At some point, every gamer asks the question, “Why doesn’t someone make a game where you can play chess, but actively make the chess pieces fight against each other?” You know, like the game of Dejarik Chewbacca and C3P0 played on the Millennium Falcon.
The truth is that this game has been made several times in several different formats. Back in the late 1980s, Interplay made a game named Battle Chess for a handful of 8- and 16-bit PC platforms, including the Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, and even Windows 3.x. Battle Chess was essentially chess with striking and funny animations when pieces captured each other.
In 1983, Electronic Arts published Archon that was a more action-focused variant of the theme. Archon created an entirely different set of rules than chess, and allowed players to fight each other (or the AI) when pieces came into conflict.
UHR Warlords is a fantasy-themed, turn-based strategy game that takes place on a chess board. Like Magic the Gathering (or my new favorite Hearthstone), the goal is to reduce your opponent’s hit points to zero. To accomplish this, you have to destroy the enemy’s back row and/or eliminate a certain number of enemy units.
Also like MTG and Hearthstone: Each turn, you can summon creatures to do your bidding. Like chess, each of your units can only move and attack in specific ways. Rangers, for example, can only move diagonally, while Warriors can only move straight ahead or up and down.
The game board has a number of mana nodes that, if held by the player, increase the supply of magic, thereby increasing the number of possible actions each turn. A set of runes also allow you to cast specific spells against enemy units each turn—at a cost, of course.
The interplay of all these systems—including a rule twist that penalizes you for moving more than one square each move—creates a surprisingly open-ended and deep set of strategic possibilities that will make hardcore strategy gamers fall in love with UHR Warlords. The varying AI (which is tough) and the ability to play against your friends further extends the experience. There is also a campaign that moves through some fairly predictable overcome-the-evil-tyranny material, but is fun nonetheless.
If I had one complaint, it is that the color palette is so dark that it makes things hard to see sometimes. I will say this though: In a world of cute, fluffy, colorful graphics, it is refreshing to play in an earnestly designed fantasy universe.
One final thought: Games like UHR Warlords are beginning to make me think that game publishers and developers sitting on massive libraries of classic IP are about to learn a powerful lesson. These companies need to consider aggressively re-releasing old IP on mobile platforms today—or someone else is going to essentially do it for them.
For the best iPad games, sign up for TabTimes' free iPad Games newsletter