Education & Review

Commercial vibe

02 Dec 2020

Chess Universe combines the look and feel of a videogame with chess instruction. But the app’s salesmanship put Sophia Rohde off.

Lots of avatars too choose – and pay for
Lots of avatars too choose – and pay for (ChessUniverse)

Chess Universe can be divided into two areas: Playing against friends, strangers or the computer. And the Academy where you can solve chess puzzles for rewards. Some of these puzzles can be very tricky. Including puzzles from games by Fischer, Tal and Kasparov is a good thing, but in my view is missing historical context. Having not just three but all the World Champions in the puzzle section might be more encouraging for a budding chess player.

The game playing is working fine, but as in the rest of the app, there’s a lot of gimmicks that are designed to make you want to upgrade things like your avatar and pay for it. This app seems very much designed to make kids pay. There’s definitely a danger of group pressure from friends having cooler bling. The in-app “gifts” seem to be the right to watch an advertising video for other games. Chess Universe is free to download but afterwards comes with plenty of salesmanship.

This review is written from an educator’s point of view. I use chess to gamify the training of pupils’ analytical thinking, improve their concentration, and promote the joy of learning. It’s the only curricular school subject I know of that focuses on thinking about thinking. I looked at Chess Universe from that perspective. I was interested in finding a crossover app with chess and gaming.

I like the cute names, and the use of cartoonish imagery, but the cartoons themselves are fairly strange looking and, at least for what I had access to, lack in diversity of ethnicity and gender. I didn’t like the violent animation depicted, even if low level, like explosions and bullets, which may be enticing to a gamer.

I like the cute names, and the use of cartoonish imagery, but not the violent animation, like explosions and bullets.

I am not a gamer but a teacher in the classroom for over 35 years. I have tested a lot of chess platforms and chess apps, and I have rarely seen the type that you either love or hate. Chess Universe is definitely like that. It might be useful to attract some players that are not into playing chess, probably preteens and older. It may also motivate some players that have given up chess.

The Academy has different kinds of puzzles. Some are tricky.
The Academy has different kinds of puzzles. Some are tricky. (Chess Universe)
Games on ChessUniverse come with smileys and kaboom.
Games on ChessUniverse come with smileys and kaboom. (ChessUniverse)

However, I would not recommend this app for pupils that are already interested in playing or learning to play. It is much too focused on enticing them to spend real money – with no maximum limits apparently. I also didn’t find any parental controls at all, which is strange as the Terms and Conditions state you need to “possess the legal consent of a parent or legal guardian“ if you are “under the age of majority”.

Chess Universe is available from iOS 10 or Android 4.4 and higher. It includes advertising and in-app purchases.

Sophia Rohde is a chess educator in New York City and member of the FIDE Education Commission.

Chess Universe CEO Grandmaster Duško Pavasović replies

Duško Pavasović is the founder and CEO of [Chess Universe][1] and a grandmaster from Slovenia. 

Duško Pavasović is the founder and CEO of Chess Universe and a grandmaster from Slovenia. (photo: private)

Chess Universe is not directed primarily at children and is not advertised to anyone under the age of 16. If you visit the App Store, you will find that it says 12+ up to 16+ depending on the country. For this reason, there is no need for in-app parental control. Offering in-app purchases to children does not make sense, since they cannot pay. However, they can unlock the vast majority of items by making an effort, which basically means playing chess.

Nevertheless, kids do love it. Because it makes a difference whether you want to educate your child by something they perceive as education or by something they perceive as fun. How can we motivate our kids to play chess when chess needs to compete with games like Brawl Stars or Clash Royale? As for the violent animations, there are subtle mini-explosions when a piece is captured, which I personally made sure were well-tuned, and the bullets that our cannons shoot are rotten apples, chess pieces, coal, and the like. It’s all about fun.

The reviewer must have missed the “Quests” section, which fuels the in-app progress. Also in the Chess Academy, you can find 100 puzzles from games of all men world chess champions in a tower called “Citadel of Champions”. A women chess champions tower will be added with the next update.