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.