Grand Chess: the Program (review)
Chess programmers Mark Lefler and Jeff Mallett have made in 1997 a program, that plays Grand Chess, a popular chess variant that is played on a ten by ten board, which was invented by Christian Freeling.
A demo version of this program can be downloaded from the website of the company, formed by Mark Lefler and Jeff Mallett, or from the website of Mindsports, (from Christian Freeling and programmer Ed van Zon.) The unregistered version allows only 25 moves or 15 minutes of play before the program quits - usually not sufficient to play an entire game, but sufficient to get a good impression on the game.
Both on Christian Freeling's and Ed van Zon's Mindsports website, as on the website of the company of Mark Lefler and Jeff Mallett, Zillions of Games information on this program can be found. The price of the program, when I wrote this was $19.95.
The program was very easy to install, register, and use. While the authors suggest a Pentium 90 for fast and good play, I have the impression that when set at a high enough level and given sufficient time, the average player has a good opponent even on computer like my 486DX40- I quickly lost some games played in this way. At lower levels, the program makes occasionally bad moves, at least in the first version (I didn't check the update which is said to play stronger). The game runs under Windows'95.
Wim, my seven years old son, saw me playing the game, and immediately wanted to play it too. He had much fun with the program, and after several losses at the lowest level with 1 second thinking time for the computer, he proudly announced that he won a game. Nowadays Wim is a frequent user of the program, and he has much fun with it, and no problem at all with using the program.
The version I looked at did not allow to setup positions. However, version 1.2, which appeared in April 1998, has this capability: one can edit the board.
More information can be found on the websites of Mindsports, and Zillions of Games
The technology that was used to make this program can be used to create many other programs that play strategic board games. Read more on the Zillions of Games website. It is apparent to me that this technology has great potential for chess variant players - it would be great to have a tool like this that would allow quick creation of computer programs that play the different chess variants that we are interested in, whether they are a thousand years old variant of Shatranj, or the newest experimental invention. Their website currently lists 48 chess variants that they already created with this technology. Currently, the programmers are looking for a good software publisher, and I hope they will find one soon.
This review was based upon the registered version 1.0 of the game, kindly sent to me by Jeff Mallett. Version 1.1 was released in November 1997. Version 1.2 was released in April 1998.
Written by Hans Bodlaender.
WWW page made: February 27, 1997. Last modified: April 14, 1998.