With its precursors dating to over a millenia ago, no game has been so loudly lauded for its tactical depth for so much time as chess. We in western civilization have elevated chess to a level of status regarding the intellect it takes to be a great chess player (or 'chesster'), and what other game out there has created so many iconic scenes in movies, so easily able to tell us that Xavier and Magneto are men of taste and sophistication, Holmes and Moriarty are men of intellect?
But what if chess had guns and space marines and burly men doing things FOR THE EMPEROR!?
That's what Warhammer 40k: Regicide does. It takes the good old-fashioned game of chess and makes it about 300% more metal, and 500% more violent, turning your 64-square playfield into a gory battleground where large men beat the tar out of orks. Tactically, of course.
I've never really had much of a chance to engage with games in the Warhammer series, vanilla or otherwise, but I just wanna take a moment here and say, "Oh man, is this stuff my jam." Warhammer was already like the most burly and badass fantasy genre, and with the 40K sci-fi offshoot, it ratchets things up even further. I'm endlessly fascinated by these hulking space imperialists and their undying ruler. As well as the orks, with their hilarious spelling and lore regarding how they got their ships in the first place, and the fact their grunts are actually called "Shoota Boyz." I just want to smother myself in all of this.
So Regicide is a combination of chess and turn-based strategy where your turns are split into 2 phases: movement and initiative. When you move you're only allowed to move one of your pieces, and they go according to the rules of the chess piece they're assigned to be, be it pawn or queen. Positioning, though, is super important: all of your characters have health and armor, but that's ignored if they're taken down by a chess capture, which is an automatic (and gory) death. If your knight captures an enemy queen? Goodbye, queen. Then, after you move, you're able to actually shoot and give status effects to enemies like a turn-based RPG. This means you can set up a position where your queen is about to be sacrificed, then kill the enemy that was going to take it out. Your queen's no longer going to be sacrificed, an enemy is down, and you have to force the enemy to reconsider their position.
It's cool. I know it's a really small change to the idea – what if your chess players could kill each other between moves?! - but I was actually surprised to see how the game changed, especially as the game challenges you further with it. The single player is basically set up entirely as a series of chess puzzles with the addition of goals and the ability to take pot shots at each other and slice people apart with chainsaw swords. Plus they don't have to abide by all chess rules either. There's a level that has 3 enemy knights and your goal is to prevent them from getting into two specific squares at the back. Not too difficult, but there's a secondary goal for you to capture them with chess moves instead of just killing them, making it much more difficult on account of the knight's erratic movement.
This extra wrinkle makes a huge difference in how the game feels. It's two different types of tactics that you then have to combine together – positioning not just to get a good shot, but also to keep yourself out of (or purposefully in) harm's way. But on top of that, it also gives you the ability to destroy enemy sacrifices and completely screw up their plans. It can make it difficult to set up attacks because of this. But if you plan for the idea that a unit might be shot to death, you can hopefully deal with the positioning.
I think Regicide is a really cool concept and an interesting adaptation of an already turn-based game with entirely different mechanics. The addition of RPG elements on top of the basic chess core makes it more than just a board game and the way the single player doles out puzzling combat encounters around this really makes you have to think hard, considering the mechanics of both if you wish to get to victory. I'd especially love to see the devs start rolling out single player puzzles like this more often, but with multiplayer and a beefy single player, there's more than enough to go here.