Martian Chess Board Game Review

So, you’ve probably heard of chess. But, have you ever heard of Martian Chess? Yes, it exists! Although, it’s not played like chess. Maybe a little bit confusing, but once you hear how it works, it’s great fun. Just like chess, this is a game that’s all about logic and strategy.

Martian Chess
  • for 2 players, ages 8 to adult.
  • a chess variant that encourages brain flexibility.
  • buy two sets to play a four-player version.

Brief Overview of Martian Chess

Martian Chess is an abstract strategy standalone board game in Pyramid Arcade, a box including 22 total games. The game allows for 2-6 players but the game board will change each time, depending on the number of people playing.

The game pieces in Martian Chess are called Icehouses. They look like stackable pyramids and come in 3 different sizes. So unlike chess that has various pieces, there are only the Icehouses in this version. The game is, however, played on a chessboard (of sorts) – thank goodness!

Now here’s the slightly strange aspect that you might have to get used to: there are control zones on the board. And the size of the zones differs with the number of players. Once a piece moves into another player’s zone, they lose control of that piece – definitely not like chess!

The aim of the game is to get as many points as possible by capturing other pieces. The 3 different sizes each have a different point value and also have different ways of moving. Clearly, logic (and not luck) reigns supreme here. 

Unboxing Martian Chess

Martian Chess Board Game Box and Board

Looking at the box, you would definitely think of the movie John Carter. It really looks like a game that would fit well in that movie. The size of the box is just a bit bigger than a box of cards. So. In the box you’ll get the following:

  • Icehouse pieces
  • A little fold-up rulebook
  • Additional information pamphlet
  • Two-player board (literally half a chessboard)

How to Play Martian Chess

Setup

The setup for Martian Chess is pretty simple – just like normal chess. You set up the Icehouses as shown in the instruction manual, there are only 9 pieces per player. And true to its strange nature, the colors don’t matter – that’s just not normal for a game!

Playing Martian Chess

The 3 types of Icehouses are pawns (small), drones (medium), and queens (large). Unlike normal chess, all of the pieces can move backward, they don’t have a set rule for only going forward. The pawns can only move 1 tile at a time diagonally. The drones can move up to 2 tiles at a time vertically or horizontally. The queens can move in any direction as many tiles as they would like. The only condition that applies to all pieces with regards to movement is that pieces can’t jump over other pieces.

The players must decide who will go first, as there is no rule or condition for that. Then the person that has the most points, wins the game! That really sums up the gameplay. Any uncommon occurrences are discussed in the rulebook.

Pros & Cons

Pyramid Quartet Games and Components

Pros:

  • Clever gameplay – very smooth game
  • Pocket-sized – great for traveling

The way the game has been structured is really clever. It has the same feel as normal chess but feels like a bit of an update with the pieces and board. The size of the game makes it ideal if you want to take it along with you and go play in a park or while traveling.   

Cons:

  • It won’t appeal to everyone
  • The board changes with the number of players (sold seperately)
  • The rules are a bit unclear

Due to the niche nature of the game, it won’t be a game that everyone wants to play. It is irksome that although you get the two-player board if you want any other players to join, you will have to purchase special boards for EACH player extra – not great. Although it does make a great 2-player board game.

New players may need the rules explained a few times because the rules aren’t totally clear. Veteran gamers may not have trouble but newbies might struggle at first. There may have to be a bit of an “A-ha!” moment if it seems difficult to understand.

Versions & Expansions

Crowdfunded on Kickstarter by Looney Labs as a set of four, the Pyramid Quartet of games includes Martian Chess and 3 others in the same beautifully abstract vein.

Looney Labs Nomids Game
Looney Labs Nomids Game
For 2-10 players ages 6 to adult.; Beautiful Looney Pyramid pieces can be combined to play even more games.
$20.07
Looney Labs Ice Duo Game , Brown
Looney Labs Ice Duo Game , Brown
Two games for two players, ages 8 and up.; Enough pieces to play several more Looney Pyramid games, all in a travel-sized box.
$20.00 $16.99
Looney Labs Homeworlds Game
Looney Labs Homeworlds Game
robust online community-no need to have local opponents.; fan-run annual tournament adds to the fun!
$19.24

Conclusion: Verdict?

This is definitely a very niche game. This will probably only appeal to chess fans and players that love abstract thinking. And even then, some chess players might not enjoy, it as it isn’t classic chess.

Putting aside who would play it, it is a fun game. It really is. Once you get the hang of it, it’s a great way to socialize with someone – or more people if you get the extra game boards. So, if you’re looking for an “alien” version of chess, you should definitely check it out!

Martian Chess
  • for 2 players, ages 8 to adult.
  • a chess variant that encourages brain flexibility.
  • buy two sets to play a four-player version.

We hope you enjoyed our Martian Chess review! Have you tried Martian Chess or any of the other games in the Pyramid Arcade? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this unique abstract strategy board game! Drop a comment below.

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Stats at a glance

Players: 2-4

Ages: 8 +

Medium

20 Mins

Publisher: Looney Labs

Published: 1995