The Queen’s Gambit Chess Preview: Checkmate

Ripstone’s new project for Netflix Games and mobile devices brings Beth Harmon’s journey to the smaller screen.

Image Via Ripstone Games

One of the strangest things about media is how it can make you consider changing your career or pursuing a new hobby. For example, movies like Top Gun caused a spike in Navy recruitment, and Community inspired people to pick up dice and start playing Dungeons & Dragons. This was also the case for Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit, which caused a boom in Chess players.

But what if you didn’t need to go out and buy a Chess set and play with actual people? What if you could dovetail straight from watching The Queen’s Gambit into playing Chess via Netflix itself? This is the goal of The Queen’s Gambit Chess, a new project created for Netflix Games and mobile devices by Ripstone. Gamepur recently had a chance to preview the game at Ripstone’s studio before its July 25 launch date and see how Beth Harmon’s journey translates to the smaller screen.

Wait, Isn’t A Show Based On The Queen’s Gambit Just Chess?

Image Via Netflix

The first question everyone asks when learning about the game is, “Isn’t The Queen’s Gambit video game just Chess?” This is despite the fact there is already a The Queen’s Gambit board game, and it’s totally different from Chess.

The answer is yes and no. The Queen’s Gambit Chess is a Chess game at heart, but it’s also a lot more. It’s all about using the license to help teach people how to play Chess while also offering an easy avenue for playing the game on their own, with friends, or against strangers.

Just as The Queen’s Gambit show made Chess interesting by simplifying it, the video game aims to break players in slowly through lots of tutorials that aid people of all skill levels. Of course, you can just jump straight into playing Chess, but other elements can help improve your game before you take to the board.

The Queen’s Gambit Chess’ Story Mode Is All About Gaining/Refining Skills

Image Via. Netflix

The Queen’s Gambit Chess has a very loose story mode that follows Beth’s journey throughout the show, starting with her learning how to play the game in Mr. Shaibel’s boiler room and concluding with her championship match in Moscow. At the start of her journey, Beth (and the player) are taught the absolute basics of Chess, with each piece and its functions being described in turn, with lessons demonstrating how they move.

As the story continues, Beth will face more challenging opponents, reflected through increasing complexity puzzles. These often involve putting the enemy into Checkmate as quickly as possible, escaping from Checkmate in a single move, or eliminating all of the opponent’s pieces before they can counter you. The challenges also have rankings based on how quickly the player can complete them.

The Queen’s Gambit Chess doesn’t have a story mode in that it follows the premise of each episode, nor are there lengthy visual novel-style dialogue scenes between characters. Tragically, there are no romance options to pursue, as it’s a game about Chess, not love. So, once you’re done with the challenges, you can move on to the real deal.

The Queen’s Gambit Chess lets you play Chess against the AI, with varying degrees of difficulty, and you can play locally and against strangers with a similar ranking online. The different characters from the show represent the AI’s difficulty and strategies. Still, the game doesn’t just throw players to the lions when they have finished the tutorial, as they can call on Beth Harmon’s genius.

Beth Harmon Is On Hand To Help The Player Out

Image Via. Netflix

The burgeoning Chess players of the world have an extra advantage in The Queen’s Gambit Chess: Beth Harmon. In the show, Beth would look up at the ceiling as a child and play Chess games in her mind, an ability which helped her to plan several moves ahead. This power is available to the player in The Queen’s Gambit Chess, as there is a meter on the bottom left of the screen, which slowly fills up over the course of the game.

Once Beth’s meter has filled up, the camera will pan up to the ceiling, and you’ll see a game of chess playing out, similar to what happens in the show. This will result in the game offering you a suggestion for your next move. One thought up by the in-game Chess engine that helps come up with an advantageous move. Usually, this move will be your best course of action, and it will help you get the upper hand.

What’s interesting about this mechanic is that the meter will build up faster when the tide turns against you and the enemy takes more of your pieces. This means that if you’re losing, then you’ll be able to receive more suggestions as if Beth Harmon was using her Limit Break during a game.

With this mechanic in hand, players can swing the match in their favor and spot bad moves and understand how they should proceed in different situations. However, if you’re already an accomplished Chess player, you can switch this mechanic off and fly solo. This is because The Queen’s Gambit Chess offers multiple accessibility options, such as being able to undo moves when playing against the AI, so you’re not locked into mistakes.

Capturing The Look And Feel Of The Queen’s Gambit In Video Game Form

Image Via Netflix

The world of The Queen’s Gambit is recreated through the various locations in the game, which have been painstakingly recreated. The developers revealed that they had Netflix’s full cooperation in accessing production materials and behind-the-scenes photos to help them build locations like Mr. Shaibel’s boiler room, making them match the show as much as possible.

A lot of work has been put into the little details, with the board and pieces having noticeable fingerprints and smudge marks that gather over the match. The moves will also be replicated in the background elements in each stage, such as how the official matches have larger boards that are updated throughout the game so that the audience can see all of the current positions. The team also put a lot of work into making the Chess clocks as accurate as possible, which is part of the fun of playing officially.

Regarding the character models, a bit more artistic license was taken. The characters from The Queen’s Gambit have been replicated in a form akin to a Dreamworks animated movie. The show characters usually only appear in avatar form, and the limitations of building a game for mobile hardware means that fans shouldn’t expect photorealistic recreations of Anna Taylor-Joy. 

The Queen’s Gambit Chess doesn’t feature in-app purchases, but it does have a store where you can unlock cosmetics, such as Locations, Chess Sets, Avatars, Backgrounds, and Frames. The money you need to unlock these is earned through completing the in-game tasks, such as the Daily Challenges, but none is necessary to enjoy the game.

Another aspect in which The Queen’s Gambit Chess links to the show is through its stats screen. After each game, the player is judged based on six different stats: Aggression, Intuition, Boldness, Strategy, Defense, and Opening. Your playstyle will then be compared to Beth Harmon’s style, which the team determined via the tactics she uses in the show and the original The Queen’s Gambit book. However, you won’t be penalized for using your style, so don’t feel you need to try and emulate her plays to succeed.

But Wait, Isn’t A Game Based On The Queen’s Gambit Just Chess?

Image Via. Netflix

You asked that question already, avid reader, and the answer has stayed the same. The team consists of huge fans of The Queen’s Gambit and puts a lot of love and care into the game’s design. If anything, The Queen’s Gambit Chess feels like the ideal companion to the show, which is still raking in viewers three years later, and the fact that it’s coming to Netflix Games makes it easy to dive in straight after watching the show.

If watching The Queen’s Gambit has inspired you to learn how to play Chess, then The Queen’s Gambit Chess is the ideal way to go about it. The tutorial is thorough and robust, without ever becoming overwhelming, giving you all the time to learn the ropes. Once you’re ready to move onto the big leagues and start playing full games, you have plenty of accessibility options that will get you out of a jam and help you avoid future errors. This is all wrapped up in a lovely package that evokes the feeling and style of the show, all in a game that can be played in short bursts on the go.

There are a million Chess games out there on every computer imaginable. Still, The Queen’s Gambit Chess captures the show in the sense that it makes Chess approachable and easy to pick up in the way many other video game adaptations of the popular game do not.