Fritz & Chesster
Learn to Play Chess

Format: PC
Excalibur Publishing

5 060020 471957
Age Restrictions: 6+
23 September 2005

Fritz and Chesster does not teach chess in the usual way. It does not set up a board and explain how each of the pieces move. Instead it targets children who have never played chess before in their lives and teaches them the basic rules in a friendly and fun cartoon-like environment. There are cartoons and stories for the children to follow, and then there are tasks for them to solve interactively. In short Fritz and Chesster makes chess fun...

So you've decided that the most important thing in the world is to teach your six year old chess, not the first thing that came to my mind when mine were six, but hey someone out there must have had kids who didn't seem like Armageddon on legs at that age. So when this insane idea has rooted itself in your head, what do you do? Well you can always spend frustrating hours trying to teach your kids yourself or you can sit them in front of Fritz & Chesster Learn to Play Chess.

At first I thought that the idea was patently insane - I mean how can you turn, what is a fairly seminal game, into something that kids would want to learn in the first place? Well, my stressed fellow parents, this may be the answer to your dreams. Fritz & Chesster hooks the little tykes with an animated story that looks and feels very much like that old animated kid's show Mr Ben (now I'm showing my age) in its style of animation, with Prince Fritz looking very much like a young Harry Potter. Indeed, there is a Potter reference in the game, showing that the creators know something of their potential audience.

With his father away Fritz is forced to take on the Black King in his father's stead. But, of course, Fritz has no idea how to play the game, so he is taken through a number of sub-games by a fat psychedelic mentor. The smaller games teach Fritz and the kids how the pieces move and are done in such a way as to keep the whole thing very entertaining. Indeed, some of the sub games are so much fun I found myself revisiting them even though I already knew how to play chess.

As you progress through the story you progress through the games, but you have to finish each game before you can move on. The only exception to this is the ability to play a full game from the start; I guess this is aimed at the parents so that they can also use the game when the kids are asleep.

Now you may think that the full game is a bit naff, but as far as I could see it's a full game of chess, in fact the stupid thing beat me as often as I beat it; it has a full hint system for the newbie, but should also stretch the parents as well.

So is it worth the money? I would have to say yes. The only detraction that I found was that the navigation system wasn't as intuitive as I would have liked. It's not that obvious at first how you progress from one teaching level to the next. There's no indication that you need to return to the story to move to the next level.

That quibble aside, and it's a pretty bit one if you're a six year old, the program is well worth its cost. Of course I still think you're mad if you thing a six year old will pause from destroying the family home long enough to learn chess, but I guess there may be a few kids out there. If you think you have one of those buy the disc but be on hand for the story transitions.

Charles Packer