Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Dinosaur Chess

We got Dinosaur Chess from Convekta for Christmas for the kids. I'll start by pointing out this comprehensive review to which I'd like to add my own thoughts. As Robert rightly highlights, this product gets good marks for presentation which is graphic, engaging, and fun. Since my children have already learned almost all of the basic rules of chess, I was less interested in the introductory lessons and more interested in the game engine and tactical training. Unfortunately, for me, the real strength of the program is for introducing the game to complete novices right from how the pieces move. In order to grow your dinosaur, you must do the lessons which I thought were nicely done but the training exercises were short and there were only a few of them per lesson. I give the authors credit for building up playing strength through very basic sub-games (e.g. just pawns, or just pawns + knights vs. pawns).

The game playing engine adjusts to playing strength. I think this is probably the highlight of the program for our purposes. I tried having the kids play the weakest levels on the ICC Dasher program who is rated 1000 and that opponent is simply too strong for them right now. Dinosaur Chess starts with advantage games that are appropriate for day 1 players and the full game engine (T-Rex) also starts at a weaker level as far as I can tell than 1000. I have no basis for this, but I think it's probably a good milestone for a child to be able to play a complete winning game on their own against T-Rex before they are ready for tournaments.

The kids really were engaged by the lessons, Richie more so than Alyssa, but both of them disliked the exercises with little raptors walking around on the board. They didn't like the pressure, or they were "scared" of getting touched by the raptors and didn't want to do the exercises. They knew everything already, except for en passant, so it was only marginally useful for them.

My biggest gripe with the program, however, is that there is no exercises for introducing the tactical topics that I had hoped for. I was really hoping they had lessons on pins, forks, skewers, discovered checks, and basic mating patterns. I think these could be best learned with software, but I've yet to find a good program for very young kids (3-5) that has them. I believe Chessmaster may have it but that is aimed at slightly older children.

OK, here's a multiple choice question.

Which person spent the most hours consecutively playing Dinosaur Chess since we got it?
A. Richie
B. Alyssa
C. Auntie Kumi
D. Grandma Yoko
E. None of the Above.

Highlight below for answer:
Grandma Yoko! She didn't even know how the pieces moved before and got obsessed learning how to play and trying to beat successive levels of opponents. Maybe there really is a chess obsession "gene"...

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