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The Meeple Guild: Far from chess but unique movement in new game

The pieces move essentially by rolling/tipping from side to side across the board.
Maya Chess has big, chunky pieces.

YORKTON - There are times new games just plain confound, and Maya Chess is one of those instances. 

There are so many good things about the game, although that good news seems to be offset by aspects of Maya Chess that detract from the overall view of the game. 

So, where to start? 

How about we start with the positives and along the way mix in the bumps on this road. 

The game looks amazing, and I say that from a variety of perspectives. 

To start the game is wood, pieces and board, and in a plastic world that stands out in terms of appeal – at least for me. 

And the pieces are just so interesting, as they are big, chunky, geometric shapes, a pyramid (the captain), being the most recognizable shape. 

The ‘guardian’ and ‘attacker’ pieces are more interesting in shape too. 

The pieces move essentially by rolling/tipping from side to side across the board. It’s super interesting, but the movements don’t come naturally either, so it can be a challenge. It is a case where you really need to have a bird’s eye view from above the board to fully appreciate where you might move, which in itself is different. You can’t really sit back and envision the board as you can in chess or checkers. 

Also it should be noted the ‘leader’ piece is tiny in comparison to the others, and if you ever lost a piece it would be it. 

The board also needs a comment. Yes, it looks great, but as a diamond shape that folds into a triangle, it doesn’t travel really well, which is a bit unfortunate, and it could use a good magnet system to keep the triangle closed too. 

That said, out on a coffee table this game will draw attention. 

Of course in the end it comes down to game play and here Maya Chess is still a bit hard to decide if it is great, or not. 

To start there are multiple ways to win, capture the ‘leader’, block a player so they have no move, or get your leader across the board to specific spots being examples. This is a huge plus, as it really adds to the depth of the game. Don’t get too focused on one-win condition or you will miss possibilities with the others. 

Mix in the completely different movement of pieces and it seems to lean toward bug winner.

But, at a recent games night a young chess fan – Grade 9 but very good – and my son in his 30s with years of board gaming took on Maya Chess and neither was particularly impressed. 

Both found the movement unnatural or in Adam’s words ‘moving is clunky and not smooth’. 

There is no doubt experience will address moving smoothly, but Maya Chess didn’t quite grab attention enough to gain that experience for Adam who noted, “there are better more fun games to play.” 

Maya Chess is being promoted by three avid gamers -- video games, computer games, board games -- Robert Luchars, Lauren Gutierrez, and game creator Abraham Vazquez. 

“We love heavy strategy board games the most, as you can tell from Maya Chess,” said the trio via email.  

So Maya Chess does have its roots in the ancient past.

“The game is influenced by an ancient game that was once played by the Mayans,” they offered. “They would kick around this heavy ball using only their thighs and try to shoot them through these small concrete holes. It seems eons more difficult than any physical sport we play today. The temples on the Maya Chess board represent the concrete hoop and the leader piece is akin to the ball in the sacred ball game.” 

So what did the developers hope to achieve with Maya Chess?

“First and foremost we are trying to share a great strategy game with the world,” they said. “We love games and how they bring people together and force people to think. We also believe the movement of the pieces’ trains a whole different part of the brain that you really don't see in a lot of games.” 

This is certainly the crux of the game – love it, or not. 

The game intrigues because of the strange pieces and their movement, and if it captures two players sufficiently to explore in depth than this might be a gem.  

It will not capture all however, so the question will be how large an audience it can earn. 

“Imagining how different shapes will move and land and creating strategies around that is really unique to Maya,” they continued. “The game is a great educational tool for helping students develop their strategy and spatial reasoning.” 

So from the developers’ perspective, what can players expect here?

“Some have quoted Maya Chess as " Chess 2.0 ",” they said. “It's similar to chess in the way that it's a purely strategic game, there are no elements of luck. You've gotta be thinking one step ahead of your opponent and plan your moves accordingly.” 

That is true, but can be said of hundreds of games. 

And that is a good point to shift gears and talk about the name ‘chess’. Understand there is nothing about this game which reminds of chess. 

As such it’s pretty clear that the name was chosen in hopes of attracting chess players to check it out. I understand the idea that chess players are abstract strategy fans, but diehard chess players don’t typically stray too far to other games, and non chess players are likely to shy away from games that suggest they are ‘chess like’, so I doubt the name choice will do a great deal for this new one. 

There are better selling points to this one. 

For example, “there's also this aspect of spatial awareness involved like we've never seen with any other game before,” the trio offered. “You need to have the spatial perception to imagine how the geometric pieces will fall in relation to other pieces on the board, because they aren't allowed to touch each other. It's another layer of difficulty that makes this game so challenging and enticing.  

“It's funny because when we teach people the game, there's a small percentage of people that have a ‘really’ hard time getting the movement of the pieces down. No matter how many times we explain it to them, they just cannot absorb how the pieces move on the board. It really highlights how some people are more advanced in the parts of the brain that deal with spatial processing. It's interesting.” 

They said the best element of the game relates to the unique pieces and their movement. 

“The movement of the pieces and how they interact is the most unique aspect of the game,” they said. “The game is also a way for us to celebrate the Mayan culture, it really brings everyone a lot of joy seeing the game is being well received all over the world.  

“The most unique mechanic of the game is definitely how the pieces move. The wooden shapes move by flipping over their edges. It's what catches peoples’ attention when we play the game in public and makes them come up to us to ask what we're playing.” 

And again as a reviewer this is where the greatness or lack thereof of Maya Chess come together. Not all games fit all players, and this one is likely to be more love it, or hate it than most. I find the movement fascinating, but will it catch the attention of enough players to seriously delve into what depth of strategy the game offers? That is the great unanswered question with a game as new as this one. The game did take more than five years to develop, primarily time devoted to the ancient Mayan culture and its symbolism, for which a multidisciplinary team was formed to design the board, pieces and their relationship with the ball game, they said. In that process was the challenge of trying to come up with something that is completely unique! 

“There are so many amazing games out there, that it's hard to produce a new game that's simple to learn, but hard to master with its own look and feel,” they said.

“We think that we really accomplished that with Maya Chess.” 


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