Bottom Line: I really enjoyed learning about chess (for the first time) and older kids can learn a lot as well, but it could use a bit more pizzazz and assistance for the price.
Chess Academy for Kids by Geek Kids was a hard app for me to review—I simply couldn’t stop playing it long enough to write about all of the details. I never learned how to really play chess and was very interested to learn the basics.
The app opens to a menu with four choices: Tutorials & Practice, Practice, New Game, and Previous Games. Each screen of Tutorials & Practice teaches one individual concept or gives one task to complete, starting from the individual movements allowed by each piece and progressing to how to checkmate an opponent.
The Practice level is similar, but it cuts out the lessons and allows the user to simply complete the tutorial. This is a good starting place for those with some ability to play chess who want to develop more strategy.
The acknowledgment after a move is small—a small pop-up on the screen says “Task Completed!” If the chosen move is wrong, the popup says “Task failed! Try again.”
For each task, there is a bookmark button in the upper right-hand corner that can be used to review previous lessons. For "Please capture the black Rook," for example, there are bookmarks for "King" and "King's attack" to review if the player needs to refresh their memory to complete the objective.
After completing all 140 tutorials, I was ready to take on a chess game. Since I wanted to test my knowledge before humiliating myself playing my kids, I played the computer at the easiest level. The app allows the player to set the computer difficulty from 0 to 100.
When I lost, I tried again a few times. Sadly, I have yet to beat the computer, thus proving that knowing the rules of chess does not automatically make you a good (or even passable) chess player.
This app allows for play between two players as a pass-and-play game. I liked this feature as the app provides my kids with some learning support, while still allowing them to have the fun of playing against each other.
Show last move and show available moves are two options that helped me a great deal. As a chess novice, I especially liked the option to show available moves.
As much as I love this app, and think it has great promise, there are some aspects I would like to see addressed in future updates.
There is no sound in the app, even when a player completes a task properly. For a chess novice or younger child, more positive reinforcement, audio or video, would make it far more interesting. This is a significant issue with apps like Dinosaur Chess available for $2 less. (Chess Academy for Kids is $4.99.)
Some of the tutorial prompts also weren't explained well. In one, the prompt asked the user to complete a “beneficial capture of a protected black piece.” Though I could infer what this might mean, there had not been a tutorial on beneficial captures.
Another issue I had with the app is that wrong answers are not explained. In the more advanced tutorials, I frequently got answers wrong. The app indicated my failure and need to try again, but didn’t tell me why it was wrong, nor did it provide a reminder about the movement or value of a particular piece. I wanted to know why I was wrong. Instead, I guessed randomly at squares, until I finally moved my piece to the correct square and moved on.
Although the description says the app is for ages 5+, my daughter is just one month away from five and this app would be too difficult for her to complete, even with parental help. Since there are no audio instructions, children who are not yet strong readers will need to have an adult's help.
The real target age group is probably 7+ and the app provides a systematic and thorough method for learning basic rules and strategies for that age group.
Those who already know the basic rules could use Chess Academy for Kids to focus on learning more advanced strategy, or could play increasingly difficult games against the computer, or other players. The game interface is very smooth and easy to use and there are no external links, making this an app for any child to safely enjoy.
I look forward to many more games with my sons. Maybe someday I’ll beat them.
If you would like to purchase Chess Academy for Kids ($4.99 for the iPad and iPhone) please support Smart Apps for Kids by using this link button:
Heather Hetler apologizes for any delay in app reviews. When she’s not busy working as a graduate intern in speech-language pathology or taking care of her three kids, she’ll now be practicing chess.