Square Off: Our first take

Wizard's Chess? Square Off moves pieces by itself with magnets

Chess hasn’t changed for 1,500 years, but Square Off offers a unique and simple way for people to continue playing in this ever-connected world. 

Wizards in the Harry Potter universe don’t need to move their chess pieces with their hands, and we’re edging closer to parity with the wizarding world thanks to Infivention’s chess board, Square Off.

At first glance, Square Off looks like an abnormally large chess board. What sets it apart is its ability to play and move pieces without any help. That’s right — the pieces slide across the board as though your opponent is invisible.

AI and magnets

The mechanics are relatively simple — mechanized arms and magnets inside the board allow pieces to move to their designated places — but it’s artificial intelligence, which decides where the pieces go, that makes Square Off feel like magic. There are 20 modes of difficulty, and that’s because playing against AI is really just to train yourself.

The board’s killer feature is its ability to connect with chess players around the world. Instead of playing against AI, you can play against another person, who makes his or her moves through the Square Off app. The moves they make on their phone will translate to real-life, physical moves on your board.

There’s something unique about playing chess online with a physical board. While self-moving pieces aren’t new, the option to see moves of another, human player on your board — when they aren’t even close to you — feels special.

There a couple of quirks to the system; you need to press down gently on the board when you choose a piece, and do it again when you place it on your desired tile. This makes sure the mechanical arm and AI underneath understands where you’re moving. It takes a few seconds to get used to, but it’s not an issue.

What’s more, Square Off can live-stream games played at international grand-master tournaments. You can re-create games in real-time, in case you’re throwing a chess viewing party.

An age-old game, improved by tech

Chess has been around for 1,500 years, but there has hardly been any improvement to the physical game. Square Off seems like an excellent option for people looking to play in the ever-connected world — and while it’s price is a little on the high end at $250, it’s still a solid option for chess enthusiasts and hardcore players.

Square Off was successfully funded via a Kickstarter campaign from November 2016, and it received our Best Cool Tech Award at CES 2017.

It’s not quite as whimsical as Wizard’s Chess, but it isn’t like Harry Potter could play with people around the world.

Highs

  • Pieces move on their own
  • AI lets you train on various levels of difficulty
  • You can see your opponents’ movements on the board, even if they only have the app
  • Live-stream tournaments to your board

Lows

  • Bulky and hard to take out of the house.
  • Pricey
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