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Cool stuff I've found in tech: a robotic chess board called Square Off

Article posted on 6/11/2020

I’ve said it before, but I suppose it bears repeating: I love games - board, video, card, and otherwise.

In particular, since the board game scene exploded over the last few years, I’ve found myself neck-deep into the hobby, excitedly following blogs and Kickstarter for the next ‘big game’ coming down the line. With all of the new games, sometimes I forget about the ‘classics’ - you know, the kinds of games that have been around forever but may not be as ‘shiny’ as newer games on the market today.

Some of my earliest memories of gaming are with my grandfather. I’ve talked about the hours spent in his den playing through Monkey Island, but although we certainly loved our PC games, his first love as far as games went was definitely chess. From a young age, I learned to approach the game with a certain reverence and, although he beat me most every time, I came back to play with him time and again.

He’d be absolutely tickled to see where technology has taken one of his favorite pastimes today. While browsing the web the other day I stumbled on a mechanical chessboard called Square Off that lets you play chess on 20 different difficulty settings, or against someone else via chess.com. The company isn’t new - it’s been around for a handful of years - but they continue to innovate and improve their boards so that they now have several options for chess players.

The Mumbai-based startup behind Square Off have recently introduced a video calling feature. Using the app, you can now connect with one another across the globe while you play. It's not quite the same as having an opponent sitting across from you, but in the midst of a global pandemic, I'll take any sort of social interaction I can get. 

“The lockdowns have motivated people to rediscover their passion and the chess community is expanding,” CEO Bhavya Gohil said in a release. “The recent addition to the video calling feature was the call of the hour and we are thrilled for the response it has received. It takes the experience of connected board gaming one notch ahead." According to the company, they've seen an increase in users of the board of about 30% since the pandemic began. 

I like physical pieces, and although I'm grateful for things like Tabletop Simulator and other digital gaming outlets, they just aren't the same as holding a piece in my hand and moving it. This board solves that - and honestly, the movement and capturing of pieces is kinda freaky! Frankly, I love it, and am in awe of the innovation.

Honestly, it's been so long since I've played chess - either digitally or in person - that I feel like I've forgotten all of the strategy and most of the rules. I think I might have to find some opponents and delve back into it. As for this board, if I ever get the chance, I'd love to check it out. Get it? ...no, just me? Alrighty then.

Are you a chess player and have you had a chance to see a Square Off in action? If so, I want to hear about it in the comments!