Battleship Chess
Review by By S.D. Tortorice

May 9, 2005

Naval warfare at a bargain price!

It has been a long time since last I purchased a PC game valued at around $20. It has been even longer since I have purchased a game that was so small I could download it with my 56K modem! The reason is simple: such small and cheap game titles are usually, well, small and cheap. They are frequently created by amateur programmers and lack the depth and glitz that hardcore gamers have come to expect from larger, more expensive titles. However, every now and then, a title comes along that breaks the stereotype. Battleship Chess is a perfect example. Published by ApeZone Software (, this naval wargame can best be described as a cross between the classic Milton Bradley Battleship board game and chess. The resulting combination is a software title, destined in its own right, to become a true classic.

Battleship Chess 2.0 arrives on your hard drive as a small 9.2mb download. After installation, an introductory screen greets the user, displaying a number of self-descriptive options, such as sound and visual display selections (sound volume, music on/off, etcetera), creating a player profile, joining a network game, or resuming/starting a solo-play game. Once you start a game, additional choices appear that will govern how the program actually functions.

First, the game allows you to choose between a one, five, or ten battle war. More that just setting the number of rounds, your choice here will affect the strategic complexity of the game, as the more battles you fight, the greater the necessity of keeping your fleet of warships free from damage in each battle---after all, it won’t do you any good to enter the final battle with a single, shell-blasted cruiser!

Second, the player can choose between one of five possible "chapters" that roughly approximate eras of 20th Century naval warfare. You have: The Early Years, Dreadnoughts: the Ultimate Battleships, Battlecruisers: More than a Cruiser?, Enter the Destroyer, and, Submarines: Danger from Below. As their titles indicate, each chapter adds a new class of warship that greatly affects the tactical complexity of the resulting battles. I have found each era to be enjoyable, with "Submarines" being the most complex of all.

The player is also free to select the nationality of the forces involved. The usual suspects are included: America, Britain, Germany, and Japan. One is free to pit these nations in a one-on-one war as he sees fit. Did you ever wonder who would have won a United States versus Britain sea battle? Now you can find out!

Finally, there are three difficulty settings: easy, intermediate, and hard. I will say that the AI has proven to be quite a canny opponent, so I recommend all players start with the "easy" setting and move up from there.

Assuming that you go with a five or ten battle war, the next screen is a list of available warships that you may deploy in the forthcoming battle. You are asked to apply upgrades to these warships from a selection of possible upgrade "cards" displayed across the bottom the screen. Examples of upgrades are: better armor, weapon upgrades, improved speed, even a greater skill level for a warship’s captain.

After making your selection(s), you then are asked to choose which warships to deploy for the coming battle. Initially, this is easy and little more than choosing the biggest ships with the biggest guns. But as the war progresses, the choice becomes much more difficult. Ships will accumulate damage. Do you send out one of your big guns with heavy damage, hoping it does not sink in the coming battle, or do you leave it in dry dock for repairs and take a selection of lesser cruisers, hoping they can carry the day? If you cannot decide, the AI will do it for you---for better or worse.

At last, the battle is here. Considering how small the program is, it is surprising how much graphical glitz the game actually contains. The battle map, of which there are a few, is randomly selected. Many have small islands scattered throughout the map. There are also four special zone types which effect ships that pass over them, such as critical repair zones (repair one critically damaged ship component, such as engines, gun, fire, or flooding) and spotting zones for increased visual range. In addition to this, you have upgrade zones for various ship components, such as engines and armor. Early on it becomes clear that these special zones will quickly become key real estate and many battles will be fought for their control.

Along the bottom of the map you will find your ships randomly deployed. Before making your first move, it is always wise to do two things. First, check your "battle cards". These cards, dealt randomly, give the player some tricks that can come in quite handy. For example, a card can give you the ability to drop a mine, or re-supply a ship with ammo. One card deserving special note allows you to summon a merchantman, which, if he is successfully escorted to a random spot on the enemy’s side of the board, garners the player quite a few extra points!

The second thing you should do is check to see if any bonus point rules are in effect. For example, some times you will be told that attacks upon cruisers earn double-damage points, while other times sinking a particular class of ship will earn extra points. It is wise to pay attention to these bonus rules as I can assure you the AI does, often to great effect! In Battleship Chess, it is not just about sinking ships, but also about getting the most points.

