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Rethinking Chess: 11 brilliant, nontraditional Chess games

Shake up a classic game, or learn to play in new ways, with these fun mobile curiosities

Even if you’re no grandmaster, you might think you know chess. These iPhone games suggest otherwise. They take the basic premise of chess and experiment, sometimes stretching the original game to breaking point.

The result is a collection of board and puzzle games that subvert convention. For newcomers and old-hands alike, they are ideal for on-the-go play, and force you to ‘think different’ – a boon for when you later venture towards a more traditional match.

Chessplode (free)

This one mixes chess with explosions. When you capture a piece, everything within its line and column is obliterated. The exception is when a king is present, at which point a ‘boring’ (as in, standard) chess capture occurs.

Daily challenges and scores of levels created by fans make sure you never run out of new puzzles to try. And you can even dig into multiplayer battles with friends – offline and online. It’s superb fun.

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Really Bad Chess (free or $3.99/£3.49)

Most chess games offer multiple difficulty levels. Really Bad Chess has just one. But it switches things up by starting you off with much better pieces than the computer player. If you win, your rank increases – and your pieces get worse.

Get good enough and you eventually start at a disadvantage, which can be tough. If that all feels like too much effort, you can further your skills by dipping into the daily challenge or freeplay training modes.

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Beyond Chess (free or $2.99/£2.49)

This game loftily declares itself a ‘sequel to chess.’ And it’s a take that can only exist in digital form, because during each turn, you move a piece and shift a piece of the board.

The ever-evolving layout changes everything in an otherwise traditional set-up. It’s a clever twist, whether you’re playing the computer, challenging a friend in pass and play, or checking out the editor to craft custom initial board set-ups.

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Pocket Chess (free or $4.99/£4.49)

This game comes across like the chess puzzles you find in newspapers – but in microcosm. Its puzzles often take place on fragments of boards, and they each give you a limited number of moves to defeat your opponent.

It’s well-suited to long-time players wanting to sharpen skills in a minute of downtime. But Pocket Chess is also great for newcomers, in teaching people how to play efficiently – and when best to sacrifice pieces in order to win.

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Losing chess (free or $1.99/£1.99)

With a visual style clearly inspired by Really Bad Chess, Losing chess upends the classic game in a different way. It wants you to lose – as rapidly as possible. The snag is, your opponent’s trying to do the same.

With compulsory capture and a randomized piece mode (‘960’), Losing chess proves an amusing diversion. Anti Chess offers more of the same, but with cartoonish visuals and multiple difficulty levels.

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Lazy Chess (free or $2.99/£2.49)

During a game of chess, you on average have dozens of available moves. Lazy Chess hones them down to the two best. The catch is you aren’t told which is the one you should go for.

Naturally, the game will helpfully keep track of when you made the right choice, adjusting your rank accordingly. In all, it’s another intriguing app for beginners and experts alike, which can help you hone your skills.

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Pawnbarian (free + $4.99/£4.49)

The least ‘chess’ game in this round-up is perhaps the most compelling. Pawnbarian combines chess-like moves with dungeon crawling, having you play chess-piece cards to move around a checkerboard grid and defeat enemies.

It looks simple, but Pawnbarian has plenty of tactical depth. There are power-ups to use, and enemies have their own unique skills. The free version is a great introduction, but pay a one-off IAP and you unlock extra characters and dungeons.

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ChessFinity (free or $1.99/£1.99)

Another genre mash-up, ChessFinity merges chess with an endless runner. The clock relentlessly counts down as you make moves, aiming to reach checkpoints on a board that stretches into the infinite.

When you fail, you’re blasted back to the most recent checkpoint, whereupon you choose another piece. When you’re out of pieces, it’s game over. And that can come swiftly when you end up surrounded by opposing pieces, with few good moves left to play.

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Knight Saves Queen (free or $1.99/£1.79)

There’s character in this puzzler that features the titular knight bounding about, attempting to rescue his Queen. At first, it’s simple: move in L-shaped patterns, duff up bad guys, and end on Her Maj.

Before long, you face more varied foes, each based on a chess piece, and get allies too. Those are used to manipulate opponents into place, so you can get stabby with your knight, always aiming to clear the board in as few moves as possible.

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Chess Ace ($1.99/£1.79)

Ostensibly similar to Pawnbarian, since it uses cards and a five-by-five grid, Chess Ace is instead a moves-limited puzzler. Each level charges you with collecting clubs. You must play cards in the right order to do so.

We’re straying towards pure puzzling here, rather than anything inherently chessish. But this is a fun title with a veneer of the great game – and a solid option when you don’t want to expend brainpower on the real thing.

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Not Chess ($0.99/89p)

Like Chess Ace, Not Chess is a puzzler that has you aim for a target – in this case, a coin – rather than a checkmate. But you’re not using cards to move. Instead, the twist is your piece morphs into whatever it captures.

There are 100 levels set across four difficulties, with each challenge having a rigid moves limit. Cracking them all might not make you world chess champ, but you’ll think you’re a grandmaster on cracking level 100.

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