By Chris Picone, 05 December 2022
Wizard's Chess is a bit of an oddity. The first thing to note is that this isn't a chess game. Looking at the pieces in the screenshots, I had originally expected the pieces to move like chess pieces, but they don't. It's not a problem necessarily, I just worry that potential players might make some wrong assumptions (I did). The wizard's chess bit is the game's over-arching theme in which you, the cute little blue bard from the logo, are a competitor in some grand wizard's chess game. To compete, you have to engage in some decidedly un-chess-like turn-based tactical combat against a series of opponents that you unlock as you play through.
The rest of the game's also a bit of a mish-mash. From the update notes I gather the game must have undergone a bit of a re-invention recently, and it's still very much in EA with only about half the content currently available. First of all, it's a roguelike, I'm just not sure why. When you beat the first opponent, you unlock the second, and presumably you would continue beating more opponents until you win the competition. Roguelike might make more sense if there was some branching level plan or if the procedurally generated levels had a bit more variety or depth or if meta-progression was required to beat the game, but none of that appears to be the case. Also, your main character is a bard, who is basically useless (has no attack power) and you never really use at any stage in the game, but does have the passive ability to inspire. I feel like this is a bit of a deliberate joke as the game's quite tongue-in-cheek and does have a pretty good sense of humour but also wonder if maybe they could have given the player some more agency over the bard's abilities either through special abilities or else some kind of passive upgrade chart. Instead, you play with a party of mercenaries (generic unit), lancers (powerful unit with charge ability) and dogs (also useless except as a sacrifice in the trade zones), and through the game you upgrade their abilities and purchase new followers as you go. You also unlock new follower types and upgrades between each run. The game seems challenging at first but once you learn how to manipulate the one-at-a-time nature of the play it's pretty easy to set up so you're constantly ganging up on your opponents one piece at a time.
So, my first impression? I think I sound like I've just been beating the game up and I hope that's not the case. Wizard's Chess has a good sense of humour, some interesting mechanics, decent variety of companions and enemies, fun boss fights, interesting level design in terms of the run layout, and lots of other things going for it. The game's still in EA and will be for at least another six months, and while there are some clear issues in its current state I think it's going to be a solid experience when the devs are finished working on it.