Electron User

By Micro Power
Acorn Electron

Published in Electron User 1.06

The sheer size of the task is astonishing - how does one put a game as complex as chess into a micro? How Micro Power managed to do so as well as this is truly remarkable. It is a version I found totally absorbing, and one which I would certainly recommend.

On loading, which was straightforward and presented no difficulty, a menu of options is presented. Each option is most carefully explained on the cassette inlay, and they enable one to set the parameters for any chosen game. The colours of the pieces and/or the board are easily changed to any combination, so invisible chess becomes possible - and very difficult!

The most obvious choice from the menu is Play, but even then various other decisions have to be made. It is possible to play against the Electron, to have the computer play itself, or to use the micro simply as a medium through which two human opponents do battle.


There are several skill levels, although one obviously has to trade power against speed of response. Average times are given for various levels, with the ninth grade taking about three hours per move. At my standard of chess that would rival watching the proverbial paint dry.

At lower levels the computer still plays a decent game. It inclines to be orthodox in style, although it enjoys forays with the Queen. One very helpful feature is the chance to retract a bad move. In fact, by clever use of the built-in facilities, it is even possible to swap sides mid-game.

It is also possible to set up any required board layout to allow analysis of various ideas. I found these powerful options to be a most useful aid with my 10-year-old chess club members at school.


My favourite choice of play was Blitz Chess, in which one is given only a limited time to make a move. This time can be set as low as 10 seconds, which certainly stimulates the adrenaline. If no move is made in time, the computer claims another go. Here the computer has a great advantage, being troubled with neither fatigue or panic, nor by the telephone ringing.

Obviously any such complex program is almost certain to include the odd bug, and this is no exception. When playing Blitz Chess, as explained before, the turn reverts to the computer if no move is made within the time allowed. In one case I was in check but made no move within the limit. The computer promptly took my king and told me I was still in check!

In another game, with the micro playing itself, play reached a state where the board alternated between two positions. This continued for over a quarter of an hour, with the same yoyo moves, until I put an end to the pieces' misery.

However, with these few minor problems put to one side, all the features of chess are faithfully reproduced in this version, including castling and en-passant. Illegal moves are disallowed, as well as a very occasional legal move, and the whole gives the feeling of a well-designed program.

It offers good value at the price, and its range caters from beginner to advanced club player - and probably beyond.

Phil Tayler

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