Game review: Noble CeltsCopyright (c) 1998 by Ben Good
I purchased Noble Celts for $39.95 at a games store in Rehobeth Beach, DE, in July of 1998. The game came in a clear plastic tube, the board is made of cloth, so it can easily be rolled up and stored in the tube. It is made by Dream Green, a games company that also brings us Tic-Tac-Check.
I was initially impressed with the game. The playing pieces are the same as those of a standard set, and the ones that come with the Noble Celts game are very attractive wooden ones (I hate hollow plastic chess pieces). Even more impressive, however, was the playing board. You can see a picture of the board on the company's website here. The board is beautifully decorated with elaborate celtic design, and the quite attractive to the eye.
The rules are the same as regular chess. The most interesting thing about Noble Celts actually is the castling rule - the King can castle with either Rook in either direction. The rules don't mention pawn promotion (I'm not sure why - it occurred in the game that I played, we decided that pawns could promote as in chess), or en passant (presumably because it rarely occurs and often confuses non-chessplayers, and because chessplayers should already know the rule and can add it in if they like).
The fundamental problem with the game is the playing board. In the instructions for the game, they describe how the took a standard square chess board, and stretched it around in a circle, attaching opposite sides. The result is a board that is the same as the one designed by Mark Davis. However, the people at Dream Green didn't stop there. Instead, the converted every "square" into a little circle, only slightly larger than the radius of the chess pieces. Then they connected all the diagonal paths between the circles with lines (see the picture on the company's website here). The result is very attractive to look at, and fits well with the board decoration. The game instructions claims that this conversion makes it easier to visualize moves, especially diagonal moves.
Unfortunately, they're wrong. The lines don't really help that much with diagonal moves. Since there are so many of them, and since they're at such acute angles to each other, it's easy for the eye to "jump" to the wrong line. Because of the space between the "vertical" columns of circles, the "horizontal" paths are not always easy to see, especially on the outer rings where the circles get farther apart. It was difficult to get a sense for the overall position of the game. The basic problem is that the effect of all the physical empty space on the board is just that - a feeling of empty space on the board even tho mathmatically, it is in fact equivalent to a solidly connected board. I spent a lot more time trying to get used to the board than actually thinking about chess playing.
What made it even more frustrating for me was that I knew that if they had used a solidly connected board like the the one designed by Mark Davis that the game would be much more playable and enjoyable. I have to wonder if they designed the board the way it is because it looked nicer, and then rationalized it later by saying it made it easier to play. Of course, maybe it's just me. I have a decent amount of chess experience and a decent amount of chess variant experience. Maybe for someone with little chess experience and almost no chess variant experience, the converted board would be easier for them to play with. My brother Ray fits this description, and he happened to be my first Noble Celts opponent. Several moves into the game I was already hating the board, and so I waited to see if he had any comments about it. I wasn't kept in suspense for long. A few moves later, he pointed to the instructions laying by my knee, where there was a diagram of the "solid" board, and said "You know, this game would be so much easier if they had used that board instead." He would repeat this comment (mostly in frustration) several times before the end of the game.
We played one game. The next day I returned the game to the place at which I had purchased it, where they gracefully accepted its return for store credit.
Written by Ben Good. A link to the home page of Dream Green, with information about Noble Celts and their other games can be found here.
WWW page created: August 21, 1998.