App version: 1.0.3
Device: Samsung S4 Mini
Operating system: 4.4.2
A promising but currently frustrating app which is let down by the visual experience and puzzle quality. Not as much fun as it should be.
My Chess Puzzles is a relatively new free android app from the Turkish developer OBSS Mobile which produces a range of mainly card games and utility apps.
It is a simple app and essentially does exactly ‘what it says on the tin’ – in that the user is given chess puzzles which need to be solved by finding a forced checkmate in a known chosen given number of moves.
There are options ranging from mate in 2 all the way to mate in 10. When selected, the user is then presented with a range of positions of that type which he/she must then play out against a virtual opponent to find the mate. The level of difficulty increases as the puzzles are solved. Scores are given out of a maximum of 10 for each solution depending on the number of mistakes (incorrect moves) made in finding the solution. The competitive user can rate themselves online against others using the Google Play Leaderboard system (not tested as part of this review).
Puzzle based apps live or die by the number and quality of the chess problems they offer. In particular:
- Is the bank of puzzles sufficiently large enough so you are not seeing the same ones cropping up over and over again?
- Do the puzzles feel ‘natural’ and not artificially composed?
- Are the puzzles of the right level of difficulty – not too hard to be dispiriting but hard enough to be a good challenge?
My Chess Puzzles scores well in terms of variety. The puzzle bank is vast – the developer claims (and I have no reason to doubt it) that there are at least 10,000 different puzzles. Certainly in my use to date, I’ve not seen any duplicates which can’t be said for certain similar apps.
The app fares less in terms of puzzle ‘naturalness’. This is disappointing as the developer states in the Play Store description that puzzles ‘were either taken from actual games or are compositions inspired by actual games’. I can only wonder about which games these were. Rather too often the user is faced with a chess position with an unrealistic number of pieces of the same type – for instance four rooks of the same colour.
Sadly this also contributes to some of the solutions being rather artificial also for example in the following position (with the four rooks) the solution is .
1 – h8/Q+ Rf6
2 – Qf6+ Re5
3 – Qe5+ Rd4
4 – Qd4+ Rb2
5 – Qb2++
Yes, the difficulty is about right for a starter mate in 5 but the lack of realism makes for a less rewarding experience. Aside from this issue, the individual difficulty levels do seem to be generally well calibrated, becoming more challenging as the user progresses.
Presentation and useability
My Chess Puzzles is a simple app and very straightforward to use. However, this doesn’t make it easy to use. One of the biggest drawbacks in practical use is the default piece set used. The pieces are not clear or easy to distinguish particularly when there are more than a few on the board. This makes the puzzles more difficult than they should be and certainly less enjoyable to solve. Worse still the user isn’t given any choice about the piece set – only the default is available. The app would certainly be improved by giving the user some choice about the visual experience.
There is one further specific visual issue that can’t be overlooked. The chess board is incorrectly displayed – the bottom right square should always be light coloured! Oddly this doesn’t happen all the time or for all puzzles but sadly the fact it does, risks damaging the credibility of the app. My Chess Puzzles doesn’t deserve this and the good news is that it should be easy to correct.
The app hasn’t got, and doesn’t really need a wide range of options. The key elements that might be expected are here – including take back move and hint options. There is also a toggle for sound effects (for piece moves) and for the less experienced user, a helpful legal move indicator, which shows visually which squares the chosen piece can move to.
The developer has an easily accessible website which includes full contact details, in addition to the usual email address, there is a phone number and a physical address which may be useful if you happen to be visiting Istanbul (wish I were!). At the time of review the app has had little feedback at the PlayStore (the scores are reassuringly positive) so it is too early to see how responsive the developer is to user feedback.
- Free and ad-free
- Simple to use and nicely designed
- Good range of puzzles and nicely pitched levels of difficulty
- Chess pieces are not easy or comfortable to view
- No variety of piece sets or board themes/colours
- Some puzzles are very unnatural
- The chessboard is set up wrongly!