Review: Chess by Post
For a long time, playing Chess meant you had to find someone to play against. The home computer revolution changed that and provided everyone with an opponent that could seriously challenge them (and in the process probably upset a lot of casual players with the strength of the digital grandmasters). Chess by Post, from Jeff Cole, takes another approach, returning Chess to a human v human struggle, spread around the world. Of course what the Internet means "by Post" doesn't require a letter being sent around the world, but relayed through a server, letting everyone play at their own pace.
Version Reviewed: 18.104.22.168
Normally I would mark down a game where I have to wait for a human opponent to play, but looking back where this has been attempted in games I have reviewed, it's been in games that are traditionally quick, needing a fast back and forward between players to build up excitement. Chess can work that way, but it's a much more sedate game. There's also a long history of playing chess across large distances with days between moves, so Chess by Post fits into this expectation. The long delays between moves; the ability to be playing more than one game at a time; that Chess by Post doesn't get the way of the rest of your life by forcing you to watch the screen for your opponent's incoming move... these are all strengths.
Chess by Post has very little frills. You have a an initial panorama screen with three lists, games where you need to make a move, games where your opponent needs to make a move, and a list of finished games and your rating. Settings for the game are left to the board colour, and how the game will let you know about incoming moves. You can switch on the toaster bar to alert you for a move, or you can pin a Live Tile to your start screen and set it to show the number of games that are running where you need to make a move.
I'm not specifically watching for a move, but there's a little thrill when the number pops up on the Live Tile. Steve Litchfield and I have been playing a game over the last week and a half. It's a rather sedate affair, neither of us are brilliant chess players, and it's nice to know that I'm up against someone of similar ability. You can chat to your opponent in an IM-like dialog by swiping the game board to the side, which helps the experience. Inviting Steve to another game would be simple as I know his username, but the first time around, the game sent him an email asking him to download the app to play - a nice UI touch, with an additional promotional use to help increase the number of users of Chess by Post.
You also have the option to be paired up with a random opponent who has a similar ranking on the Chess by Post server (your ranking goes up and down depending on who you play and their relative strength to you, and is the standard ELO system used by Chess professionals around the world). Again, it feels right to be competing against someone like me, rather than a computer algorithm that can wipe the floor with me in five minutes.
Finally, if you just want a chess board for you and a friend in the pub, Chess by Post has that option as well.
Chess by Post, even though it's on a mobile and is a game played over huge distances, makes Chess feel a lot more sociable. This is a simple idea, polished up for Windows Phone, and works well. Congratulations also to developer Jeff Cole for having two versions in the Marketplace - a paid for £2.29 version, and a fully functional free version that is ad supported. He's coded a classic version of Chess, and one that's going to be on my phone for a long time.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at