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Review CornerSoftware
Learn to Play Chess with Fritz and Chesster
Rating: Rating
The Bottom Line
This CD-ROM for aspiring masters of the game of chess combines instruction, games, and challenges in a unique animated adventure that is both brainy and fun. This CD-ROM makes an excellent introductory chess program.
Ages: 8-up   Subject: Logic   Brand: Viva Media
Review Sections: Product Overview  Technically Speaking  Skills Covered  Educational Value  Entertainment Value  Design  Replayability  Dollar Value
image Product Overview
Making the game of chess child's play is not entirely easy, but this new game succeeds admirably. While there are plenty of chess software games on the market, Learn to Play Chess with Fritz and Chesster fills a gap in children's software with its focus on instructions and games for true beginners. Instead of jumping right into chess instruction, this CD-ROM engages children from the start with a story line and simple mini-games that introduce chess basics before moving ahead to explicit chess "training".

This charming animated adventure is set in a small country ruled by a wise king, King White. The king and queen are going to the seaside for a few days, allowing their son, Fritz, and Fritz's cousin, Bianca, stand in as king and queen during their absence. The evil King Black sees this as an opportunity to challenge the stand-in king to a chess duel. No one has beaten King Black for years, so Fritz and Bianca set out to train for the big event.

Children guide Fritz and Bianca around the castle grounds before they begin their "brain training" at the Intelligym. They meet King Kaleidoscope, who offers players some helpful hints as they play a series of mini-games. These games introduce children to basic chess concepts and moves. A game of Sumo wrestlers, for example, introduces children to the accepted movements of the King. An especially clever mini-game involves moving horses through a course. The horses can only move two spaces forward and one to the side (as can a knight), and children must move the horse through the course in as few steps as possible.

After players arrive at the Intelligym, they begin their training, one chess piece at a time. They learn about move and capture rules for the king, queen, rooks, and so forth. Children learn terms such as "stalemate" and "opposition" as they put their newfound skills to practice in mini chess puzzles. Success in these practice "training sessions" is necessary in order to advance to the next step.

We are especially pleased with the game's logical, step-by-step progression. Only when the game deems players "ready" will they take on King Black in the chess duel. Opportunities to practice and helpful tips are ample. The training games are clever and give children's thinking skills a workout. For example, although a stalemate is not desirable, children are asked to get themselves into a stalemate position in one training session, which helps to exercise the brain and demonstrate the difference between a stalemate (draw) and checkmate (win).

The story line is charming, and cute banter between the characters helps to keep the game from feeling overly instructional. The inability to interrupt sequences can make the game feel a little slow-moving at times, but the CD-ROM is quite pleasant overall. Children who are already familiar with, and passionate about, the game of chess will find a program like Chessmaster 9000 more appropriate and rewarding. However, Learn to Play Chess with Fritz and Chesster makes an excellent introductory software that will motivate children to want to play this revered game.

The program comes with free access to the Playchess.com web site, where players can participate in games and chess training, for one year.

Technically Speaking
Minimum system requirements are Windows 95/98/Me/XP, Pentium II 233 MHz, 32 MB RAM, and 16X CD-ROM.

Skills Covered
Strategy, logic, following directions.

Educational Value
This program offers kids a chance to exercise logical thinking skills and to learn chess basics and strategies in a charming setting. The program's puzzles prepare children for the training sessions in a gradual manner that never overwhelms players. The clever and engaging presentation helps build an encouraging environment for learning.

Entertainment Value
An animated adventure setting captures children's attention right away, while the program's original games and positive reinforcement keep their interest levels high.

We wish players could interrupt instructions and animated sequences after they have heard them the first time. Aside from this minor annoyance (which slows gameplay somewhat), the design of the game is organized and encourages independent play. Plenty of help is available when needed.

The game's challenges are never too great that they frustrate children. Instead, the program's step-by-step approach and positive feedback encourage children to follow through to the end.

Dollar Value
The program carries a suggested retail price of approximately $29.99 US.

Released: 2003
Reviewed: June 2003