Chess on Cards: A Review of King's Ransom

King's Ransom

You've almost certainly played Chess — but have you played it using cards? Probably not. King's Ransom, by General Nonsense Games, will feel quite familiar to anyone who has played Chess. The cards contain various Chess pieces which offer similar movement abilities, yet the game introduces some luck and different types of strategy. But is there enough new gameplay here to keep the attention of a casual gamer?

Gameplay

King's Ransom is a 2-player game in which each player tries checkmate or directly capture his opponent's King. Each player receives a deck of 24 cards, which contain all of the various Chess pieces, from the King all the way down to the Pawns (though in different quantities than Chess). There is also a new piece introduced — the Prince — which moves just like a king, but can be captured without ending the game.

The game is played on an invisible grid that is 3 cards wide by 6 cards long. Each player's King is initially placed in the center of the grid on the side closest to him. Each player shuffles his deck of cards and randomly places 4 cards face down, surrounding the King. Players may look at their own face-down cards, but not their opponent's. Each player draws 3 cards to hold in his hand.

King's Ransom player chart

On a turn, the player takes the following actions, in order:

  1. Flip a Card — turn one of your face-down cards to be face up.
  2. Move a Card — move a face-up card to any space not occupied by one of your own cards, following the same basic rules as Chess. If it lands on an opponent's card, the opponent's card is captured. Special Chess moves like castling or moving pawns two spaces forward are not valid.
  3. Announce Check — if a face-up card is threatening your opponent's King, the player announces "check." If the card is face down, it does not need to be announced.
  4. Play a Card — play a new card face down in an open space on your side of the grid (or optionally replace a card if there are no open spaces available).
  5. Draw a Card — draw a new card from the top of your deck and add it to your hand.

The game continues until one of the Kings is captured or checkmated, or there is a stalemate.

King's Ransom Components

Review

The age-old game of Chess has many variants, some good and others not-so-good. King's Ransom turns Chess into a casual game that is surprisingly enjoyable. It introduces luck (the drawing of cards), surprises (hidden cards that your opponent does not see until you choose to reveal them), and many fresh strategies. By reducing the size of the game board, the number of pieces, and the amount of information available to each player, the game feels lighter and quicker than its predecessor — it's not so much a battle of pure wits as it is just a fun game.

While simplifying the strategic elements of the game, King's Ransom also introduces a bit more complexity in the extra turn actions. Rather than just moving a single piece on a turn, as in Chess, several steps and decisions must be made on a turn. It requires a bit of getting used to, but it's really not difficult to remember after a few turns. Also, the game doesn't benefit from a physical board to demarcate the spaces, so players must be careful to make sure that they move their cards properly along the invisible grid.

The game is published by General Nonsense Games and Victory Point Games. It comes in a nice, plastic clamshell case. The cards themselves seem easily frayed, but overall the game is much more polished and professional than other games in the General Nonsense line.

Move over, Chess! King's Ransom is fun, unique, quick, and overall more enjoyable for casual gamers.

Pros: Quick, fun, and unique alternative to Chess; good balance of luck and strategy; familiar to anyone who knows Chess

Cons: Some minor quality issues, no physical board to demarcate the grid

Disclosure: we received a complimentary review copy of this game.