A game by David Smith of New Zealand
This review copyright 1998 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated November 26, 1998

Chex bills itself as the world's smallest game. While I'm not certain about that - surely various dice games take up less space - it certainly is small: the box is a cube less than 2" (50mm) per side. Yet despite its size, Chex packs some tactical punch.

Chex is a Chess variant, and a very interesting one. The game consists of 32 small tiles, about 1.6" square (~40 mm square). The backs are a uniform color, but on the front are the 32 standard chess pieces - 16 white and 16 black. The rule book the same size, and has 21 pages in a very readable font - that is, not too many words per page. There is no board.

Chex is hard to find in the U.S.A. - in fact, I bought mine from a friend in the UK. It's by the designer of Trax, the very successful abstract tile-laying game that has its own magazine and internet playing server. Trax is distributed in North America (through Canada, I believe) so perhaps Chex is, too. (In fact, Chex also has an internet playing server.)

The rules are simple, if you know chess. Each player shuffles the 16 pieces of their own color and places them in a stack, face down, in front of them. White draws the first piece, placing it face up on the table, pointing the drawing towards Black. Black then draws his first tile, and places it adjacent to White's piece, either orthogonally or diagonally, pointing it towards White. White can then either move the piece on the board in a legal chess move (including capture), or draw and place his next tile. From this point on, all moves or placements must be legal in the Chex sense: you cannot split the pieces on the board apart - all must touch another piece, at least corner to corner. The first player to checkmate the opponent's King wins the game.

The "board" size is irrelevant in Chex. You can stretch pieces out in a 9x9 grid if you want, or even 4x16. Likewise missing spaces don't matter - you can move a rook across a vacant space to take an opposing piece, so long as the rook moves in a straight line relative to the existing grid. Knight moves can be quite boggling in this game!

A very important rule is that all pieces must be connected in some way. This means that as long as you have tiles to draw, you can usually get out of Check. For example, if your King is in check from an enemy Rook, you can usually place a new piece on the far side of the Rook, which pins it. That is, if the Rook moves, it leaves the newly placed piece disconnected from the rest of the pieces - which would be an illegal move. Thus, undrawn tiles are power in this game - at least defensive power.

The game has some strange quirks. If White's first piece is a Queen, Black must place adjacent to this. Any new piece Black places, White can simply take on his next turn, and keep on taking piece after piece this way! But stalemate occurs if you draw your King and have nowhere to place it except into Check. So White may take a number of pieces this way, but each one taken increases the chance of stalemate - eventually you have to leave the King a safe harbor to appear on the board!

Not a game for everyone - it's very cerebral, and the spatial relationships between the pieces can hurt your brain sometimes. Yet, conversely, it has a fair bit of luck in the order of the shuffled tiles, so true chess fans are often turned off by the amount of luck in it. While there is luck in the game, most games are definitely contests of skill, and the few that aren't are more likely stalemates than victories. Good game, if you like unusual chess variants with interesting spatial aspects.

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