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'Really Bad Chess' Is a Really Fun Insult to Chess

“It's impossible to argue from a formalist standpoint that Really Bad Chess is good.”
October 9, 2016, 1:00pm
Image: Zach Gage.

"Forget about your openings," says Really Bad Chess, an upcoming iOS game, as it begins. "Forget draws exist."

With some luck, this chess match was mine to lose. I started my first game with four queens and four bishops, while my opponent mostly had a surplus of the useful, if not unwieldy, knights. My odds aren't always this generous, the next match I ended up with a whopping seven knights, though my opponent got stiffed without any queens at all. While the true fairness of chess is a contentious debate, Zach Gage, the game designer behind SpellTower and Tharsis enjoyed destroying it nonetheless.


"I took one of the most famous beloved games of all time, and fundamentally broke it," said Gage in an email, "it's terrible, and Really Bad Chess is upfront about that."

Gage was inspired to make the game a few years ago when a friend asked if he was down for a game of chess. Enthusiastic about the idea of playing, Gage knew his friend would wipe the floor with him, which wouldn't be a lot of fun, for him anyway. He began to compare chess to poker, where even laymen can walk away a winner due to luck.

"But there's no concept of 'beginner's luck' in chess because there's no luck in chess!" said Gage. "I wondered what would happen if I just struck down that balance in the stupidest way possible, and made all the pieces random. My chess-fan friend said I should call it Really Bad Chess, and with a name like that, the concept stuck with me."

In Really Bad Chess, the placement of the traditional chess pieces are randomized, as are their quantities for either player, and it's highly unlikely that both sides will have an equal advantage. The challenge then becomes to either overcome your odds or try not to choke when fate smiles upon you. It's more conservative than Damian Sommer's Chesh, where pieces are equal between players, but the placements, shapes and movements are all randomized to ensure a constant state of confusion. Gage said he didn't take any direct inspiration from Chesh, though it may have been stirring in his subconscious.

Each game is played against an AI, with your rankings tallied up against your friends. A liberal amount of undos are available, and the game encourages you to use them. Really Bad Chess is like a chess for newcomers, while simultaneously being an extremely bad way to learn about the limitations that bind and clinch the conventional version of the game.

"It's impossible to argue from a formalist standpoint that Really Bad Chess is good," said Gage. "But what happens when we engage with something that is formally bad? Is there more to what we experience in a game than just the raw rules of it?"

Really Bad Chess will be available on October 13th.