I know that we’re a little late with this one, but it’s hard to not want to tell somebody about Shotgun King: The Final Checkmate after you’ve played it… and, I’m guessing, you’ve maybe not played it. So now I’m going to tell you why you should.
It’s a lofty article title, I know, but Shotgun King is the smartest game in the room and it probably knows it. Twists on chess aren’t new, in fact, a lot of grandmasters have made variants over the years, and there are things like Horde Chess, and beyond. Shotgun King is definitely in that vein, but its being a video game also allows for extra, and familiar, depth that simply wouldn’t convey well on the actual board. Namely, it’s got provisions in place to protect you from folly, it’s got a roguelike good-and-bad progression, and there are all sorts of variations to the rival pieces, and your own weapon, that simply wouldn’t be trackable on the board. There’s also a souls system, and that’s just talking about actual combat features, but we’ll get to that in a sec.
The premise is simple. The Black King has been an awful, abysmal king. His subjects, including, presumably his queen, have all left him for the White King, and all he’s left with is his trusty shotgun. So, he heads off for revenge.
Pieces follow their standard chess moves (until special powers come into effect) and so your king can only move one tile except when calling on the power of a defeated soul — in which case you use that piece’s move. The main difference is that you have a shotgun, which has a range, attack power and ammo. Ammo reloads through you spending a turn clicking on your weapon, or you moving to another tile while it’s empty, shooting your weapon will also cost a turn too, so it becomes a game of thinking before you take any action, especially so because multiple enemies will move at once. Which ones will move is indicated because they shake on the turn before they do move… which might be enough warning for you to take one of them out with a blast.
As you might imagine, different troops will have different health, and you’ll also do less damage when you’re at a greater range. Your weapon, being a shotgun, does fire in an arc though, and with a few upgrades you can do a lot of damage fast, and from a distance, by leaning heavily on firing in a wide arc.
Once you clear a screen, which you do by defeating the king (even if they have troops left), you get to choose between two options. Each option will have a positive and a negative, so you might have the chance to cause greater damage, but the enemy faction will start with three more pawns on it. These seem like simple choices at the start, but as you get three or four options in it really starts to pile up, especially as there are no troop caps, so you can end up against two queens, a dozen pawns and six knights alongside the king. Pawns can, of course, be promoted when they hit your back wall too. As you can imagine, there’s a lot to factor in.
Shotgun King is a game that feels perfectly refined, it even includes ‘folly shields’ which indicate when a move will result in your death, and restore each turn. It’s a game that never ever feels like it’s unbalanced, and lays everything out on the table so that when you make a mistake, you know that it was entirely your own fault. I have felt like a complete fool so many times in Shotgun King, mostly when I shoot away my cover from another piece that’s about to move, and I’ve felt like a total genius just as many times.
Shotgun King is available now via Itch.io and Steam. There’s a demo up too, which does a great job of conveying what you’ll be up against.