Shogi, or Japanese Chess as it is sometimes known in the West, is one of several two player boardgames owing its lineage to the Indian game of chaturanga. Like its cousins Western chess and Xiangqi (Chinese chess), Shogi consists of two opposing armies fighting a war of tactics and attrition with the goal of capturing the opposing army's King.
The board is divided into 81 squares on which each player's force of 20 pieces line up in three ranks at outset of the game. While the ultimate goal of the Shogi player is identical to that of other chess variants, the route to victory features several unique rules making Shogi an exciting and challenging alternative to Western chess.
In Shogi, when a player captures an opponent’s piece, that piece becomes the property of the capturing player's army allowing him/her to “drop” the captured piece into play anywhere on the board. Successful play must therefore incorporate dropped pieces as part of a player's offensive and defensive repertoire.
Another unique feature of Shogi is the fact that nearly all pieces in Shogi have the option of promoting when they reach their opponent’s 3rd rank. These promotions typically increase a piece's offensive capacity. While these unique rules may appear intimidating to the new player, there is thankfully Shogi freeware that is user-friendly for the novice.
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Shogidokoro incorporates a user-friendly design into a full-featured and versatile gaming program. Masking the program's versatility is a surprisingly modest interface that efficiently covers all of the essentials without confusing the player with overly-complex and unfamiliar controls and toggles. Such activities as adding engines, linking to remote gaming servers, and importing and exporting games are easily accomplished with a minimal learning curve.
While aesthetic options are limited to 4 choices of wood tone for the playing board and 4 different piece sets (one of which features Western style symbols), the overall look of Shogidokoro is attractive and conducive to good play. Unlike some other Shogi software, Shoidokoro does not show the player the possible movements available for each piece, so it is necessary for players to have some familiarity with Shogi rules prior to playing.
More important than the look of the program is the playability, and Shogidokoro does not fail to deliver a positive game experience. Play against the AI is smooth and agile and head-to-head play via remote servers is supported.
Included in the initial download is the Lesserkai 1.3.3 engine. For those wishing to try additional AIs, adding engines is simple. I personally added Spear CSA 2008v.1.4 within the first 10 minutes of downloading the program. Note: players will need to add the Lesserkai engine the first time a one-player match is begun. This is easily accomplished simply by clicking on Game?Engine Manager ? Add and then browsing to the Shogidokoro downloaded files to locate the included Lesserkai engine. Additionally, review and analysis of saved games is supported for CSA, KIF, Ki2, PSN, and PSN2 formats.
BCMShogi offers an attractive and highly playable application primarily for play against an AI engine. The download includes the formidable Spear engine and installation of other engines is supported, however the installation process is cumbersome. Nevertheless, play is smooth and intuitive allowing for an enjoyable gaming experience.
Accentuating the quality game play are a multitude of different board designs to choose from as well as Western/international piece-sets for those of us who do not read Japanese. Perhaps where BCMShogi excels best is in providing an experience that is attuned to the needs of the novice player. The program features a movement guide function that highlights the legal moves available for any given piece when clicked on. Given that several Shogi pieces (such as the gold and silver generals) have no Western chess equivalents, the movement guide is invaluable in a player's first games.
BCMShogi additionally supports two-player games, however the program does not link with remote chess servers. BCMShogi supports .PSN, .KIF, .USF, and other formats, so games played at such sites as PlayOK can be imported for review and analysis by the AI engine. The program installs cleanly however consumers should be aware that they are required to register their free copy in order to be able to access all of the features.
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