The game of Chess has been remade, repackaged, and reworked ever since its inception with thousands of different variations and gimmicks, many of them bad, but none of them quite like Really Bad Chess.

Really Bad Chess is a free app game for iOS and Android, but don’t let the name fool you. Far from being ‘really bad’ the game stands as a clever rebuttal to the usual rules of chess. Making the tongue-in-cheek claim to being ‘a definitely balanced game’, Really Bad Chess throws tradition out the window by generating chess pieces on both sides of the board at random, intentionally sabotaging the usual tactics of the game, and making it a lot more interesting in the process. Have you ever wondered what a game of Chess would be like played only with bishops? This is the game that finds out.

Really Bad Chess, Really Good Idea

By randomising the pieces, Really Bad Chess takes a novel approach to redesigning an age old game. Whilst always starting with sixteen pieces on either side, players may find that they, and their AI opponent, have four queens instead of one, or all rooks, or nothing but pawns. You are more likely to find a healthy mix of random pieces (which always necessarily includes a king in its usual starting position) and are let loose to devise your own approach to winning the match. Gimmick though it may seem, this is a real game-changer for people tired of the same old chess tactics.

Having random pieces is a breath of fresh air for players overly familiar with the usual opening of chess, with more room to be challenged by the unexpected. Yet the game is just as engaging to players new to chess as well, especially those of us used to playing against said chess-masters who know all the one-move checkmates and exploits in a standard Chess set-up. I find myself agreeing with how game creator, Zach Gage, puts it:

‘Chess is one of those games I always wished I enjoyed, but its commitment to beauty, elegance, and perfect balance always turned me away. Really Bad Chess removes these boring restrictions and flips chess on its head.’

Breaking the Rules

The game begins by giving you a ranking, a score which translates to the difficulty level of matches you will be exposed to. Lower scores mean the randomisation will be tilted in your favour. For example, you may start with more queens than the AI opponent, whilst higher ranked players can be more seriously challenged with the odds stacked against them.

Part of me is sad that this takes away from the totally-random element of the game, but the ranking system means the game is more accessible for a wider audience and furthermore allows for some competitive chess in the form of tracking friends’ scores and climbing the international leader board.

Keeping chess competitive and challenging means that the game also generates a new daily and weekly board - one which is shared by every player around the world to test their skills. The unique daily boards may be more difficult that you’re used to. Just as I found myself in the first week - flanked by an unending cavalry of knights, I took solace in the knowledge that other players would be struggling with a similar stampede of horses.

The daily challenge board certainly makes Really Bad Chess feel more communal, however players only have two chances at beating the board per day, and that’s where the microtransactions come in.

Breaking the Rules

The game begins by giving you a ranking, a score which translates to the difficulty level of matches you will be exposed to. Lower scores mean the randomisation will be tilted in your favour. For example, you may start with more queens than the AI opponent, whilst higher ranked players can be more seriously challenged with the odds stacked against them.

Part of me is sad that this takes away from the totally-random element of the game, but the ranking system means the game is more accessible for a wider audience and furthermore allows for some competitive chess in the form of tracking friends’ scores and climbing the international leader board.

Keeping chess competitive and challenging means that the game also generates a new daily and weekly board - one which is shared by every player around the world to test their skills. The unique daily boards may be more difficult that you’re used to. Just as I found myself in the first week - flanked by an unending cavalry of knights, I took solace in the knowledge that other players would be struggling with a similar stampede of horses.

The daily challenge board certainly makes Really Bad Chess feel more communal, however players only have two chances at beating the board per day, and that’s where the microtransactions come in.

Pawning off Content

As a free mobile game which was released last year on iOS and more recently on Android, Really Bad Chess naturally contains micro-transactions and adverts. The full game is £2.89, but the majority of content is already available in the free version. Paying for the full content, however, means you receive a night mode (darker colours for late-night games), lost pieces, +100 undo moves, 1v1 mode against friends, and the removal of banner advertisements at the bottom of the screen. This last offer is troubling, because while banner ads are removed when you pay for the full version of the game, Really Bad Chess still pushes full-screen pop up ads on customers, though only seen when a game of chess is completed.

For some, this level of invasive advertising might be a deal-breaker, but otherwise Really Bad Chess’ micro-transaction policies are relatively positive. The +100 undo moves can be bought separately for £0.99, but it’s far from necessary to do so, and players also have the option of watching an advertisement for +5 undo moves which is a refreshing approach allowing for players who don’t have the money for extra undos, but are willing to spend time to unlock them by generating ad revenue. As it is, I think the free version of the game grants access to the majority of content, and is absolutely worth taking a look at if you want a diverting challenge in your free time.

Across the Board

Overall, Really Bad Chess is an excellent idea and a real shake-up of the rules of classic game-design and theory. Randomising the pieces brings a lot of challenge and excitement back to a familiar game, and all in all the free version certainly deserves to be checked out. However the game’s biggest criticism has remained true since its iOS release: the slowness of the AI when making a move.

This means that seasoned chess players who want to climb the ranking system may find themselves outdoing the AI and waiting for longer periods for it to decide its next move. It’s a big fault for players who may be used to more polished chess apps, although credit is due for an AI that is doing much more than merely playing conventional chess.

Really Bad Chess is a diverting and interesting take on traditional chess, but beware that it has limitations if you are used to serious chess-master apps with game-analysis features and settings for AI difficulty. Ultimately, Really Bad Chess makes a lot of interesting moves and it’s absolutely worth downloading – but if you’re looking for that little bit extra then why not take inspiration and shake up your own chess board by bringing in some extra pieces.

Helen Jones is a writer and games journalist, you can read more of her stuff @BarnacleDrive on Twitter.

Across the Board

Overall, Really Bad Chess is an excellent idea and a real shake-up of the rules of classic game-design and theory. Randomising the pieces brings a lot of challenge and excitement back to a familiar game, and all in all the free version certainly deserves to be checked out. However the game’s biggest criticism has remained true since its iOS release: the slowness of the AI when making a move.

This means that seasoned chess players who want to climb the ranking system may find themselves outdoing the AI and waiting for longer periods for it to decide its next move. It’s a big fault for players who may be used to more polished chess apps, although credit is due for an AI that is doing much more than merely playing conventional chess.

Really Bad Chess is a diverting and interesting take on traditional chess, but beware that it has limitations if you are used to serious chess-master apps with game-analysis features and settings for AI difficulty. Ultimately, Really Bad Chess makes a lot of interesting moves and it’s absolutely worth downloading – but if you’re looking for that little bit extra then why not take inspiration and shake up your own chess board by bringing in some extra pieces.

Helen Jones is a writer and games journalist, you can read more of her stuff @BarnacleDrive on Twitter.

The Good

  • Free version has worthwhile content.
  • Refreshing, engaging game that shakes up old systems.
  • Daily boards provide player interaction and sense of community.

The Bad

  • Full, paid-version of the game contains pop-up advertisements.
  • AI can be slow to make decisions on their turn.

The Good
Free version has worthwhile content.
Refreshing, engaging game that shakes up old systems.
Daily boards provide player interaction and sense of community.

The Bad
Full, paid-version of the game contains pop-up advertisements.
AI can be slow to make decisions on their turn.

Leave your comment