Tired of chess or 3d chess? try 12d chess!
Android & iOS
# of Players
Thrive is a head-to-head take on chess from Abstract Games. The game was developed physically and digitally by Martin Grider and challenges players to outwit their opponents by capturing five of their six evolving pieces. A game can be completed in about five minutes but the brain-meltingness of the whole ordeal might lead to a lot of agonizing over decisions.
Turns in Thrive are always the same and consist of two steps. First, move one of your pieces. Second, add two extra movement pegs to your pieces. For movement, pieces can move to relative positions defined by the pegs they have placed on their face. Each piece has a 5x5 grid on which the center represents the current space it is on, the peg one spot above the center represents one space directly forward, the peg one spot to the right is one space directly to the right, and so on.
To begin the game, each piece has a peg in its center and the “move forward one space” location. After taking your first move, you get two pegs to place on any of your pieces, you may even place both on the same piece. The position in which you place the peg then opens up that as a valid movement for that piece next turn. This explanation might be confusing, but once it clicks it’s a definite “ah-ha” moment.
Capturing pieces works the same as chess; simply land on an opponent’s piece and it is yours. Continue these turns until one player captures the second to last piece of their opponents.
Much like chess and its successful clones, the beauty of Thrive is in the simplicity. Move a piece and open up new movement options for next turn. It is incredibly simple to understand but once you are in a game and trying to plot out an attack and account for all the possible places your opponent could move, it really starts to add up.
As a basic premise, Thrive works really well. It could work well if it added nothing outside of what I’ve described so far. The developer decided not to stop, however, and added a crazy amount of customization options for starting a game in various states. From different initial peg locations to different piece layouts, there are a ton of possible combinations here and the app lets you try out many. Each seemingly small wrinkle drastically affects gameplay as common openings for the base game fall apart quickly with other setups.
There certainly isn’t a shortage of chess variants in the world, but Thrive does the nearly impossible by standing out among the bunch. Whereas something like Onimata succeeds in simplifying the move space considerably, Thrive expands things by allowing players to define their pieces with each turn. The simple mindset difference this game offers by knowing within a turn any of your opponent’s pieces can move to any spot in a 2x2 grid around their current location adds a thousand wrinkles to traditional chess planning. I could see the argument that this is “too much” and such open-endedness adds brain melting without any real payoff. I absolutely wouldn’t blame anybody who falls into that camp, I am quite awful at this game so perhaps I should as well, but for my money I’ve been having a lot of fun trying to solve the puzzles presented in each game.
Barrier to Entry
The game offers a tutorial and text rules. Within a few slides of the tutorial the game clicked and I was off and running. I suspect most players, especially those with chess experience (although it’s completely not required), will have similar experiences.
Look and Feel
The game looks nice. By default the board is presented with an angled 3D view, but I find the top-down view to be much more practical in making sure I can see all of the pegs on all pieces. There are dozens of visual customization options from the board graphics, background look, and whether or not to show a virtual table underneath the game board. None of this outside of the 3D vs 2D choice, is all that practical, but it is always nice to see developers go the extra mile on something like this.
Controls have you tapping the piece you wish to move which will highlight the valid movement options. Tap one of them to carry out the movement. When placing pegs, you select a piece which gives you a zoomed in view making peg placement quite easy as well. In short, no complaints here. The undo option allows you to step back to the beginning of your turn in the likely case you notice a flaw in your plans along the way.
The game offers local pass-and-play but no online multiplayer options.
The game has an AI to play against. There are not any difficulty levels to select, you simply play against the AI. I’ve found the AI to be quite challenging, but this is certainly something that will vary from player to player depending on how the game suits them and how quickly they learn AI strategies.
Adjusting your piece
When starting a game you may select from nine different starting piece layouts and seven different peg setups. The game also keeps stats and offers a slew of achievements to go after.
The Wrap Up
Thrive is a very simple, clever, and mind-melting take on chess. The digital version is well made to allow you to play locally or against AI, the only real complaint is a lack of online play. Chess and its variants is a widely explored space so it is a credit to the designer to have been able to come up with a unique and interesting take on the classic. You, the reader, probably already know if this game is something you would enjoy or not. I’ve enjoyed my time with this one.