Spotlight on … Keeps & Moats Chess

Keeps & Moats Chess ScreenshotThe game Keeps & Moats Chess is my example of the phrase “oldie but goodie”.  I came up with the idea for the game sometime in 2003 and released the PC game a few months later.  I am still getting contacted every few months about the game, and the free demo keeps a pretty consistent download traffic.  It does not use any special graphics or sound libraries (like DirectX), so it should work on most Windows machines found today (from Windows98SE all the way through Windows7). 

Like with a lot of abstract games, I’m not a very good chess player.  I’m way too impatient and aggressive and don’t have a natural ability to see the whole board and envision how things will play out a few turns into the future.  This was the initial basis for the design … I wanted to find some sort of way to work in a natural defense to allow for more aggressive play.  Thematically, having a castle-style “moat” and “keep” seemed like a good fit … but didn’t lend itself well to a traditional 8×8 square chess board.  So, I first just tacked it onto the outer edges.  And that sparked the idea of being able to do this with 4 players. 

Keeps & Moats BoardTo balance the board, I switched the center part of the board (the “Battlefield”) to a 9×9 square.  And this became the “Keeps & Moats Board” to be used for the game. 

Once the board shape was settled, I turned to figuring out how to arrange the pieces at the start of the game, and what sort of movement rule adjustments were needed to make the board shape work.  This lead to the 4-way moving pawns (which I’ve had officially declared “an abomination” by a true chess enthusiast from Oxford ;)).  It also lead to declaring one pawn to be a special “King’s Pawn”, in order to make a similar King-protecting move like the chess “castle” available.  Finally, I went back to the original ideas of building in a natural defense to come up with the “stop at the moat” rule that slows down attacks.  (All of the board section, piece, movement and other rules are clearly described in the help files that are installed with the free demo.) 

Keeps & Moats Chess -- Physical PrototypeI did make a physical prototype of the board and pieces as well.  And while I did use it to playtest the chess game, the main reason to make it was to test other game ideas for the same board and components.  One game — “Keeps & Moats: Scepter of Power” — added in a special marker (the “Scepter of Power”) and a deck of cards.  The game was a bit overly-complex and bogged down and just didn’t have much “fun factor” to it … so, it’s been sitting on my shelf for the past 5 years waiting for me to re-approach it. 

Keeps & Moats Chess -- Close-up of Black Pieces
Close-up of the Black Pieces

I do really like the prototype.  The pieces were cheap plastic white-and-black pieces that I found in a dollar store and spray painted to get the 4 colors.  Also, I added a “golden cap” to 1 pawn from each color to mark the King’s Pawn.  I expect I will want to get the board nad pieces out at some point and see what other “Keeps & Moats” game can be made. 

In the meantime, I would appreciate it if you downloaded the free demo of the game and gave it a try … and even more if you were to purchase license for the full version.  If you wanted to try out the NetPlay feature (playing over a network), send me an e-mail and I’ll work out a time with you. 

(I will on occassion spotlight some of my own games with a “Spotlight On…” post.  Also watch for “Others’ Works” posts, which will look at games and other creative works by other people, and “Fellow Designer” posts, which will look at other board game designers and computer game developers.)

  1. kurushi

    Hi Mat,
    I had bought it some years ago and don’t played it because the netplay part was with a third party company who hasn’t players of K&M Chess.
    Today i have lost the setup due to a virus…But i think i ‘ll rebuy it because i love chess and chess with 4peopple must be a lot of fun and long party.
    I love chess and chess variants and know many of them but i must say that all of the chess for 4 players i know K&M is certainly the best one ,4 way haven’t this free mood on the board…
    I would love to see a version for 3 players like triad chess because 4 peopple is more hard to found than 3 :).

    I would really love a new version of it with fulscreen board but i think it’s a dream :=)

    Anyway thx for the game and the article about it who wasn’t here before (now i know why you have created it héhé it’s all about attack and the cpu playing style is all on it!

    Ps: sorry for my crappy english.

    Thx again!

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