The game proceeds in a simple move and fire fashion. A player can only move one ship per turn. Once you pick a ship, you can move it in a number of various directions and distances, highlighted by green destination circles, depending on the type of ship and its location upon the map. As the ship moves, any enemy vessels in visual range will be spotted.

Once the ship has completed its movement phase, it then has the opportunity to fire upon enemy ships or even the suspected location of enemy vessels (much like the board game rendition of Battleship). Like the movement phase, all possible areas that can be hit by the ship’s guns are highlighted by green crosshairs. Just point and click, and the guns will fire with any results scrolling at the left-side of the screen. Guns are rated by size and armor penetration values. Before you fire, you can select which guns to use and what type of ammunition (armor piercing, semi-armor piercing, and high explosive). For example, if your target has thin armor, you might be better off using high explosive warheads, which have less penetration power, but inflict greater damage upon impact. When destroyers or submarines are part of your fleet, the added lethality of torpedoes can be unleashed as well.

The most likely result of gunfire is the simple accumulation of damage points. Each ship is rated for a maximum amount of damage and when that amount is reached (for example: 1000 DP for a cruiser), the ship will sink. However, occasionally you will score "critical hits" which add extra damage. For example, a critical hit can knock out a ship’s gun, or even start a fire or flooding (which adds damage points every turn it is not brought under control). While critical hits can be repaired during a battle using either your battle cards or a repair zone on the map, regular damage points can only be reduced in dry dock after the end of a battle. Take my word for it: once battle is joined, you will become consumed with damage control!

The animation of the battles is spiffy. The game automatically zooms in on vessels that fire their guns. An appropriately-sized boom for naval gunfire, based on the caliber size, is heard. Then the shells impact to reveal splashes in the water (a miss), or punch into the ship inflicting damage (you don’t see anything for a hit, unfortunately). You can tell you have done real damage when a fire breaks out on the deck of a vessel. Also, ships will noticeably list in the water as damage accumulates, indicating the degree of distress! These simple, but effective, graphics do help bring the battles to life, often putting me on the edge of my seat during the firing phase.

Those are the fundamentals of Battleship Chess. I warn you, like chess, even though the rules are fairly straight-forward, the game has a great deal of depth. How the player deploys his fleet, as in real-life, is often crucial to the outcome of the battle. For example, the would-be admiral should always seek to keep his ships together throughout the battle. Why? When friendly warships are adjacent to each other, all neighboring vessels may fire their guns along with the ship that had just moved. So plotting which ship to move where often requires more than a little forethought.

Another aspect of the game involves control of the sea zones, especially ammunition re-supply zones. These warships, often with as many 16 guns firing, consume a great deal of ammo. The worse situation to ever encounter is to find yourself slugging it out with another battlecruiser and suddenly run out of shells! As a result, which zones to guard and how to guard them often requires finesse (the game wisely prohibits players from just sitting on special sea zones).

I have only three minor criticisms for the game. First, the AI needs to be improved. While it can be a cagey opponent, the AI often fails to utilize its ships in a coherent manner. For example, I will often use two or more ships to pound away at a lone AI-controlled vessel, while not too far off, another one of its ships sits idle, unwilling to join to fight. However, I will say that the AI does use his destroyers and submarines to good effect, often slipping in to deliver a devastating salvo of torpedoes.

Second, I regret the game does not include aircraft carriers. While I do imagine there might be fears that naval airpower could steal the spotlight from the big guns in the game, I do think, with proper balancing, carriers can be an entertaining addition that adds greater complexity to the strategic and tactical picture.

My only other criticism is that while there are hotseat and network game options, there is no provision for PBEM play. This is a strange oversight since the game is turn-based and ideally suited for email play. I do hope the next version remedies this oversight, especially since the AI can leave something to be desired.

Thus we have Battleship Chess 2.0, a wonderfully addictive and entertaining foray into naval warfare. Hopefully, someday soon, Battleship Chess 3.0 is offered as there is a great deal that can yet be added to this game. However, until that next version arrives, I will happily be seeking battle on the high seas with 2.0. Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!


Tested on: Pentium4 2.4 GHz, 512 MB RAM, NVIDIA Geforce4 Ti4200 128MB RAM, Sony DVD+RW DL DRU-710A


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