Learn to Play Chess with Fritz & Chesster

Review by Old Rooster
August 2003

A Chess Vacation

Learn to Play Chess is one of the more remarkable and commendable "edutainment" titles I've ever experienced. My visiting nine-year-old nephew and I have just completed more than a dozen delightful hours with Fritz, Chesster and the other charming characters of the Kingdom of King White.

The good King is bored. He and the Queen decide to take a little trip, leaving the Kingdom in the hands of little Fritz and his friend Bianca. Within hours of the parents' departure, while trying out the comfortable throne, Fritz receives this letter: "A challenge is given to King White. King Black would like to play!"

Well, no one has beaten King Black in years. And it's no coincidence that this challenge is delivered when the parents are away! What is Fritz to do? He's in charge, but he doesn't know how to play chess. To the rescue comes a very colorful character—King Kaleidoscope.

King K (as he's affectionately known) is my kind of guy, full of little sayings like this:

In winter's cold or summer's heat,
It's always best when it's time to eat!

But roly-poly King K is also prepared to teach little Fritz (and my nephew) the techniques of playing chess. Exploring the grounds of the Kingdom reveals side games designed as instructions in the basics of chess. These are fun in and of themselves, and include such frolic as:

  • Take Your Pick—Her Majesty shows the art of moving queens;
  • Smash the Toilets—In King Black's factory, you'll find how bishops traverse the board;
  • The Peasant Pawns of Pleasantville—Visiting this village will reveal the movement secrets of pawns.

Three other entertaining games are available, giving guidance on the movements of knights, rooks and the king.

I had to pull my nephew away from these games, directing him to the Brain Building IntelliGym. Here, one puts it all together. You can choose a Light, Middle or Heavyweight category and have a Chessometer measure your readiness to move on—ultimately to face the evil Black King!

Finally, you gird yourself to enter the Arena! Here you can take on King Black as many times as you would like. Or you can play more friendly games against Chesster and King K, adjusting the difficulty setting to be just a bit challenging but not too much so. In the Arena, you can choose to play with traditional-looking pieces or the creative characters of the Kingdom.

My nephew had had a superficial interest in chess, but he thought of it as a dry game for old people. No longer! If I had not intended this game as a gift for him, he certainly would have found a way to relieve me of it anyway. He (and I) had a delightful time with this creative and fun chess tutorial.

The "adventure" is set up with 800×600 graphics and very fine voice acting. It ran smoothly on my XP rig, and it has a broad range of system compatibility. As you will see from the screenshots, the settings and colors are far from "dry" and "eggheady." You progress in a fairly linear fashion through the various subgames to the IntelliGym and finally to the Arena. When leaving the program ("Are you Fritzed out already?"), the game is automatically saved at the last point. Moreover, at any point you can return to previously completed subgames to brush up on piece movements—or just for fun! The chess engine used may have some limits, since I was able to do quite well at the highest level. But I've been playing for half a century! For children, though, the engine and its range are perfect.

In my years of playing chess, I've seen "beginner" instructions in many programs. However, for a pre–ten-year-old, I've never found a program as fun, encouraging and successful as this experience with Fritz and Chesster. The manual says age eight and up; but I would offer that a bright six-year-old could well benefit from this "edutainment," as could an adult new to the game! As a footnote, purchase of the game also includes a one-year membership in www.PlayChess.com, a website with kid and adult rooms and game matchmaking.

I'm pleased to award Learn to Play Chess with Fritz and Chesster our Gold Star. From the colorful packaging to the carefully sequenced "adventure" itself, this is a "one of a kind" product, clearly designed not only with love of the game, but also love of children. Congratulations!

And remember, boys and girls, as King K likes to say:

I feel so happy, I feel so fine,
because it's almost dinner time!
 The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Viva Media
Publisher: Viva Media
Release Date: May 2003

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Windows 98/ME/2000/XP
PII 233
16 MB free hard disk space

Where to Find It

Where to Find It

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