Apperently, playing Chess is a hype. At least in the Netherlands it is. When the corona pandemic kept people stuck at home, (online) chess seemed a popular pastime for a lot of people. And when The Queens Gambit launched, even more people started playing. Online chess games have leaderboards where people can compete, and rank themselves amongst the world. At my current job, people play chess during their breaks regularly, ranking the store employees on the wall. Not much fun for me though, since I don’t really play. But luckily, there is a solution for that: Chessarama!
At Gamescom 2023, we met with Raphael from Minimol Games. Minimol Games is a small studio from Brazil, and they have mainly been focussing on puzzle and chess games. After releasing a few dozen chess-related games through Steam, they decided to start working on a bigger project.
Raphael explained: “I’ve been interested in chess for a very long time. You know, when in movies they want to make someone seem intelligent, they put a chessboard in view? I wanted to be that person. So I started learning how to play. And then I learned through books that most people who played chess at a high level, had these letters in front of them. PHD. I didn’t know what it was. Later I learned that most of the professional chess players actually taught at University as well, since being a professional chess player doesn’t pay the bills. So I ended up studying physics as well, to be like them. ”
Starting to play chess is not much fun, since you need to learn a lot of rules to be actually able to enjoy the game. However, once you get the rules and dive into pattern recognition, chess is really like a non-stop puzzle you need to solve. Skills like thinking ahead, problem-solving, and strategic and logical reasoning all come into play when playing chess.
Raphael started the company with a partner after his studies, once he became the person he once aspired to be. At first, the small company of four focussed on releasing a new, small game, every three weeks. This gained the company a lot of momentum, but also insight into how to work together and make and release challenging puzzle games. Most of these puzzle games were chess-related.
After two years, the company decided to start working on a bigger project. That’s how Chessarama came about. The game is set to be released this year, and will actually teach new players how to play chess… provided they put enough effort in.
Learning to play Chess
Raphael explains: “With chess, the first 30 or so hours aren’t really that much fun. You need to learn how the pieces move, you need to grasp the patterns. And you also need to be able to always think at least two steps ahead. So for me learning chess had a lot of frustration as well.
With Chessarama though, those first steps will be a lot more fun, although maybe still very frustrating. In Chessarama, you learn how to move the various chess pieces on the board through puzzle minigames. The game is split into different ‘worlds’, that unlock the longer you play the game and the more XP you gain. Each world teaches you about different pieces of the chessboard. The further you get, the more pieces there will be in the minigames.
The learning curve is deliberate and well thought through. Raphael explains: “When working on Chesssarama we contacted many chess grandmasters to help us in the process. One of them, Susan Polger, actually helped us develop the learning arc. She was the first female to attain the grandmaster title in chess. She is now retired from professionally playing, but she helped us a lot in trying to figure out how to teach people how to play. ”
Chessarama has also partnered up with the Chess World Tour and will be working with them for the next season as well.
How does the game work
In the campaign of Chessarama, you will move only the piece (or pieces) that you are currently learning. The game explains how you can move the pieces around the game tracks, which aren’t necessarily boards at all. Most game tracks have a grid of spaces you can move around. The aim is to make sure you reach the target by moving your main piece (the one that you’re learning the rules for).
The further you get, the more important the influence of other pieces is. For instance, during a game where I was playing with just the pawn, I had to make sure my Bishop was protecting the pawn at all times, otherwise, a dragon would eat my pieces. In this way you not only learn how the pieces move around the board (which also helps with the pattern recognition), you are also constantly made aware of the importance of defense.
Every stage you complete gains you XP. You can complete stages on Challenge mode as well, which will gain you additional XP. With enough XP you can progress to another ‘zone’, which will add more pieces to your game. Once you complete a zone, you can play the zone’s endgame. Usually, these are chess-based games with a twist. For instance, having a board filled with only Knights, with the aim to check-mate the other player. Challenging, interesting, and most of all, fun! While still teaching you the core chess rules. There is a leaderboard in-game as well, so you can keep track of how well you’re doing compared to others.
After you have played enough games, you can also play chess in the game. Playing the game will unlock various pieces of chess ‘families’, for instance, the medieval set or the farmer set. After you unlock the full set, you can use them in a game of chess. So far, the game doesn’t allow for people to go head to head, but there will be a leaderboard-like system where you play against computer-controlled bots, kinda like Marvel Snap does.
We’ve played this game during Gamescom 2023 and it actually was a lot of fun to figure out how to complete the challenges! I already had some basic knowledge (I know how the pieces are able to move) but figuring out the puzzles was still very challenging! Raphael actually told us that some of the games were actually challenging for the grandmasters as well. They really tried hard to make it fun for both puzzle game enthusiasts and chessplayers, and that results in a very balanced, though challenging game. With the cute cartoon-like graphics and a very well-thought-out learning arc, I imagine this will be a big hit when it launches! You can allready check out the game on Steam here.
Let us know in the comments if you are going to play this game!