When somebody says a game is like chess, it is usually completely unlike chess


Chess has become elevated to the gold standard of board games. Everybody wishes their game had the cultural gravity of chess, a game whose mere mention elevates you to the category of deep thinker and profound strategist. (We’ll set aside the scrawny glasses-wearing nerd part for now.)

I’ve learned that when somebody says a game is like chess, it’s pretty much guaranteed that the game in fact bears no resemblance to chess whatsoever.

I came to this realization when somebody pulled out a game with a strange-looking board with what looked like plastic volcanoes glued to the surface, catwalks, and a lazy susan. Each player was represented by a token, set in its respective starting position. I asked, “Hey, what’s this game?”

The person replied, “It’s a lot like chess. First you roll the dice…”

(Translation from the German in that link above, for those who need some help.)

[Raymond is currently away; this message was pre-recorded.]

Comments (36)
  1. Bobby says:

    Chess is like backgammon, but without the dice.

  2. SRS says:

    This space reserved for "x is like a y, except you have to…" clauses, where ‘x’ is a Microsoft product and ‘y’ isn’t.

    • End of reserved space -
  3. Josh says:

    While bearing little relationship in mechanics, I would think games like Go and Diplomacy could be put on similar footing.  No element of randomness, a lot of strategy and a general attraction to the geek set.

  4. David Walker says:

    Analogies are like feathers on a snake.

  5. Ens says:

    "Analogies are like feathers on a snake."

    They’re both elements of Mexican mythology?

  6. Jeff Parker says:

    http://www.khet.com/ this is the only game that has come close to chess for me. I actually like this one a lot better than chess. It is basically chess with lasers. There are some upgrades, like the Beam splitter pieces which add a whole new level of complexity. The Second level where they attempt to make a 3d chess, eh, everyone I have played that tried to use it if I didn’t, then I won.

  7. EricLippert says:

    As the late George Carlin said (and I shamelessly ripped off;  http://blogs.msdn.com/ericlippert/archive/2003/10/16/53224.aspx )

    "Even volleyball is, technically, racketless, team Ping-Pong played with an inflated ball and raised net while standing on the table."

    Clearly chess is also a form of racketless ping-pong, where instead of taking turns hitting a ball, you take turns moving pieces.

  8. ConradHex says:

    I think when people say a board game is "like Chess", they mean that there’s lots of public information, and it’s possible to think ahead to what your opponent is likely to do next, and how you might respond, and how they might respond to that.

    Starting by rolling dice doesn’t mean a game isn’t like Chess, if the die roll is only used to determine who goes first, for example. But the larger the luck element and the more hidden information, the further away from Chess you’re getting, I guess.

    Personally, I don’t mind games that have a luck factor, but I feel the luck should determine what plans you can choose from. (As in, say, Hearts.) It shouldn’t determine whether your plan succeeds or fails once you’ve put it into action. (Like Risk; I decide to invade and you roll 6s ten times in a row. Bah!)

  9. JamesCurran says:

    Remind me of the occasional heard phrase "The human mind works just like a computer".

    This always bothered my for two reasons:

    1) The mind came first, so the copy should be compared to the original, not vice versa: ("A computer works just like the human mind")

    2) A computer works absolutely nothing like the human mind.

  10. <blockquote>I came to this realization when somebody pulled out a game with a strange-looking board with what looked like plastic volcanoes glued to the surface, catwalks, and a lazy susan. Each player was represented by a token, set in its respective starting position.</blockquote>

    Was that Fireball Island? http://www.x-entertainment.com/articles/0924/ Cuz Fireball Island was pretty cool. Not <i>chess</i> cool, but cool.

  11. Jonathan O'Connor says:

    A german soccer player said recently, that football is like chess, but without the dice! A bless his little brain!

  12. AK says:

    Jonathan, check out the links Raymond provided. Your post is redundant.

  13. CDarklock says:

    I think the purpose is really to divide your players.

    Chess has all of six different pieces, only two of which (the pawn and the knight) have even remotely confusing movement and capture methods. If a person cannot play chess, that person almost certainly cannot play ANY game with multiple unit types.

    So any game with multiple unit types can be accurately represented as "a lot like chess" in the sense that if you are too stupid to play chess, you are probably too stupid to play this game, too.

