At this year’s game developers conference, in the conference center’s back corner, was a booth many people missed. New Wheel Games had several impressive games on display that they were there to showcase. This article will focus on their follow-up to the board game checkers, titled CHECKER2: THE REVENGE. They’ve updated nearly every aspect of checkers, but how does it fare? Will it impact modern society in the way the first checkers did? Will it still be around in a millennia?
Right off the bat, I was impressed to see the roster of playable characters had greatly increased. You change characters by holding one of 15 plastic hands that you can then use to lift and set down the pieces. There were purple hands, alien hands, a lifelike recasting of Gary Kasparov’s hand (did they realize he plays chess?), even a zombie hand with only two fingers. But functionally, all of them were the same: which is to say they were clunky hand-sized implements you had to use to lift and set down the pieces. I started to wonder if it might not be easier to just use my actual hand. They said there would be two future hand add-ons in later game incarnations, about six months after release.
One of the next most striking aspects of CHECKER2 is the significant improvement in the visuals. The squares are in high-res 3D now with more gradients and a significantly higher .dpi printed on the cardboard. There’s a holographic overlay so the pieces seem to shimmer in any type of light, and to really see it you have to stare at the board like a magic eye until you can really see it. A woman at the conference with severe glaucoma said she couldn’t fully understand it.
Many of the squares you can land on have been updated. There’s a checkers square that is shaped like a circle. If you jump on to it, your health meter decreases by 4. If either player goes from 20 to 0, they lose the game. Additionally, triangular spaces turn the piece rogue, and it then automates against both players, circling the board, trying to kill anyone in its path. Hands down the most difficult tile was the pentagon space, which if landed on, requires you to keep that piece under the board. Many times in my trial games, I forgot what was where and lost a key piece. The rhombus space immediately turns the game into a horizontal version of Connect 4. After hitting so many of these unevenly distributed new spaces, and having to constantly refer back to the manual, I grew quite frustrated with the gameplay. The representative from New Wheel Games, Oswald Fuhrer, assured me that after adjusting to its system, the game would flow with greater enjoyment and fewer interruptions.
In story mode, we follow one of 12 particular pieces on the checkers board, each with its own name and backstory, as it tries to be kinged and achieve their objective. I played as Bloodthyrst, a female warrior elf piece trying to reunite the fighting kingdoms, only to learn it’s impossible, because checkers is not one player. The story left much to be desired, and ultimately she was still a small black plastic puck with an audio chip in it that occasionally issued furtive story-related exclamations.
Followers of the checkers series may want to know why this installment is arriving so much later than the original. The main reason cited by Fuhrer for the delay in this game’s development is the significant technological leap required to perfect the new Jump System, which is amazing to behold. In the Jump System, when conquering an opponents piece, a small burst of pressurized air shoots from the space, launching the piece in a perfect arc over the enemy’s position. Several times in demonstrations of this feature, they had to swap out small pressurized air tubes below various tiles on the board and the pieces did not always land where intended.
Nonetheless, I’m very excited to follow the release of this game and see if it impacts society in the same way as its progenitor. Whereas checkers was a game for simpler times, this update reflects the changes modern man has been through, and will be more relatable to current consciousness. Indeed, I predict this game will gain status as a modern staple. I picture children on farms picking up their favorite plastic hand and settling in for a game by the radio, while their parents tend the garden. I picture the delight and surprise on their faces when their own pieces turn against them after landing on a triangle and they don’t even know it because it is happening under the board. Oh, to be young again!