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Simple chess variant strips down an ancient classic

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Fewer pieces, smaller board, easy moves

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Michael Davies

Rex is a simple chess variant that strips the original game down to three-piece types played on a five-by-five board.

Created by designer Michael Davies — whose previous work includes nuclear war comedy ICBM Rex is designed to be played in short bursts. The pieces can all move in any direction, but some can move farther than others.

At the basic tutorial level, the game's AI is easy to beat. On tougher levels it presents a much bigger challenge. But Davies really sees it as a two-player game.

"Whenever I go over to someone's house and see a chessboard on a bookshelf or a coffee table, I'm always like 'oh cool you want to play a game?' but few people want to play a two-hour game at the drop of a hat," he told Polygon.

"I wanted to make a board game that was chess-like, but super simple, with very easy rules, that took less than 15 minutes to play, and that I could easily explain to a child. I was shooting for somewhere in-between chess and tic-tac-toe."

In a way, Davis is taking chess back to its roots, with fewer units on offer. The game we know as chess is played with six different piece types. Historians believe it originated in India around 1,500 years ago, with four-piece types based on military units.

Chess was codified in the 19th century but continues to inspire games designers who seek to make it more complex or more simple. D.B. Pritchard's Encyclopedia of Chess Variants lists around 1,400 games based on chess, some played in ancient or medieval times, but most were designed in the last few years.

Video games have proved a fertile ground for chess experimentation, with one game designer releasing a Chess 2 game that he believes fixed flaws in the original.

Rex is available now and can be downloaded for free from GameJolt.