Sunday, June 14, 2009

Title: HiddenLynx
Author: Mikko A Oksalahti
License: Freeware

One of the odder aspects of my childhood was trying to get my friends and siblings in midwest America play games like Chinese Chess (also called Xiangqi). I was fascinated by the game. It seemed so exotic. Playing seemed a way to travel to the other side of the globe. To my friends, it was pure torture. Every none and then, they would humor me. Most of the time, I would just play against myself. These were the days before PCs and the Internet (I am that old).

Chinese Chess is fundamentally different than western Chess. Learning the rules of the game and playing it as a ten year old, I felt I was learning about the Chinese culture. The cannon seemed particularly unique. It moves like a rook, but can only capture by jumping over one intervening piece. I remember thinking this was the strangest rule and somehow mastering its power would give me an insight into the Chinese psyche. Yes, very silly in retrospect.

Today, I could have played Chinese Chess against human opponents on-line. This would have saved my friends some pain, and I might have actually learned something about Chinese culture through my opponents. Also, there are computer opponents. Zillons of Games contains a credible version of Chinese Chess.

Recently, I ran across HiddenLynx, a nice simple Chinese Chess game. This led to a little Chinese Chess revisit. The mechanics are initiative, click and drag the piece you want to move. When you click, the possible destinations are lit up. The graphics are well done. And its free. What's not to like.

HiddenLynx has five skill levels. It took me a little while to find the menu; it appears when you hover your mouse on the right side the screen. The lowest level is easy to beat and a good way to learn (or relearn) the game. The middle level proved too tough for me. Ok, I am not much of a Chinese Chess player.

I do not have anything bad to say about the program. One mystery, to me at least, is the meaning of the small dots on the left side of the screen. I think it is some measure the computer's evaluation of the current position, but I could not quite work it out.

There are many good Chinese Chess programs available. I am not claiming that HiddleLynx plays the best game. Another one is Qianhong. It has more features and plug-in AIs. It is probably a stronger program, but there is something simple and nice about HiddleLynx which I enjoyed. Mostly, I enjoyed the journey to my youth.