You Can Say GG to Checkmate


by Brandon Uhler (@RezBenzene)

Do you ever wonder where certain common sayings come from? Me, uh…me neither. But let’s just say we’re all a curious bunch and we like to think about the origin of popular sayings or phrases that have become so embedded in our language that we use them without a second thought. There is one particular phrase that is on my mind, for the convenient sake of this article, that doesn’t have such an obscure origin: “Your move Fischer.” This one isn’t too tough to figure out, but this is in relation to the famous, as well as slightly infamous, American chess player Bobby Fischer.

It has been a while since the chess boom during the seventies as a direct result of Fischer’s championship win. However, chess still remains to be outrageously popular. With more than 600 million recreational players and 2 million professional players, chess continues to be the favorite of many who want to play a game of strategy. It is the ultimate game of brain power and the very definition of being pitted against an opponent who has the same task as you do: capturing the king. If you want to see what your strategic and adaptive mind melded for battle against another is made of, there’s no better way to measure than with a thrilling game of chess…or is it?

The answer, in my opinion, is a very confident no. The particular game of strategy that I’m thinking of has roughly half of a million people or so playing it these days. This number is nothing in the shadow cast by the sheer amount of people that play chess; however, this game that has less of an audience associated with it is a far better judge of ability than chess is in just amount every way, and more! The particular game that I’m thinking of is none other than Starcraft.

Starcraft–or at this point in time Starcraft 2–in short, is a computer game where it is the job of the player to build up and establish a base camp by harvesting various minerals in the beginning portions of the match, which is followed by re-establishing your priorities to building up your army and expanding your base camps. Ultimately, the player who wins is the one whose army is able to overwhelm the others’, usually surrendering at their own choosing. The losing side can either surrender when they believe they’ve lost, or they can lose by having all of their buildings from their camps destroyed; the first option is usually preferred. To remain on point, let’s get back to why Starcraft is most likely a better judge of talent than chess.

The two games have both similarities and differences. Let’s start with the most important comparison. The overall point of the game is pretty much the same: one player’s army fights against another. In fighting, there are many early, mid, and end game strategies that one can employ, but we all know the best players can do a little improvising when necessary. What is different, however, is that in Starcraft, the size and strength of your army is completely dependent on the players’ efficiency of material management. In chess, both sides start with the same exact army, black or white. In Starcraft, the better the player, the faster their army grows. Imagine if chess were played with uneven armies. After ten minutes of building your army, you may have the equivalent of two castles, knights, bishops, and queens, while the lesser player may only have two knights at that point. This is just the beginning of where chess falls short of Starcraft.

In Starcraft, you cannot see the entire battlefield, and therefore, you never know exactly what your opponent is up to at all time. You need to implement a particular tactic that allows you to see what your enemy is doing, or better known as, scouting. Not only that, but there are some units that you can make that are invisible at all times, and in response to that, the player needs to make special detection units to reveal their position. Describing this game is proving to be difficult, but are you starting to see why Starcraft is much more intellectually demanding than chess? There are so many more components that I haven’t gotten to, but I think I have a way that can prove my point while summing up the article.

To show how Starcraft is superior to chess in showing the strategic skills and mental prowess of its players, let’s play chess with Starcraft rules. You sit down at the board, and you can’t see any of your opponent’s pieces. In order to counter this, you need to get one of you pieces in close proximity to theirs, let’s say one to two spaces away. To start the game, you only have the pawns and a king. You need to use the pawns to gather other pieces in order to build up the rest of your army; your rooks, knights, etc. There are limitations on your pieces; sometimes, you cannot create special pieces, like a queen, unless you have created all the other pieces yet. Also, you don’t take turns with your opponent; they are allowed to move their army wherever they want, whenever they want. If one of your pieces dies, you can replace them, but only if you have enough materials harvested by your pawns to do so. And finally, some pieces can fly. Can you imagine how stressful chess would be if it was like this? Well, this almost describes what it’s like to play Starcraft.

Ultimately, there is no objective answer to this debate…that I’m having with myself. I’m a big fan of both chess and Starcraft, and both offer a strategic mental challenge when up against the right opponent. The masters of each game both know a plethora of strategies and counter-strategies. Each player has to be able to analyze what lies before them, they have to be able adapt to any change that occurs at any point during the battle, and finally they have to be able to anticipate what the opponent is most likely going to do. Ultimately, the deciding factor for me is the difference in efficiency. Starcraft demands for more from the player for the entirety of the match. Chess is a question of intellect and strategy, but Starcraft is a question of speed, minimal hesitation, and multi-tasking like you wouldn’t believe. It is a question of everything that one can demand from the mind. That, to me, is enough to be the measure of a strategic master.

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