Tall Chess is an iPhone chess app with great gameplay and a quirky style. The game is built around the premise that conventional, square-grid chess boards don’t translate well to the iPhone. In the words of the developers:
Unlike other chess apps, Tall Chess uses the entire screen of the device to present the game board, keeping the focus on the game, not extraneous and unnecessary interface elements. This emphasis on simplicity and usability extends to all parts of the app.
It’s true — the game provides a consistently smooth experience, unhindered by the typical cluttered UI. The chess board is the interface. To move a piece, you simply pick it up and drag it. Tiles will turn red or green, depending on the legality of the move. After you drop a piece, a little notification will appear reminding you that you can tap to undo. The game even gives you an animated play-by-play when you swipe your finger horizontally across the board, ensuring that you never forget where you left off.
Visually, Tall Chess is gorgeous. The board and pieces are polygonal and two-tone — no extraneous textures here — and the influence of Loren Brichter’s Letterpress is obvious. Players without Game Center avatars are represented by a cavalcade of illustrated animals (mostly tall ones, like giraffes or ostriches). The animations are as smooth as the graphics, and serve to reinforce the functionality rather than act as decorative frills.
There are a few sticking points, but none of them drastically affect the overall experience. After moving a piece, the “Tap to Undo” microcopy stays on screen for a little too long. As far as I could tell, there’s no way to override that and finalize a move without returning to the menu or waiting for it to disappear. [UPDATE: It seems you can finalize a move by returning to the menu or exiting back to the home screen.] Furthermore, some of the swiping functions become harder to access as the game progresses, since you can only initiate those swipes from empty sections of the board. These are all very minor issues, and since the game has been out for less than 24 hours at the time of this writing, I expect they’ll be improved in future updates.
I’m not a big chess player — I’ve gone years between games — but Tall Chess may reignite my enthusiasm for it. The app doesn’t seem like a port of the physical version, but instead feels completely native. It was designed specifically for the iPhone, and it shows. I appreciate the lack of unnecessary skeuomorphism, the understanding of user behavior on mobile devices, and the general attention for detail. All of these elements go into making Tall Chess a satisfying, stylish experience.
Built by the Baltimore design studio Friends of the Web, Tall Chess was released on May 30. The game itself is free, but the ability to play multiple games simultaneously is only available as an in-app upgrade, currently priced at $2.99. I strongly recommend it.
Download Tall Chess from the App Store here.