I bought Space Checkers on a whim because I found myself in a toy store with a five-year-old. These are the compromises parents make: if I was going to have to buy a toy, I was determined that it would be a game we could both play. Fortunately, Space Checkers turned out to be a surprisingly engaging game for adults and kids alike.
Space Checkers features four alien races: The Ixithan Empire (little green men), the Kanaloan Alliance (yellow disembodied heads like TMNT’s Kraang), the Mechanoid Armada (like…well, Palladium’s Mechanoids only blue), and the Formic Commune (like red D&D Formians). They are all theoretically battling for control of Earth.
The board consists of 144 spaces divided into four quarters, each aligned with a color/race. There are starting spots for 12 color-coded flying saucers, as well as 10 spaces off the main board that act as prison cells for captured saucers. Earth sits in the center, taking up sixteen spaces. It has no bearing on game play other than as an obstacle that must be avoided. So much for battling for the supremacy of Earth!
There’s no “kinging” in Space Checkers, so we invented that rule that whoever makes it to the opposite side becomes a Supreme Commander and can move in any direction from that point on. The official rules mitigate this somewhat by dictating that once you’re on the opposite side of the board you can move “Wild” and move in any direction without regard for the tyrannous color die (see below).
Players roll two dice, one that determines direction by color (or Wild) and one that determines the number of moves. You can also “warp” across the board by simply moving off one side and starting across on the other side – in essence, treating the board like a sphere. Rules otherwise progress as normal checkers – which is to say that there’s almost no rules that apply from checkers because the board, colors, and number of players changes the game significantly.
If Space Checkers has a flaw, it’s the color-coded die. The definition of “moving towards” a color is so vague that it causes quite a bit of confusion. Do you have to move in a straight line? Does moving backwards and warping count as moving “toward” a color? Can you just immediately attack another player on the opposite side by warping backwards? A primer on how Checkers works might help. I thought I knew how to play Checkers but reviewing these rules reminded me that the devil is in the details:
Jumping: You capture an opponent’s piece (piece or king) by jumping over it, diagonally, to the adjacent vacant square beyond it. The three squares must be lined up (diagonally adjacent) as in the diagram at the left: your jumping piece (piece or king), opponent’s piece (piece or king), empty square. A king can jump diagonally, forward or backward. A piece which is not a king, can only jump diagonally forward. You can make a multiple jump (see the diagram on the right), with one piece only, by jumping to empty square to empty square. In a multiple jump, the jumping piece or king can change directions, jumping first in one direction and then in another direction. You can only jump one piece with any given jump, but you can jump several pieces with a move of several jumps. You remove the jumped pieces from the board. You cannot jump your own piece. You cannot jump the same piece twice, in the same move. If you can jump, you must. And, a multiple jump must be completed; you cannot stop part way through a multiple jump. If you have a choice of jumps, you can choose among them, regardless of whether some of them are multiple, or not. A piece, whether it is a king or not, can jump a king.
This is my problem of course – my children were not bothered in the least by the lack of clarification on how Space Checkers work because they only just learned Checkers. The game has so far entertained my boy (and my two-year-old girl) for several days in a row. High praise indeed for games that often don’t last more than a few hours.
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