Animal chess is a traditional Chinese board game. As far as rules go, it’s between checkers and chess in complexity. Our son has been interested in playing chess, but he doesn’t really comprehend all the rules yet. We’ve found Animal Chess to be a great compromise. He gets to strategize about different types of pieces (unlike checkers) and the rule set is manageable.
There are 8 animals, ranked 1-8 and each can “eat” animals that are less than or equal to its own rank. The exception is the mouse (1) which can “eat” the elephant (8). You can make up your own stories about why that is so with your little one. Additionally, any animal in an opponent’s trap can be “eaten” by any ranked opponent. There are also some additional rules about who can go in the “river” and who can jump over it, but it is all explained easily on one screenshot within the app. The single screen ruleset speaks to the complexity of the rules.
Like all great board games, simple rules lead to complex strategies and approaches. In our first few games I could see my son explore different strategies – jumping across the river, using his elephant, swimming in the river, trying to rebound after losing his elephant, etc. He was enjoying exploring the strengths and weakness of the different types of pieces and learning from the way I was using my own.
The simplicity of the rule set also allows him to play the game with others easily. He can bring others up to speed on the rules really quickly so they can play. And playing novices is one way that he boosts his self confidence in his own play. Though he’s still drawn hypnotically to chess, I find Animal Chess much more suitable for developing his strategic thinking right now.
It is free to play in two modes: against the computer at a random difficulty or against another human sharing one screen. If you want to play against the computer and control the difficulty, or play against a human via wi-fi or email, you’ll need to upgrade the app for .99. We’ve been very happy with the free version ourselves.
Cost: FREE (unless you want to upgrade for AI or head to head via wi-fi)