App version: 1.3
Device: iPad 3
Operating system: iOS 9.3.1
A simple app which has a few rough edges but offers a fun game of chess for the casual user
The developer of AA Chess (kargeor apps) makes the impressive claim in the app description that …‘AA Chess is the best FREE Chess app for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch!’. Given the developer hasn’t got an established reputation in the field of chess software, it was a claim I was eager to test!
Leaving aside the key chess considerations for a moment, my initial impressions of the app were favourable. The developer deserves kudos to start with as the app is totally free being unsupported by adverts (frequent or otherwise), nor does it have any in-app purchase options.
Let’s cut to the chase … AA is a plain and simple chess app, without bells and whistles aimed squarely at the casual player The app offers the ability to play chess in three ways:
- against an in-built (unnamed) engine on one of three different strength levels,
- online via Game Centre connection (not tested in this review);
- in free play mode (effectively ‘pass and play’ against another human).
The most noteworthy feature of AA Chess is the presentation and display. The app has a 3d option which mimics playing on a table against a seated opponent (or rather empty chair against the cpu). 3d chess visuals are very hard to pull off well in terms of practical usability. In this case AA Chess makes a reasonable attempt – the graphics look quite impressive, certainly in the case of the main 3d piece set, which are clearly distinguishable. The one area where clarity could be improved is perhaps in having a greater contrast between the black pieces and dark squares.
The user has some control over the view and with a finger can easily rotate the board a full 360 degrees to see the board from either side’s perspective. Disappointingly, however, there is no control over the vertical plain, so the user can’t alter the viewing angle or change the height . This is an important omission for a 3d board option as users are likely to have different preferences as to what angles give the clearest view of the pieces.
This weakness is particularly evident if the alternative 3d piece set is selected as it is pretty much impossible to distinguish a number of the different piece types from each other making the game uncomfortably and unnecessarily difficult to play. Adding to the confusion, although it is displayed in 3d the option is actually labelled as 2D-B.
Absolute strength isn’t likely to be a key issue for an app aimed at casual users. A range of levels with clearly distinguishable chess abilities and a focus at the novice/weaker end is generally the most important feature. In this regard AA Chess is quite successful. There are three levels of play intuitively named as ‘Easy’, ‘Normal’ and ‘Hard’.
Using my stock engine opponent ‘Hiarcs’ which is considered to have reasonably accurate human elo playing level, I tested the app’s various skill levels. The ‘Hard’ level plays to a reasonable club level standard (about 1600-1700 level per Hiarcs elo) which seems well suited to the casual nature of the app. The ‘Easy’ level is indeed clearly weaker. However, whilst it lost a test game in 6 moves, it still probably plays a little too strongly for a novice level – for example it was able to beat Hiarcs at its 1000 elo level.
The AA Chess engine has a rather engaging and enjoyable playing style. It is fun to play and the obvious weaknesses feel quite endearing – for example, the engine has a noticeable desire to move its king towards the corner of the board (g1 or g8 square) in the early phases of an endgame. You can see a sample of games played by AA Chess for this review here.
Given the many chess apps available it is not that uncommon to find those including chess engines that are ‘bug ridden’ and which won’t play a legal game. In this case, it is worth noting that AA Chess has no problems in this regard and will play a valid game consistently obeying the rules of chess in full.
Features and practicality of use
AA Chess is a very simple. There is only the minimum range of basic functions required to play a game of chess. This includes the ability to take back moves and toggle app sounds on or off. There is also a highlight previous move option which for some unknown reason uses a very distracting red colour to illuminate the relevant ‘to’ and ‘from’ squares. In terms of the information displayed during a game this is limited to a count of the number of moves played which rather oddly is the total game moves (ie including both white and black). Given its simplicity it would be disappointing if the app was not easy to use. In this case AA Chess doesn’t disappoint and the user can navigate between a range of simple menu options which are clearly labelled and also from an accessibility perspective, helpfully shown in a reasonable font size.
A final option perhaps worth highlighting which may appeal to users of social media is the ability to directly post (tweet) your game result to your twitter account. The app’s default text (below) can fortunately be edited should you wish to publicise your result!
So does AA Chess live up to its claim of being ‘the best FREE Chess app for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch!’ – well no it doesn’t but it’s not bad for a casual game and there are plenty of apps that are worse.
- Free and ad-free
- Enjoyable and well suited engine for the average player
- 3d visuals
- Simple and easy to use
- Overhead 3D piece option is unusable
- No vertical roatation in 3d mode
- Easy level is a little too difficult