Halfchess — the Half of the story you did not know
I am the creator of a game Halfchess - a chess variation played on half of the board (4 columns, 8 rows, half the number of pieces). If you think, chess is a long game and long equates to boring, then halfchess is a T20 of the chess world.
The journey of Halfchess has been quite interesting. The product was conceived about 2 years ago. For an year I played it with different people and learnt from the experience. Last year, I completed a consultancy assignment with JioMoney and had the time and money to do a few things out of interest. I hacked together as a prototype of Halfchess to show to some friends. It was an index.html file and loaded a js file with a very basic AI. The results motivated me to develop it further and also helped me in identifying the product challenges that were about to come. It went live on app stores, with plenty of bugs and bad flows, on 1st Jan 2017. Still, it went viral on reddit /chess/variations for a few days after the launch, but is still to see a major traction. Then this is the first article about Halfchess anywhere. I am hopeful that this product will help many people.
I conceived Halfchess because I was interested in teaching chess to children. I have been interested in education among the underserved communities. I believe that getting them interested in chess can be a step towards getting them interested in maths and science. A game like chess that can help them develop better focus and, more importantly, confidence. Chess is NOT an easy game to learn. I thought of Halfchess as a way to teach children the rules of this complex game and some simpler strategy maneuvers on the board. When I started building the product, I realized that Halfchess can also be very interesting for adults.
If you think, chess is a long game and long equates to boring, then halfchess is a T20 of the chess world. I thought Halfchess is too easy. Then I have seen few people play the first stage atleast 50 times to get past it.
I don’t recommend getting that hooked, because when players cross the first stage and dread the second stage so much that I don’t see them back on the app for quite a while. They miss out some surprises in the latter stages, like the Crab piece.
I plan to add a warning if you are getting hooked. The point is to enjoy it, not suffer it — I learnt in many of my cycling treks. Halfchess is a good exercise for your brain, and maybe one or two games a day is a better way to enjoy it.
If you like playing on the board, I suggest you invent some pieces or try playing with some lesser known ones. Here are some for ideas https://medium.com/halfchess/chess-pieces-we-dont-use-a0b014a4629d .
Let me add some juice for the technology and product enthusiasts.
The tech enthusiasts would love to know that this has been built with React-Redux in the front end and Nodejs in the backend, solely by one developer. It also uses Mongodb and Firebase. Using JS has given me a lot of developer productivity. I also used a custom nodejs library that I wrote — archiejs that helps me write modular code. Its is great for writing code in isolated modules and the code thus written has a longer life than plain and simple monoliths. If you are interested, you can check out — (1)the Github repo https://github.com/archiejs and (2) an easier to read brief https://medium.com/engineering-notes/modular-services-in-a-nodejs-monolith-feedback-on-talk-97de8837af66 . Most recently, I was discussing with CTO of an Australian company (next blog in the same medium publication) and am trying to get more people interested in the OSS project.
The product enthusiasts are in for some juice now. Being a game, there are many knobs and levers that a product manager has to adjust, so as to keep most people interested in the game. Usually the knobs are turned to make the game easiest in the first stage. I have done something different here. Halfchess starts with a devilish first stage and it gets easier with the second one. This is inverted logic and has not been helping much with getting the masses hooked. It is a weird way of thinking as a product person, but I like it. I know, you are thinking flappy bird at this point — but its like comparing apples and oranges. Chess is no way flappy bird. The inventor for flappy wanted to make a game that a person can play while smoking a cigarette with one hand. With this inverted approach, one of the latest problems I have been facing is lower than average cohort analysis — users returning to the app week on week (its about 5–10%).
I have some thoughts around increasing engagement — (1) to build a learning mode to teach chess and prepare people to cross the devilish first stage, (2) is to build a community of chess lovers and a ranking system to match people of similar skill levels to play against each other. I am planning for (2) and hope that it will help with the engagement problem on the app. Halfchess can be a community which Flappy is not. I hope that was interesting.
There is some juice for people who love history and UX. The game of chess evolved over ages. It is widely believed to have started in India. The first mention of chess is in an ancient Hindu text of 5 century AD, in a poem that compares frogs on the field on a rainy day to pieces on a Chaturanga board. Chess moved to Persia by trade diplomacy and was loved there — evolved many variations, some 10 X 10 ones also. Next, stop on chess timeline was in Europe. It was in Spain in the late 14th century that modern chess was evolved. A variation of chess, known as ‘rage of the mad lady’ was first documented around that time in a poem. The queen has extraordinary powers of moving throughout the board and killing off pieces at her mercy. It was a male dominated society at that time and this was hard for people to accept. Even the King was so much weaker than the Queen. An explanation was given that the Queen was only using her powers to protect her King. The chess variation spread like range in Europe.
So fast forward to the 21st century. I am trying to reinvent chess. We have a lot of entertainment options today and out attention span is at its lowest. Lets see if the T20 of chess world has what it takes to grab the attention. It also fits beautifully on a mobile screen. It solves the number one problem with chess on mobile devices, making the squares larger.
If you have tried the game by now — I personally prefer playing a 5 column or a 6 column board. A slightly wider board offers a better tradeoff between the complexity of the board and the time it takes to play the game. If you would like to join the community — tweet me at @navalsaini and I will take your phone number and add you to the whatsapp group where you can challenge others to play halfchess.
Lastly, I also consult and would love to get some good consulting offers.