Review: Phantom Force chess. Verdict: Kids will get a kick out of it

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Phantom Force is one of those chess sets that uses magnets to move its own pieces. I always wanted stuff like this when I was a kid, and If I were still 10, I would be all over this thing.

As it is, it’s a cool toy, but not much of a chess set: the gimmick gets in the way of the game. But as a way to get youngsters away from the dangerous outside world, it has its charms.

On top of the loud, grinding magnet mechanism hidden underneath the board’s surface, it has sound effects, voiced warnings, and an integrated LCD display. The AI offers 136 levels of difficulty and is claimed to play at a 2000 Elo rating. You can set it to play certain opening lines, speak English, Spanish or French, and give you hints when you suck. It requires C batteries or the included A/C adapter.

It evokes The Turk, a fake chess playing automaton of the 18th century and one of science’s classic hoaxes. But in its array of fruity sound effects (swords clashing, horses neighing, cannons firing) it also recalls the annoying computer game Battlechess, which was also funny the first time.

If you need the gimmick, go for it. If you don’t, the same company’s cheaper toys offer the same AI features for far less than Phantom Force’s $249 retail price (It’s cheaper at Amazon).

Here’s some video of it in action.

Phantom Force [Amazon]

About Rob Beschizza

Rob Beschizza is the Managing Editor of Boing Boing. He's @beschizza on Twitter and can be found on Facebook too. Email is dead, but you can try your luck at besc...@gmail.com
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16 Responses to Review: Phantom Force chess. Verdict: Kids will get a kick out of it

  1. Anonymous says:

    I own this chess set, i cant stay focused long enough to figure out how to use it. Im 15

  2. arkizzle says:

    Gramiq, my thoughts exactly..

  3. Anonymous says:

    I’m always surprised when people that see this don’t want it. It’s simply awesome! The review says “this is one of those chess games that uses magnets…” The problem is, for many years now there have been zero, absolutely zero chess games that move their own pieces. It would be more correct to say “This is an awesome chess game that uses magnets…and it’s the only game of its type available.” There have been several robotic games over the years, but they go out of business, apparently the high price and the delicate nature of the machinery and the expense of manufacturing do not make them profitable.

    The alternative to the machine moving its own pieces is that you have to read some tiny dim screen and decipher some move code and then move the piece for the computer. Then you have to punch your move into a computer keyboard with some code. That doesn’t seem fun and is nothing like playing a real opponent. Personally, I searched for a game like this for a long time and was disappointed to find that no one was making them. When Excalibur introduced this game I bought it immediately and I greatly enjoy playing it. I just don’t understand the type of personality that would not be fascinated with this machine.

    People complain about the noise. It’s not loud. To say that it sounds like a chainsaw is (I’m trying to be polite about it) irresponsible. A chainsaw could be heard 5 houses down. This machine doesn’t even bother my wife when she’s in the same room watching TV. It only makes noise when actually moving…while I’m thinking and it’s thinking it’s silent. It only takes it a few seconds to move, so it’s mostly silent especially since it takes me several minutes to move.

    I actually like the silly sounds, but they’re defeatable for you grown ups. I like the computer voice but it’s true that it’s the same voice used in the 1985 Amiga computer or the late 70s movie “War Games” with Matthew Broderick.

    Regarding the 15 year old that can’t figure out how to use this: You turn it on. You press down a piece that you want to move. You move the piece to a new square and press it down there and leave it there. The computer makes its move. You repeat the above. How much easier could it get?

    Overall, if you watch a video of this machine and you like it, you should buy it immediately since it’s a nice full featured game at a decent price point and there’s nothing else like it anywhere. If you watch the video and say “so what?” I don’t understand you at all but oh well, a hand held chess computer with LCD screen is best for you, but in my opinion that’s t-o-t-a-l-l-y lame compared to this awesome machine.

  4. Loozrboy says:

    Man alive that thing makes a racket. And the computer voice sounds ridiculous. Are you sure this wasn’t released in 1988?

  5. Anonymous says:

    I just ordered this. I have played tournament chess; I’m rated 1585. I’ve played Fritz, FICS online, lots of tabletop machines, and people on the street and cafes. But I must say I’m very excited to receive this game, because it is an age-old concept (a machine that moves its own pieces, like Turk) that has come to fruition.

    I like to play long, serious games and don’t like staring at a computer screen, ruining my eyes. I also dislike many types of players at the club, who are often uncouth and slovenly. Tournaments are way overpriced ($45 for 6 games?? plus you have to join the USCF $50/yr–what a racket). This machine
    promises to bring some excitement for me playing at home alone. Chess is not exactly a social game anyway, so it’s not like I’m missing much by avoiding the club.

    The noise? I LIKE the noise! I’ve seen the videos and it’s like playing another intelligent being…which thinks on its own, moves on its own, and even makes its own noise moving!! Yes, I’m a geek. Of course, “serious” chess players are probably not interested in this novelty…they could care less about aesthetics and gimmicks; they are all about good moves. That’s why they still play on crappy plastic tournament sets, even up to master level. But I’m an artist, too, and so I like a bit more “pizazz” with my chess hobby!

  6. HeatherB says:

    The fighting noises are a bit weird. I also think my smallest dog would like to attack this with all the whirring noises that it makes!

  7. therevengor says:

    Sounds like electric football. But only one piece moves.

  8. Rob Beschizza says:

    For some reason, the computer doesn’t play flank openings by default!

  9. Trent Hawkins says:

    that motor sounds like a freaking chainsaw when it’s moving.

  10. BuildUupBuzzKill says:

    yeah if i was younger i would have gone ape shit, this is what i always wanted my elctronic chess game to beable to do. but yes the sounds are a bit much but there on the right track

  11. Chris L says:

    #7 The implied idea here is so hilarious, I may just have to make it myself.

  12. Anonymous says:

    This is a cool game. I got it for my birthday, I’ve had 5 chess computers and this is a lot of fun. I noticed the Battlechess nonsense from the start but putting that aside it plays a strong game. I am a strong club player. The only thing I can’t be bothered with is the setting up the board thing. It’s too slow, nice novelty but hey I can set the board up by myself and get back in the game in no time. I paint on my patio, while it moves, cool.

  13. gramiq says:

    I want to know how it handles a knight “jumping” over other pieces. If it just moves them out of the way, and then goes around, that’s kind of lame — especially if you’re playing something like the Ruy Lopez opening, which would require several pieces to move to let the first knight out.

  14. AirPillo says:

    Hey, I loved Battle Chess.

    As it is, it’s a cool toy, but not much of a chess set: the gimmick gets in the way of the game. But as a way to get youngsters away from the dangerous outside world, it has its charms.

    That is precisely what Battle Chess did for me. Plus, it ran on a Packard Bell made from things found lying on the factory floor of better computer companies.

  15. TJ S says:

    Hold on here! “Turk”?! Plays chess on it’s own?! Somebody call Sarah Connor!

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