Sunday, March 11, 2007

Free Checkers

Why would anyone pay anything (let alone money) just to play checkers? Hospitality, good will, the good grace to overlook advertising in a "free" checkers program? Nope! Not hardly. Never. Not here. Never.

That said, I'd've thunk it would be easy to find a good freeware checkers program on the web, but there doesn't seem to be a big following for the game. Only a few have crossed my ken. Here they be, in order of first impression:
  1. Dragon Draughts is excellent, but it's not standard checkers. This is the 10 x 10 International (or "Polish") game with some surprising backwards jumps, flying kings and a kibitzing blunder guru. It's a bit gnarly on the 1280 x 800 screen (just hit maximize in top right corner), because widescreen notebooks running Windows XP didn't exist, back in the day.

    The rest of the stuff here is the regular 8 x 8 game you grew up with.

  2. CheckerBoard is a nice checkers GUI by Martin Fierz in the great WinBoard/xboard chess tradition. CheckerBoard hosts a number of good free checkers-playing engines, and Fierz' site is the portal to see for that.

  3. Jon Kreuzer and Josh Hess' Gui Checkers is another freeware GUI worth mentioning, at least of those I could find. The board looks good, and the allegedly midrange checkers engine is hopelessly better than my game will ever be.

  4. GamerCafe's Cafe Checkers demo is free, and it has three (count 'em, three!) beginners levels. Minimal graphic delight, but a nice mindless game with some punch at the higher levels.

  5. ICheckers is another minimal bit of freeware with an adequate board. It has an annoying beep to signal your turn to move, and it beats me handily.
CAVEAT — The one serious fault almost all of these efforts share is an arms race approach to engine design. Your casual players (like moi) and all beginners will be left in the dust without a good, obvious, reliable way to dumb these robots down to human scale. The greatest board game in the world has a natural handicapping system to make the game fun for players of widely disparate expertise. Why not Checkers?
There is one shareware program that deserves a mention on a freeware list, firstly because at $19 it's almost free, but mainly because the program really is in the superior category: Sage Draughts 9.0 from PC Solutions. There's a demo version.

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