Learn to Play Chess with Fritz and Chesster is a bit like a wolverine in that it’s cute and furry on the outside, but has some real teeth once you get involved with it.
Although the game is designed to teach children how to play chess, the underlying engine is Fritz, which is a mighty powerful AI that is highly respected in chess circles. Grandmasters like Vladimir Kramnik use Fritz to train for big matches. But children won’t be thrown against the full weight of Fritz until they are able to handle it.
In fact, most children won’t even realize they are learning how to play chess until they get farther into the game. There is a really good story that accompanies your entry into the game. The king and queen of the land have gone on vacation and left their young prince Fritz in charge of the kingdom. Everything is going fine until King Black decides to take advantage of the missing leadership in his neighboring kingdom and challenge Fritz to a game. The outcome will determine the fate of the realm.
Thankfully Fritz is not all alone. He has a good friend named Chesster, who is a very funny field mouse, who agrees to help Fritz learn the ropes of the game.
This is about the point where most chess games, or any family title for that matter, begins to drop off a bit. But not this one. Instead of just showing players how the pieces move, the fun actually begins with a series of arcade games. The games are fun too, and only later do you learn that you are actually being taught the rules of chess.
For example, to determine how the king moves, you play a game with two sumo wrestlers. You can move your sumo wrestler in any direction on a small checkered board facing an opponent on the opposite side. You can’t move within one space of your opponent, so you have to wait till he makes a mistake and then gain ground on him. Eventually you can force him out of the ring.
This teaches players how the king moves on a chessboard and also how not to move within striking range of an opponent’s king.
After several lessons in how pieces move, players are treated to a limited game of chess. You are given a certain number of points to spend on pieces, and have to build a chess army to match your opponent’s. Then you play a normal game, but with fewer pieces. Your coach Chesster is a great help and explains to you what the opponent is probably going to attempt and how to thwart it while setting up an attack of your own.
At this point, you go from the basics to advanced strategies. You are taught famous opening moves and how to counter them. You are given general insight about how to set up a solid chess strategy and how to play defensively. All this is done in the same interesting and fun manner that the rest of the game is presented.
Eventually you have to play some real matches, with the grand finale being the match against King Black for all the marbles.
Besides keeping children interested and entertained, which this game does very well, another key factor that makes a good educational product is value. Here Fritz and Chesster score very well. The game sells for $29.99, which is an excellent price for a game of this quality. But in addition to that, you are given a year-long pass to access and play at playchess.com, which is one of the two most popular chess sites in the world. When I checked with them, a one year membership cost $19.99. Having that cost rolled into the price of the game is a worthwhile bonus, so children can go out and test their skills against human beings too without spending any extra cash.
The game of chess is an ancient classic, and for good reason. It teaches logical and problem-solving skills helpful to the fields of mathematics and science. But the game itself is complex. Extra kudos goes to Viva Media for demystifying the game to the point that even a child can understand it, yet keeping the hard strategies that make the game so universally loved intact.
As a side note, although the game is obviously aimed at children, it is exciting and fun enough that adults could use the game as a learning tool as well. Even better, this is a perfect title for children and their parents to play together, and you just don’t see very many like that these days.
Learn to Play Chess with Fritz and Chesster earns a perfect 5 GiN Gems for their treasury.