Meet my new gaming obsession: battle chess!

(Image credit: Hammerfall Publishing)

For reasons I don't quite understand, I have decided to learn Chess. This ancient, complex boardgame is more accessible than ever thanks to a glut of internet resources and hundreds of digital versions featuring smart, challenging AI.

Initially I picked up Chess Ultra, currently on sale on Steam for about five bucks. This seems to be the most lavish of the dozens of chess games available on Steam. It's 10GB of lovely wood textures and carefully modeled pieces. After searching around Youtube for some basic advice on how to start, I found a video of a grandmaster delivering an openings tutorial to a class of small children—exactly my level. 

I started to get the better at beating the basic novice AI, trying to hold in my head the differences between the 'queen's gambit accepted' and 'queen's gambit declined' openings. In the midgame I could just about fumble my way to victory with some improvisation. Afterwards I watched some grandmaster games with commentary, and started to understand what an extraordinary game Chess is. I began to appreciate the huge amount of learning and experience needed to get good at it.

(Image credit: Ripstone)

So I baulked. When you're at the bottom of the mountain the climb can seem impossible. I needed to soften the challenge, so I turned to a small subspecies of the grand old game: battle chess. There have been many variations on this concept, which equips pieces with close combat animations as they take each other off the board.

1988's original classic Battle Chess is available on Steam for just a few bucks, but I wanted something modern, with a bit of gore, and with big Orks in it. Warhammer 40,000: Regicide fit perfectly, and it has been a great palette cleanser between bouts of trying to learn the game seriously.

The Ork is sad because he has been checkmated. (Image credit: Hammerfall)

You can play classic Chess with Space Marines if you like, but you're more likely to find high level AI in dedicated chess games. Instead it's Regicide mode that has provided amusement between bouts of reading articles on efficient early game development.

Regicide has all the familiar pieces, but now all your pawns can shoot. I enjoy directing them to snap fire at the enemy line and open up holes in the enemy defense. Proper Chess moves serve as instakill attacks, so if you move your queen (a Space Marine librarian in this case) to take a piece diagonally, your librarian will walk up to an Ork and zap them into chunks immediately. Strong pieces have special abilities like "Only War", which can buff the defence of nearby pieces.

It's so silly, and even though you win by checkmating your opponent's king (an Ork warboss or a Space Marine captain, depending on who you play as), it's not really Chess. But it's Chess-adjacent enough to reset my brain and inspire me to get back into the proper theory again. One day I'll make an account on and start facing real players. Until then, I'm going to checkmate Orks until I know some fundamentals.

Tom Senior

Part of the UK team, Tom was with PC Gamer at the very beginning of the website's launch—first as a news writer, and then as online editor until his departure in 2020. His specialties are strategy games, action RPGs, hack ‘n slash games, digital card games… basically anything that he can fit on a hard drive. His final boss form is Deckard Cain.