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Kamikaze Chess Review

Quick Look:

Designer: Paul E. Robinson
Publisher: Drawing Deck LLC
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 2
Ages: 5+
Playing Time: 10+ minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

DISCLAIMER: I was provided a copy of this game for my review.

Everyone has that one friend. The person who just isn't all that into "complicated" games. Of course, to them, complicated means anything that has more rules than Monopoly or chess. There's nothing wrong with this mindset, of course—everyone's entitled to like different things—but you're wanting to mix it up a little, show them that a different take on things isn't inherently bad.

Kamikaze Chess is a lot of things. Part remix, part travel companion, this small box of cards allows you to play chess (and checkers!) anywhere, at any time. It also employs interesting new chess variants to modify the game you know so well, including Kamikaze cards that affect the game on the fly in unique, interesting ways. And best of all, there is no right or wrong way to play it—only YOUR way.


Rules and Setup:
Because of the variety of options, there's a few different ways to play, but all of them start with setting up the board. Remove the Kamikaze (red) cards and arrange them in a checkerboard pattern; these will serve as the dark squares on the board, while the open spaces between them represent the light squares. At this point, it's a simple matter of putting down your chess pieces, and this is where things get interesting.

For a game of Kamikaze Chess, players can either place the Chessmen cards as they normally would in a game of chess - pawns in front, queen to the left of the king - or they can shuffle their Chessmen cards and place them in the open spaces, filling the board in a completely random order. If this more chaotic start is selected, the game includes a couple of extra starting rules (if both kings start out in check, immediately move them to any square; move one bishop onto a Kamikaze card so that you have one bishop on each color). There are also a few variants of these rules, such as shuffling and blindly placing cards on the board, or passing on chess entirely and using the backs of the cards to play a rousing game of checkers.

At the end of the day, this is still chess, and the cards can be used to play chess with no additional variants. The real fun, however, comes from the Kamikaze cards. Once per turn, whenever a chess piece lands on a Kamikaze card, the card is flipped over, and the action on the card immediately takes effect. These include Attack (move again), Trade (swap places with another chess piece), Sacrifice (revive one chess piece in exchange for the piece that activated the card), Sudden Death (immediately remove that piece from the board), the titular Kamikaze (the activating chess piece takes over any other spot on the board, excluding the King's current space), and my personal favorite, Knight Raid (move again, in a knight's "L" formation). Only one Kamikaze card can be activated per turn, and once activated, the card cannot be used again.

This chaotic addition to the gameplay gives both new opportunities and new threats. Do you take the chance to put your opponent in check, knowing you might trigger a Sudden Death action and lose your treasured piece? Do you keep your king away from the action, knowing your opponent might at any point land on a Kamikaze piece and back him into a corner? Questions like this constantly change the strategy of the game, and it's certainly a major departure for chess purists, but the wealth of variations can help reinvigorate a classic for those who seek more variety in their games.

An example of the "quickstart" setup, with chess pieces occupying the blank spaces to begin.

Theme and Mechanics
Both thematically and mechanically speaking, Kamikaze chess does not wildly stray from its ancestor. You're still traversing the board, hoping to eliminate your opponent's pieces and eventually topple their king. However, the Kamikaze cards do add a fun twist, adding some randomness and luck to a very strategic game. Especially for those who are less skilled at the strategy required to master the basic game of chess, this allows for an entry into the game. I do wish the "Kamikaze" action eliminated both chess pieces, which would be more in line with the concept, but that's a minor criticism at most.

One aspect I do appreciate is that this game is built for travel. It's not the usual sort of chess game, with ornate pieces or a sturdy board; rather, both the board and the pieces are made with simple, color-coded cards. This isn't just me arguing for its travel effectiveness, either; the game advertises itself as a travel-centered chess game, and I'd say it lives up to this description.

The game plays fine, about as well as you'd expect a game of chess to play. The Kamikaze cards didn't slow down gameplay all that much, and because their positions switch each game, each game is drastically different within the first five turns. We had some games that were over in under five minutes, while most lasted 15-20 minutes. The Kamikaze cards keep things changing fast, meaning you never know when one card could change the tide of the game.

One important thing of note is that the cards, due to their size and construction, can occasionally be difficult to move around without moving other cards by accident. We would often use the opponent's turn to straighten up the cards on the board, simply because it happened quite a bit. The issue became nonexistent when we used a set of normal chess pieces with the board cards, but that isn't always possible, especially when using the game while traveling. This is a problem that is an unfortunate reality of travel games, but thankfully, it's only a minor inconvenience and doesn't take away from the fun.

Prefer regular chess, just in an on-the-go format? You do you.

Artwork and Components:

The artwork is equal parts minimalist and detailed, which works really well given the size of the cards. The only colors used are black, white, and red, which helps to keep things from getting muddled mid-game.

Of the 64 square cards, 32 are chess pieces (16 white, 16 black), and the remaining 32 comprise the Kamikaze cards that make up the chess board. All of these cards fit into the included tuckbox perfectly, and if there are any game designers reading this review, please take note: this game's tuckbox is perfection. Not only does it have a small notch in the back, but the top flap also has a slight crease further on the box, making it very easy to open the box and remove the cards, no matter how tightly they're packed. There's no annoying lip in the back the prevents me from reaching my finger in, and most importantly, there's no notches in the top flap that hook the box closed and require me to damage the box just to get the cards out. This tuckbox is by no means the best aspect of this game, but when I feel the need to applaud a box's design, know that it's pretty freakin' great.

There is an additional card which gives information on the rules and variants, and this card may be my least favorite aspect of the game. I'm unsure if it's because of some language barrier or simply because they had a lot of information to fit into a tiny space, but this card doesn't do its job very well. It outlines setup and the basic rules just fine, but when it comes to the variants, it's hard to tell what is considered the "traditional" way to play the game with the Kamikaze cards (I'm still not 100% sure at this point if I'm correct on how/when to use them). The rules seem to repeat themselves in areas, to the point that it's hard to know exactly how the designers envisioned people playing their game, and the "Variants" section doesn't do a very concise job of explaining the changes from that vision. I think the game could have likely benefited from giving this rule card another once-over, or even a second card to allow for more in-depth descriptions.

Overall, this is a perfectly acceptable travel card game. The cards allow you to play traditional chess (or checkers), or mix it up with the Kamikaze cards for faster, more chaotic gameplay. The artwork plays to the game's strengths, and its compact size makes it live up to its intended(?) use.

I included a question mark above because the hardest thing about this game is the fact that it seemingly can't decide what it wants to be. Is it purely an on-the-go chess game? Is the Kamikaze variant more important than the travel aspect? The muddled rule card personifies this most of all, with the rules never very clear about the intended style of play versus the variants you can include.

Final Thoughts:
It seems the game's message is to play the game the way you want to play it, which I wholeheartedly applaud. However, I still would have liked some basic structure of the "Kamikaze" rules, and more concrete explanations of the "Variant" rules.

Players Who Like:
Fans of chess and other strategy games, or small travel games in general, should consider giving this a go.

Check out Kamikaze Chess on:

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/251823/kamikaze-chess   https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/createures/kamikaze-chess-playing-card-game/community   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cX5ccF6vWc   

David Jensen - Editor and Reviewer

David has tried his hand at everything from warehouse work and washing dishes to delivering pizza. Now, he's trying his hand at writing creatively and working as an editor for a start-up literary magazine. When he's not busy procrastinating, he's running tabletop game sessions for friends and family.

See David's reviews HERE.
Kamikaze Chess Review Kamikaze Chess Review Reviewed by David J. on February 15, 2019 Rating: 5

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