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Tomb Chess - Or Maybe Tomb Statego

Reviewed By: Craig Stern
Play Tomb Chess

Tomb Chess

Tomb Chess is a flash strategy "board game" named after chess. In fact, however, it's actually much more like Stratego, in that luck plays a huge role in the proceedings.

One of the few one-on-one strategy games in Flash, Tomb Chess does a lot right. The game's graphics are hand-drawn and animated frame by frame. The characters are all interesting-looking, with their own unique attacks and death animations. Everything is accompanied by plodding, gloomy orchestral music that fits the mood perfectly, and the ghouls each moan appropriately when they die.

The game works like this: you begin a match with the board completely covered by tombstones. Each turn, you can click a tombstone to dig up the piece sleeping beneath it. Sometimes the piece is one of yours, sometimes it's an enemy piece. You ultimately have no control over what turns up. Once you've got some units, you can choose to spend your turn moving a piece and--if an enemy piece is adjacent to it--attacking. There is a hierarchy of pieces, from the lowly Ghost up to the mighty King. As in Stratego, each piece will kill any piece it attacks that is of a lower rank, with one major exception: a Ghost may kill a King. Every piece can move only one space per turn, essentially turning the proceedings into an elaborate game of rock-paper-scissors.

As a general rule, games can be placed on a continuum between luck and skill. Chess is the classic example of a game that is 100% skill. There is nothing random about what happens in chess. Chess is driven entirely by the choices the players make. Candy Land, by contrast, is the classic example of a 100% luck game. Everything that happens in that game happens as the result of a die roll. If you could set up a machine to roll dice over and over, the game could literally play itself. Game designers often like to throw some luck in their games to keep things at least a little unpredictable and thereby increase the game's replay value, but if they add in too much, they get something like Candy Land, where whether you win or lose has nothing to do with choices you actually make in the game.

The name "Tomb Chess" suggests a skill-heavy game because it includes chess in the title, but luck actually plays a heavy role--so heavy, in fact, that it can seriously hurt what is otherwise a fun game. For example, your King might appear on the first tombstone you click, and the enemy might choose the tombstone next to him and pull up a Ghost when there's nowhere for your King to run. That sort of thing happens more than you might suspect, in part because every last space on the board starts off being taken up by a tombstone. So if something like this happens early in the game, you stand to lose some of your best pieces through no fault of your own. The bottom line: this is a fun, well-made strategy game, but you're likely to find it frustrating if you want a purely skill-based experience.

7/10 -- "Like Stratego, only undead"

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