  14. Andrew Rich says:

    Was the game possibly Run Yourself Ragged? http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/9211

  15. Jay Bazuzi says:

    "If a person cannot play chess, that person almost certainly cannot play ANY game with multiple unit types. "

    That’s why I stick to Go, where there’s only one type of peice.  And they don’t move.  Chess is too confusing!

    Over the years, I’ve often seen someone try to explain Go to people as being "like chess".  The irony, to me at least, is that Go is more demanding of "thinking deeply" and "strategizing profoundly" than chess.

    And the two games really aren’t alike.  Go is more like beach volleyball.  But without the sports bras.

  16. pi says:

    Chess is like a Go on 9×9 board.

  17. mikeb says:

    @Jonathon>> A german soccer player said recently, that football is like chess, but without the dice!

    @AK>> Jonathan, check out the links Raymond provided. Your post is redundant.

    Actually I’m glad Jonathon posted that – I followed the link but didn’t realize that the "… without dice" bit was supposed to be a quote attributed to the player.

    I was left wondering what the nonsense caption had to do with a football player putting a large pair of yellow underpants on his head.

  18. bd_ says:

    Chess is like Go, only exactly the opposite :)

  19. slapout says:

    Reminds me of the word "urgent". Anything you get in the mail that says "Urgent" is guaranteed not to be.

  20. George Jansen says:

    Hey, at least basketball and American football have clocks.

    "If a person cannot play chess, that person almost certainly cannot play ANY game with multiple unit types."

    Hmm. Does a goalie count as a separate unit type?

  21. Boronx says:

    AFAIK, the earliest known form of chess used dice to determine which pieces could be moved in a given turn.

  22. Peter says:

    @pi: "Chess is like a Go on 9×9 board."

    What kind of chess are you playing?

  23. Romalar says:

    "Analogies are like feathers on a snake."

    You should read Very Like a Whale by Ogden Nash:

    http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/854.html

  24. Mark says:

    Jason: I can’t see a lazy susan there, although I pictured a similar game from the description

  25. Marc says:

    @Peter

    What kind of 9×9 Go are you playing?  :)

    (Go is played on the intersections, where Chess is played on the squares. Hence a 9×9 Go board can be used as a Chess board.)

  26. Ens says:

    If you’re truly insane, you can multiplex a (small) game of Go and a game of Chess on the same board at the same time.

  27. Will Dieterich says:

    Well ChessBoxing is just like Chess except you can win by a KO.

  28. Will says:

    @Jeff Parker

    "…eh, everyone I have played that tried to use it if I didn’t, then I won."

    I mean no offense whatsoever, but that is a marvel of linguistic insanity. I love it.

    @Jay Bazuzi

    "Go is more like beach volleyball.  But without the sports bras."

    You’re obviously not playing Go with the right people.

  29. Mark Baker says:

    Will, I see what you mean: Jay must find it hard to concentrate on the game with a bra-less opponent.

  30. Swiss Toni says:

    Playing chess is like making love to a beautiful woman. Just when you’ve got everything in the position you want them, the queen jumps all the way across the board and you’re left on your own.

  31. Will says:

    @Mark Baker

    Well, if you look at it that way, maybe Jay’s not playing beach volleyball with the right people.

  32. David Walker says:

    Ens: I didn’t want to explain it, but…

    My Dad says that analogies are useless.  "Tell me what something IS, not what it’s LIKE!!"

    So, when I heard "Analogies are like feathers on a snake", I made it a point to tell him, and he thought it was clever.  I didn’t make it up, though, I stole it from somewhere.

    Sometimes I say "Analogies are like feathers on a snake:  Useless, unneccessary, and unhelpful".

  33. arby says:

    The equivalent analogy in the food world is "It tastes just like chicken."

  34. Cheong says:

    I don’t know… but perhaps Chinese and Japanese chess are like chess?

  35. ping? says:

    … the earliest version of chess was played with dice. The Indian "Four rajas" game. The dice were removed from the game only later.

  36. Slapout said: "Reminds me of the word ‘urgent’. Anything you get in the mail that says ‘Urgent’ is guaranteed not to be."

    Similarly, I find e-mails marked "Low Importance" are frequently the most interesting / hilarious of the particular thread =)

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