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The Meeple Guild: Faerie chess set provides many play options

Alternate pieces open door to variant play
fair chess
Alternate pieces allow plays to try games with very different movement patterns.

YORKTON - When it comes to chess variants there are literally hundreds, number reviewed in this space over the years.

The interest in variants comes strictly from enjoying chess but never having had the chance to play often enough – at least since school days – to get very good at it. Tinkering with variants can level the playing field a bit because it’s likely even a more experienced player has played specific variants very little.

It is also just fun to explore what can be done with a catapult, of thief or regent.

Not familiar with the aforementioned pieces, don’t worry, they are from a relative new release Faerie Chess from Brybelly.

This version of chess allows for the traditional game to be played on the provided 8X8 board, but is notable because 32 faerie chess pieces are included allowing players to customize their armies with a range of interesting options.

Now, I will suggest right here that this is a great version of chess to have, because not only can you play with the specific rules included, but you can use the faerie pieces to play almost any variant you find online where rules are generally posted.

In fact, this would by the penultimate version to own had Brybelly just added a tad more. A reversible board with a 10X10 grid on the second side, and four additional pawns, and it would have allowed just a huge variety of variants be played with the set.

Yes, you can create a 10X10 board easily enough, but adding pawns is a bit more of a challenge.

That shortcoming aside Faerie Chess offers a nice set, note huge, or heavily weighted, but certainly nicely playable, and all the extra pieces are just exciting to explore.

The great thing here is that there are cards for the faerie pieces so you can easily see the movement and rules for the new pieces, which is a big help.

Pieces are given values too, so players can build different armies as long as the point totals balance, allowing for a different play approach too.

For some added background on this neat set an email interview with Zach Roth Marketing Manager at Brybelly was arranged.

To begin with it was interesting to learn Roth’s own game interests.

“I would consider myself an avid gamer, although I don't get games to the table as often as I'd like,” he said. “It's hard to pick a favourite, but I've always loved Santorini. Any game with 3D elements that stand up off the table will charm me, but I enjoy Santorini's cat and mouse tactics.

“Tiny Towns has been a recent favorite. It's a quick but meaty play with good replay value.”

With new games emerging all the time, the next question was simply why create a chess variant.

“Faerie Chess itself isn't a new concept. In fact, the term is over 100 years old at this point,” offered Roth. “There's all kinds of fairy variants that include novel win conditions, novel board sizes, and novel pieces. A casual player might recognize a few fairy-style chess sets out there, like three-player boards, or the wild 3D boards that take place on multiple planes.

“But I think what excited us the most was the creation of new pieces. We hadn't seen any commercial sets introducing new pieces as of yet, so we decided that was our job.”

With that Roth said the new pieces had to playable for even new players.

“Above all else we wanted Faerie Chess to be approachable even to players totally new to chess,” he said. “We didn't want it to be alienating and esoteric. It's an open invitation to have fun experimenting and tinkering with a centuries-old board game formula.

“So, one of the steps we took was to include all the classic chess pieces in addition to our suite of new Faerie Chess pieces.” 

Developing pieces though had to be a challenge

“To remain organized, we treated each standard chess piece as a category: pawn, knight, bishop, rook, and ‘Regency’ for king and queen pieces,” explained Roth.

“From there, we analyzed the movement patterns of dozens of fairy pieces that have been developed over the past century to arrive at movement patterns that could feasibly fit within each category. For example, we decided that we wanted a piece that moves just one square diagonally, which fits into our ‘pawn’ category, so we added a few additional pawn-like movements and rules, and eventually arrived at our fairy piece: the peasant.

Determining piece values was a case of playing with them – a lot.

“The most progress was made here through a lot of solo playtesting,” offered Roth. “It was a bit of a passion project, so this was something we'd take home with us at night. Because we had our category system in place, balancing piece values was largely a comparison of how much stronger or weaker the fairy piece was versus its standard piece.

“Is the peasant stronger or weaker than the standard pawn, or about equal?

“Some of our fairy pieces are purposefully weaker in terms of piece values to allow you to 'buy' stronger pieces elsewhere.”

It was ultimately a time-consuming process.

“It took us nearly three years to bring Faerie Chess from concept to reality,” said Roth. “But I'd say that it only took about six months to develop, balance, playtest, and design the game and its components.

“What became a challenge was actually getting the pieces produced! It kind of shocked us how difficult it was. “

So what was the most difficult aspect of designing?  

“The set was originally going to be made in wood for two reasons: 1) wood has such a great classic feel, and it's ultimately more sustainable, and 2) plastic pieces would require injection molds be produced, which are very expensive,” said Roth. “Because the set was going to be made of wood, we had to take great pains in shaping our pieces to be able to manufactured on a lathe. That's why most Staunton pieces have so much radial symmetry.

“However, none of our wood manufacturers were able to end up making the set.

“We actually had to move to plastic, re-do our piece designs so that they would work for injection molding, and take the leap of faith that the extra money we'd be spending to produce would ultimately be worth it.”

So in Roth’s mind as one of the designers what is the best element or what was created?

“I value flexibility in game design,” he said. “Don't get me wrong, there is a certain beauty in a tight ruleset with ultimate clarity and no need for variations or errata. But the games that are stickiest to me are the games that change subtlely and can be tweaked for players of different levels.

“I like to think our point buy system is an elegant way to achieve this.

“Our rules support multiple tiers of play that incorporate just one-two fairy pieces in an otherwise standard game of chess, all the way up to absolute decadent chaos where the whole board has been fully replaced with fairy pieces.”