Dalton Versak strongly disagreed with the MetaCheckers slogan on the kiosk. “This is NOT easier than chess,” he said as he struggled with a decision in Heat 2 of the MetaCheckers tournament. And yet, Dalton survived to become the first international champion in MetaCheckers. In MetaCheckers, checkers move like chess pieces based on a roll of special dice. One die has chess symbols. The other has standard pips to indicate numbers. Roll a king, pawn or knight, and the player can choose any checker to move as a king, pawn or knight. Roll a queen, rook or bishop, and the numbers die dictates how far a piece must move as a queen, rook or bishop. Players use these moves to try to capture the opponent’s king checker.
This sounds simple enough, but as the game develops, players are forced to make some tough choices. Sometimes the best available checker to eliminate an attacking piece is also guarding the king from another direction. So, they have to make a decision. Which attack is more likely to kill the king? Which defense will save it? On the other hand, since any checker can move according to the roll of the dice, this means even the king checker can move as a knight … or a rook … or even a queen. So, the kings can participate in their own defense, attacks and escape. A player could be down to only the king checker against multiple pieces of the opponent and still win.
This is what happened during Heat 4 for Mark Love, who finished second in the tournament. About his game against Terry Masten of Delaware he says: “My opponent eliminated ALL of my pieces except for my king. For a moment, I thought how silly it would be for me to prolong the game by trying to run and hide, since he had five Easy Pieces. After he took my last other piece, I got a bishop move and moved my king from my right center area of the board to the other side of the board, directly toward his king, with his other pieces all around me. Oddly, none of his pieces could take me out in that position. He got a king roll, and moved a non-king piece to try to get a better shot at me. I got a knight roll, which was exactly what I needed for the win. We were both shocked.”
Mark went on to win second place, losing when Dalton rolled a Rook 5 to capture Mark’s king in the final. At the end, Mark had four pieces left, and Dalton had six.
MetaCheckers was invented in Horseheads, N.Y., by Ed and Jack Bond, who founded DreamGames. This is their first year bringing the game to conventions for sales, demos and tournaments. The players at WBC tested the game to its limits. At other conventions and demos in the Northeast, games typically finished within 10 to 15 minutes. At WBC, determined players pushed games to 20 minutes or more. And although it had been thought that draws were not possible in MetaCheckers, Dalton and Francois de Bellefeuille of Montreal proved that wrong. In a semifinal game, Dalton and Francois eliminated all pieces except their kings.
While this would make a draw automatic in chess, in MetaCheckers a victory is still possible. However, after 20 moves without a result, the players and GM agreed to declare a draw. Francois then lost to Mark Love and Dalton eliminated Brian Mountford [With a Bishop 5 roll; Brian with only his king at the end] to set up the Final. However, the next day other players reported a non-tournament game that came down to just kings but eventually had a winner. That game took 30 minutes to finish. So, even with only kings, victory is possible so long as both players are earnestly trying to capture the opponent’s king. This may require a minor adjustment in the rules or the use of a time limit in future tournaments.
We had a great time and were very happy to see so many turn out to play a new game in its debut season. DreamGames plans to bring MetaCheckers back for future tournaments and hopes WBC members will vote to support it. MetaCheckers can be played with four opening layouts and five game variations. By next year, we should have several additional games to unveil.