle while the more difficult ones will really make you put your thinking cap on. Plus, with 15 puzzles at each of the four difficulty levels, there is plenty at your favorite level. The challenges kept me busy for a number of hours spread out over a couple of days.

The pieces stow away inside the base of the puzzle, which is great! I love a puzzle that is self contained like that. The cards stow in the top half of the compartment, though I had an issue with the cards being too big for the compartment. ThinkFun was quick to send me another batch of cards, but this set only fit in sideways which is mildly annoying. Tanya informed me that they're aware of the issue and are addressing it, so I wouldn't worry much about it. Only one of the five reviews on Amazon cited the issue, so it was probably just a problem in one batch.

Overall, Solitaire Chess is another great puzzle by ThinkFun that I really enjoyed! I think this one is sure to be a hit because it will draw in chess fans as well as puzzle people. I'm not sure if it will do anything for your chess game, but it is still good fun. Definitely check it out!

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