‘The Queen’s Gambit Chess’ Netflix Review – They Who Chase Two Rabbits Shall Catch Neither

Before I go into my review of The Queen’s Gambit Chess (Free) from Netflix and Ripstone, I want to be upfront about where I am coming from. First, I haven’t seen even a single episode of the show. I know, I know. I’ve heard it’s really good, but I don’t have a lot of free time for watching TV shows. So any and all overtures this game makes towards pleasing fans of the show, presumably the main target here, are largely lost on me. Second, I’m a fairly experienced chess player. I was in the chess club back in my school days, and despite me being the literal worst player in that club, I do know my way around the board well enough to put up a good fight. So those are my credentials, and I’ll be proceeding from there.

I’m going to start with what I liked about the game. Yes, it’s one of those reviews. First of all, the presentation is really nice. I don’t know the show, but I can see a lot of care went into recreating locations and making stylized versions of various characters. Most of the chess sets look great, though the designs of some of them make it hard to tell pieces apart at a glance. I respect the attempt to gamify chess, likely as a means to keep people playing through the learning curve of the game itself. Lots of coins to earn for doing various things, and you can spend them on all sorts of things. I think for someone who genuinely knows next to nothing about chess, this is an agreeable way to learn at least the basics. There’s plenty to do here as well, following Beth’s Journey through chess puzzles and matches against various characters. You can even hop online and play against other humans.

Okay, on to the rest. If I had to sum things up, I find myself unsure of who this is exactly for. I think it has to be fans of the show, but as I haven’t seen the show I can’t say whether the fanservice hits the mark or not. But in terms of chess players, I think it’s in an awkward space. It includes a ton of accessibility features that make it easier to win a game, for example, but if you were to move over to another chess game without those assists, you’d be lost. The game isn’t teaching you, it’s telling you. Sometimes it’s telling you the wrong things, even. The chess puzzles, normally a good source of learning a variety of strategies, are surprisingly limited in their scope. If you’ve played chess puzzles before, you’re not going to be terribly challenged by any of these. You’re also not going to pick up many useful techniques through them. Sometimes it does drop some useful techniques in the main game, but since it never properly revisits them or explains the theory behind them, it feels a bit pointless.

On the other side of the coin, the AI and overall progression is probably going to irritate experts, even if they jump to the highest difficulty right away. The game also really wants to help you, and there’s nothing worse than a pushy helper when you already know what you want and need to do. Okay, so maybe you just head online and play against other humans, count on the human element to sort things out? Not a bad idea, but there’s a big problem right now with the game that is magnified when you play online.

This game has a crashing problem. I tried it on multiple devices just to make sure it wasn’t just my phone, but no. Every so often, not every time but often enough to lose your trust, the game will crash in the middle of a match. If you’re playing against the CPU, it isn’t the end of the world. You can pick up where you left off. But if you’re playing against someone online, you’re pretty much done. The game never crashed during chess puzzles; only during matches and only once you get a ways into them. But that is a pretty serious problem for a chess game, I feel. I’m going to assume this will be fixed and not completely spike the game’s score for it, but I’m not going to ignore it either.

I’m not going to drag this one out too far. If you have Netflix it doesn’t cost you anything to try the game, and if you’re a fan of the show and somehow aren’t that familiar with chess, I encourage you to give it a shot. Queen’s Gambit Chess will assuredly teach you how to play the game, so if that is what you’re looking for you’re all set. But it will only take you so far, choosing to show you what to do instead of teaching you what to do. Experienced chess players will probably find it a bit unsatisfying overall thanks to the low level of difficulty and excessive handholding. Throw in some fairly serious technical issues in the current version that deeply affects multiplayer and you’ve got a game that struggles to find its own winning move.

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