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Chess-like games and finding opponents


This is mostly an extension of @VictorViper’s and @Benkyo’s conversation last night in the Introduction thread, starting about here:

Because I’m very bad at Chess, I love Onitama and am reasonably good at it, and when I played War Chest recently… it felt way more like Chess than Onitama does. There was that same constricting feeling of “you have made one mistake, and now you have to play out a bunch more moves but you’re going to lose”.

Which is the opposite of what VictorViper felt about those two games.

I wonder whether the thing that works about Onitama for me is that, once you’ve messed up, you generally lose pretty quickly.

This is very clearly a matter of perception - I didn’t enjoy War Chest at all but I’m certainly not going to say one game is better than the other except in a specific context - but I’m curious to know how other people feel.


I have not had a chance to play my version of Hive: Pocket yet (I just got it and only have read the rules), but it looks like a good chess alternative…


Hmm, yeah, that’s another one that I can see is a great game but felt “too chess-like” for me.

I wonder what it is about Onitama that works…


I think this only applies to chess when the players have mismatched skill. Play against someone who is similarly bad (or similarly good, to say the same thing with a different emphasis), and you will rarely want to resign early even if you do something pretty poor. Play someone far better (or worse) than you, and it’s just not so fun because the outcome is so well determined. Any game that rewards skill has this feature to some extent.


I’ll bet it’s the bite-sized nature like you mentioned. It’s also really easy to parse your mistakes since there’s only 5 moves in a game, 2 active for a player. Easy to learn from.

But it’s the skill gap issue I had mentioned that really makes the difference for me. Take chess or Onitama (or even Hive for that matter—my god did I learn quick I’m bad at Hive) and you’ll enter a world of brutal opening gambits and uncanny strategies (says this amateur).

Anyway, different though it may be, War Chest is still very much a chesslike game, and maybe one that just didn’t click with you. As I ended up concluding in the thread quoted, it’s really the combination of mechanics that just really interests and excites me, and there’s a different tactical bent as a result, which I really enjoy.


To avoid the chess-like problem of skill imbalance, you’d need to find an abstract game that has random elements a bit.

I haven’t played it, but doesn’t Omitama have that? If so, that would explain your comfort with it, as opposed to Hive, which we’ve learned here isn’t fun for any of us, as I’m the only one who really groks it.


Well, there’s random setup to Onitama (which five cards will be in the game), but once the game starts it’s entirely deterministic.


And chess960 (fischer-random) has the same skill set as chess, so random setup isn’t a leveller. Flip a coin every turn to decide who is white and who is black… that’s the sort of random element that would even out the skill imbalances nicely.


War Chest has the random element. I’m pretty certain The Duke has a light chance element as well. Onitama is static once the draws are made at setup.


It’s great, but better to start without the extra pieces, and IMO better with the proper chunky pieces.

Numerous people who wouldn’t touch chess with a barge pole have played and enjoyed Hive with me and my wife.


My girl and I like Hive a lot, but we’ve also only played one another, and neither of us has really shown proficiency over the other yet in maybe a dozen or so games. So much so that most of our games have ended in draws!

I’m not sure if that’s common with the base game, or if it’s an issue with being evenly-matched and terrible at it, but the stalemates are a bit of a downer, honestly. We have the ladybug/mosquito/pillbug, which might help, but we haven’t played with them yet.

There’s a game I’ve seen before (the name of which I am of course forgetting right at this moment), that seems to play out a bit like a mix of Hive and Connect 4. It’s a boardless, abstract tile laying game for (I think) up to 4 players. Flat square tiles in vibrant colours [jeez, I’ll edit this in a bit when I think of the name][EDIT - CINCO LINKO!!!] …you can probably tell I’ve only seen it played. Anyway, I am eager to try it or own it and it seems like a really good alternative to chess while scratching the same kind of strategic itch.


I’m not sure how you get so many draws. I’ve never seen it happen and I only play with the base set. Is it a result of long chains of locked pieces? Not sure how to break you out of the deadlock either. Be more aggressive? Drop beetles near the enemy queen early, start a countdown to a win…


Then surely it’s just a case of two new players being maybe too evenly matched (and/or too narrow minded). Good to know it’s not otherwise common. We tend to get deadlocked with our queens positioned/surrounded such that neither can move and a “winning” move would see both surrounded concurrently.


Oh, OK. In that case my first suggestion would be to simply not position your queen such that it is only one hex away from your opponent’s!


Never starts that way. And they never start that far away from one another. Playing her in round 4 just for maximum distance feels like a risky play, no? Anyway probably just a case of needing more time at the table.


Usually my third or fourth play, and maybe it’s just groupthink on our part, but often on the opposite end of a V to my opponent’s. Never create chains of your own hexes, so yeah, almost guaranteed to be two hexes away, but two filled hexes away, and I rarely see them get closer.


Just a quick shout out here for one of my favorite two player abstracts with a bit of randomness of all time–Tash Kalar!

It’s certainly an abstract feeling game, with a bit of chess forthought required–but as you’re moves are entirely reliant on which 3 cards you have in hand, you can’t plan too much ahead.

It’s certainly a rank or two ahead of Onitama as far as strategy and complexity, and I regularly get owned by the very good players of the world on boardgamearena–but for me, it’s a little more forgiving than getting whupped in standard chess.

Another 2p putting things on the board but whose moves are mitigated by card play is The Rose King. It’s a kind of Onitama-esque game, but rather than distilling chess, The Rose King is more like Othello. Quick playing, portable, and still fun.


Agreed, Tash-Kalar is one of my favourites too, which is why I mentioned it near the end of the conversation that spawned this thread, although at the time I was just giving an example of a game I can get my friends to play and I didn’t go into why.