Is it just me or is chess getting harder? That’s definitely how it feels, now that the internet has made it impossible for us to concentrate on anything for longer than about 29 seconds.
SparkChess put us in our place pretty quickly. Sure, beating Cody is a doddle. He’s the weakest of the game’s six AI opponents, and he’s still “learning the basics”.
Deon, the second weakest opponent, “knows the rules but doesn’t have a clear strategy”. We’ve found our level with him. Whenever we brave a game with third-worst player Claire, pitched as the “best partner for a quick game”, we get brutally dismantled.
Fortunately, SparkChess is a good teacher.
The game consists of three main modes: Learn, Practice, and Challenge. Practice is the mode where you get to play against the various AI opponents, while Challenge lets you take on friends either locally or online (the latter requires you and your opponent to register an account.)
Work your way through these slideshows, which are accompanied by exercises, and you’ll have a solid grounding in the art of chess.
Learn, meanwhile, is a compendium of opportunities to improve your chess prowess, divided into Lessons, Puzzles, and Epic Games.
Make Your Move
Lessons are exactly what they sound like: simple, clearly illustrated slideshows explaining everything from the basic rules to the most well-established openings, like the Sicilian Defense and the Queen’s Gambit.
Puzzles could be a game in itself. This mode gives you dozens of scenarios and challenges you to reach checkmate in a set number of moves. There are more possible games of chess than there are atoms in the observable universe, but these exercises are helpful drills for situations you’re bound to find yourself in from time to time.
The Epic Games mode is a selection of classic chess games played out in full for your viewing pleasure.
Practice is the mode you’re likely to spend the most time in, however – unless you’ve got a friend who owns SparkChess too.
As we’ve established, we’re probably not qualified to assess the quality of the AI’s chess brain given the limitations of our own chess brain, but it seems convincing enough. It’s certainly competent.
We can however comment on the range of options on offer, which is comprehensive. At any point during a game you can view a list of the moves that have been played, take a snapshot of the board, watch a replay, spin the board around, and share a picture.
Plus, there are four different board styles to choose from, including standard, diagram, 3D, and 3D fantasy.
Mate in One
And that’s just the superficial stuff. SparkChess also comes with its own Coach setting, which highlights possible and advisable moves, as well as pieces that are in danger. A Help option, meanwhile, explicitly recommends your next move.
If you prefer a more hands-off approach, you can also use the Analyse function, which gives you an in-depth assessment of whose pieces are in the best position in terms of control, mobility, and attacks.
You can even cheat. SparkChess gives you the rather unsporting ability to undo moves you don’t like, and even edit the board in your favor (or to your disadvantage, for that matter).
And if none of the AI opponents is quite right, you can play against Alyx, a totally customisable opponent with adjustable settings for strength, time, foresight, memory, intuition, knowledge, aggressiveness, accuracy, focus, and accuracy.
SparkChess isn’t the slickest or most elegant-looking game we’ve ever played, and if you’re after an online multiplayer experience there are definitely cheaper and better options out there.
But if you’re a beginner looking to learn the ropes, or a more experienced player in search of some challenging and intricately scalable AI opposition, SparkChess is a sound investment.