King Down Preview
For those of you who may not be aware, I am a former member of the United States Chess Federation. I’ve won many tournaments and was once rated second best in Western Pennsylvania for my age group. I’m not the best player out there mind you, but I know my “Chess”. “King Down”, a game currently seeking your help on Kickstarter, takes “Chess” to a completely new level. Some of the ideas in “King Down” are borrowed from “Chess”, but new mechanics serve to keep things fresh and interesting. Before we delve too deeply into this, I’d like to thank game designer Saar Shai for reaching out and providing me with a prototype copy. It’s important to stress that prototypes are not often representative of the final product, making the rules, pictures, and content featured below subject to change. If the name “Saar Shai” sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the same guy who successfully Kickstarted “The Agents” about a year ago.
Firstly, let’s talk components. The picture featured above is a bit misleading as it includes a chess set that I myself own. My demo copy simply came with two decks of cards, though I’m told that the final version will include a customized board and pieces along with the aforementioned decks. The pieces will also supposedly be redesigned to fit the new rule set AND support up to four players, something I personally can’t wait to see. I’ve always thought it to be fun to walk by a hobby shop and see some odd rendition based on the original game. I’m still waiting for someone to top the “Motherboard Chess Set”…do yourself a favor and Google it after you’re done here, it might surprise you!
For those of you unfamiliar with the standard game, “Chess” tasks players with capturing the enemy king (called a checkmate). The person who does so, wins the game no matter how badly they may be losing. “King Down” partially incorporates this rule as simply one of the ways to score “victory points”. This makes “King Down” a bit more interesting…that is, you aren’t tied down to one particular objective. Players in a standard game of “Chess”, in most cases, focus most of their attention on finding ways to checkmate the enemy King. Here, players will be forced to ponder considerably more than that. In order to win, players must reach a total of eight victory points. These points can fluctuate up or down, depending on what’s currently going on in the game.
Before going into how one can score points, it’s important to understand how the pieces and the board work. While you’ll find similarities between standard “Chess” and “King Down”, the board’s layout and the rules regarding game setup will give you pause. The 8×8 playing board, for example, now includes an area known as the “capitol” encompassing the four center squares. There’s also an area on either side of the board (directly in front of the players) known as the frontline. This six square area (the two end squares aren’t included) on the first rank is a player’s personal frontline and no piece may be taken while resting there.
Rather than your typical setup, players start with four pawns (pikes), two knights (steeds), one bishop (cross), one rook (rock), one queen (thorn), and one king (white = cumulus, black = mud) of a particular color. Instead of being placed on the board, they simply form a pile outside of the board known as the “camp”. In addition to getting pieces to form their own personal camp, players also get a deck of cards corresponding with the colored pieces they’ve chosen. The pale yellow cards go with the black pieces and the light/white cards go with the white pieces. White draws three cards to form their starting hand, while black draws four to offset the fact that white always moves first…another plus in my book as I find it very difficult to wrestle control of “tempo” away from white if the player knows what they’re doing.
Taking turns in “King Down” is a bit more involved. For one, you have a set number of action points that you can use on your turn (each player gets four per turn). You can spend four action points to summon a piece from your camp to your front line, thereby ending your turn straight away. Taking an enemy piece will set you back three points, moving costs two points, and drawing a card from your deck only makes you lose one action point. Your cards also have a cost printed on their face and can be played assuming you have the points available to do so. Without going to deeply into the cards, I’ll simply say that they will alter the way you’d normally play. Using them to your advantage, however, will require you to really analyze the current layout in order to make the most of them.
With all of the above in mind, players will be trying to reach a total of eight victory points. To do that, a player can attempt to keep their pieces inside the capitol. Keeping the king inside the capitol earns them two points, while any other piece inside the capitol earns them one. Since there are only four center squares, a player can, at most, earn five points (two points for the king, one point for each other piece). To make up that deficit, players can score points based on how many pieces they’ve captured. Taking the enemy king results in a player scoring two victory points, while any other piece is worth one. Unlike standard “Chess”, taking the enemy king does not automatically end the game. It’s worth noting again that these points will fluctuate up or down throughout the game. Moving a piece out of the capitol, for example, may result in your losing a point or two. This “King of the Hill” mechanic, if you will, makes things really interesting.
“King Down”, all in all, is a brilliant idea. It takes the likeness of “Chess” and warps it into something completely innovative and fresh. While other games have attempted to incorporate cards into standard “Chess” (“No Stress Chess”, “For The Crown 2nd Edition”, etc.), this is the first time where it didn’t seem…well, awkward. The new rule set and the way victory is earned will force players to think in new and different ways, which is great news for those of you who simply don’t find standard “Chess” challenging enough. As for me, “Chess” will always hold a special place in my memories for obvious reasons, though I can’t deny that “King Down” has a lot going for it. Grandmasters and newcomers alike would be remiss if they let it pass by without at least checking it out.
You can learn more about and support “King Down” by visiting its Kickstarter page, here: