Chess is a pure and timeless classic. Okay, maybe not precisely “timeless.” The game we know today was first attested in Europe in 997 AD and evolved from a similar one out of India a few centuries earlier. In the modern era, there have been innumerable versions and variations of the strategic standard. From 3-D Chess, to mutli-player designs, to significant alterations of the board and components, and adding all kinds of thematic elements like magic, space, dragons and even zombies, the vintage game isn’t always so chaste any longer…
How it Plays
King’s Ransom is a fast-paced card game version of Chess with a constricted “board.” Cards represent the familiar Chess pieces and – in the base game – move in the usual manner. The Deluxe edition includes some fun, non-traditional adaptations of those units and adds a little deck-building element.
The arena – or play area – comprises a 3×6 grid. Your side of the arena consists of the three rows in the half closest to you. Each player has a deck of 24 pieces/cards. The King begins in the middle of the bottom row and is flanked by face down cards on either side and then a couple more occupy the two spaces above it within the same column. You can look at any of your face-down cards at any time.
On your turn, you must first reveal one card, if possible. Then you move a face-up unit according to the traditional rules – or those indicated on the card if it’s one of the special pieces. Next, announce whether or not one of your revealed units has the opponent’s King in check. You do not have to do this if the threatening unit is face down! Then play a new card from your hand face down to an empty space anywhere on your side of the arena. Finally, draw a new card.
It’s really that simple to play. Just as in original Chess, the winner is the first one to capture the opposing sovereign.
It’s Good to be the King?
I’ve never been a fan of Chess. It’s just not that fun of a game for me. It’s too long, too slow, too abstract and too brain-burning. I almost never win. One might argue that I don’t enjoy Chess because I usually get beat. But I’ll stick with the story that I mostly lose because I have trouble getting into the game. Still, I’ve enjoyed different Chess derivatives from time to time. One example that I don’t get to play often because it’s so heavy is the churning deck-building and Chess mash-up, For the Crown, also from VPG. King’s Ransom is decidedly lighter, quicker, and more accessible. Way more accessible!
This card game travels well and uses up a small footprint. Along with it’s ease of play, it really makes an ideal filler, but one that’s more thinky than the average 15-minute session. Yes, it seriously distills the strategic bite of Chess. Yet it retains enough bark to provide tactical choices and remain interesting overall. While definitely not replacing the original, it will likely satisfy most Chess purists at least as a change of pace. I can’t declare that with entire certainty because, again, I’m unquestionably not a Chess aficionado.
More importantly, beyond the hardcore fans of its medieval inspiration, King’s Ransom cuts the hard-thinking abstract down to size for gamers like me – those who acknowledge Chess’ kingly stature within the hobby, but always fall asleep while playing it. That’s because King’s Ransom has something that its noble great-great-great (+many more greats) grandfather doesn’t: action.
The board is only three spaces by six. Not only does that restrict the number of cards (pieces) that will be in the field at any given time, it also means you’ll be tangling with your foe very quickly. Gone is Chess’ sometimes nauseatingly glacial pacing as opponent’s lethargically maneuver for advantage. In King’s Ransom, you’ll simply smash each other in the teeth, while sacrificing pieces frequently. Experts may not enjoy that aspect, but again, it’s about distillation.
Having said that, this isn’t some petal-to-the-Pawns charge, devoid of any decision-making. Quite the contrary. Yes, you will engage in plenty of tit-for-tat captures. That’s inevitable given the constricted space. However, you can still maneuver and play cards to block your opponent, protect a vulnerable King and even set a devious trap. Indeed, it’s easier to spring a trap in King’s Ransom because of the added element of surprise. Those unrevealed cards inject a different sort of tension and lots of fun. Much of your strategy revolves around what to keep hidden and how to avoid any surprises that your opponent may have in store!
The Deluxe version offers more game than the base set. The original design only includes the traditional Rook, Bishop, Knight, et. al. While still fast and furious – at least for Chess – it’s not as interesting as using the unique units from the Deluxe set. These special pieces look and act in some ways like their classic counterparts – two per piece except for the King and the Pawns. For example, you have the Reverend of the Bishop’s class, and the Hand-Maiden for the Queen’s class. It also introduces a couple of pieces in a new Prince class which move and capture like Kings, with some limits. The other unique additions also behave a little differently and they provide bonus abilities when either revealed or captured. And since you have some freedom to customize your deck, there’s enough to experiment with in order to satisfy numerous plays.
The Deluxe set also includes extra cards for a 4-player, partner game. However, that version does not utilize the special units. Essentially, it involves two simultaneous games. The only difference is that you can give your partner in the adjacent game any pieces you capture to add to his hand. It’s an interesting concept, but it didn’t really click with us.
King’s Ransom should prove a nice bridge between fans of Chess and those who aren’t so much. It creates a unique experience while still conveying a Chess-like session. Admittedly a much quicker one. So it’ll likely appeal to casual players more than die-hard fans. In any case, this card version stands on its own while retaining a familiar feel. Fast-paced and accessible, it’s a quick-hitting filler that offers some light strategy that won’t hold your brain or gaming schedule hostage.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Victory Point Games for providing a review copy of King’s Ransom Deluxe.