We’re going to make an assumption: the majority of people reading this review will be parents with an interest in whether Checkers For Kids lives up to its name. With that in mind, we’re going to hop to the caveats straight away. No mincing.
Checkers For Kids is not for all kids. It’s a complicated Venn diagram, and you should be confident about whether your child sits in that centre spot.
For a start, Checkers for Kids is a surprisingly poor tool for teaching children how to play checkers. There is no tutorial here. You are immediately lumped into an options screen, which asks complicated questions about your preferred style of play (should you be forced to ‘beat’ a piece if the opportunity is there? Can a piece move immediately after becoming a king?). This only makes sense if you have context. Then you’re into a game. No step-by-step instructions, no video tutorial: just a single-player or multiplayer game of that timeless classic, checkers.
It’s also a poor tool for improving a child’s skill at checkers. There are no tutorials around advanced plays, no prompts if you’re making common mistakes. Incredibly, there is only one difficulty setting, and that’s best described as ‘inconsistently makes mistakes’. The AI will neglect to play the obvious, piece-taking move about 50% of the time. But you can’t fiddle with this, and you can’t predict it either, so you’re left with a computer opponent who is slightly worse than a newly starting human player, and they won’t budge from that setting. It’s one, lone obstacle that a player needs to learn to overcome, and it’s not enough to improve a child’s skill, particularly if they were reasonably competent.
The last complexity of the Venn diagram is age, and who it’s made for. We’re not entirely sure that it’s ideally placed for anyone actually, but we’ll give Checkers For Kids some benefit of the doubt. They are, hopefully, experts while we’re not.
The boards are play-pens, the kind you spent a lot of time in when you were two-years old or below. The pieces are soft toys with the odd helicopter, tank and robot, so they’re clearly aimed at a similar age. Yet, checkers is not a simple game – at least, not simple enough that a two-year old could pick up and play. Luckily, we had one on hand, and – sure enough – our two-year old bounced off it immediately. Our other child is six-years old, and they bounced off it too. Not because of checkers as a game, which was complicated enough to really push them, but because of the theming. It was ‘too babyish’.
It doesn’t leave Checkers For Kids with much in the way of a demographic, and we suspect that will land it in commercial bother. We would suggest that there are two groups that will find it a snug fit: a parent-and-child combo (with a parent who is willing to take on the burden of explaining the game); and a patient child in the four-to-six-year-old bracket who has experience with checkers, and isn’t turned off immediately by the kindergarten theming.
For those two small-ish groups of players, there’s a reasonable amount to recommend here. As a game of checkers this is completely frictionless. Moving pieces is clear and simple and there are no quirks in the controls. There’s a fantastic feature where movable pieces are highlighted, so you can quickly scan your feasible moves. It really helps to see your options shrink when you’re on the backfoot, so you can anticipate stalemates.
There’s the nice option to play multiplayer on the same pad or a second one, and this makes Checkers For Kids a versatile multiplayer game if you’re playing with your child. We would have loved some friendly features like an Undo button to allow a child to take back their move, but generally it’s a well-made toy that welcomes two players at once.
The ability to change rules, as we’ve mentioned, is all in long, drawn out text (which could have been voiced, or more presentable to a younger player), but it does allow you to fiddle with the rule-dials. In all likelihood, you will be able to play checkers the way you used to when growing up, as most house-styles are accommodated.
And then there are the customisation options which are pretty extensive. You can change the colours of the boards (their frame, and dark and light squares independently), and there’s a hefty toybox to choose pieces from. If your child is anything like ours, they will spend a good quarter of an hour picking their and our pieces, adding hats and making the board as garish as they can.
But even for children who land squarely in the middle of our Venn diagram, Checkers For Kids may not last. The lack of difficulty options is a biggie, particularly as matches will – occasionally – play out in the exact same way. The same moves will be played, and deja vu will creep in. But the biggest killer is that there’s no gratification, no reward for playing, outside of a few stacking achievements. Children love a flourish and reward for winning, but Checkers For Kids has none. Was there any reason why they couldn’t have unlocked pieces to play with, colours for their board? Couldn’t there have been some confetti and fireworks for a win? Checkers For Kids fluffs these moments when it could have done the work of grabbing your childrens’ attention. Instead, you have to make the games rewarding or interesting yourself.
We thought our six-year old was in the centre of our Venn diagram. They’ve played checkers, they understand it, and they’ve got a parent who’s willing to take them through the game. But after a few sessions, Checkers For Kids was consigned to the back of the gaming queue, like most checkers boxes are. There’s just not enough variety here, not enough progression, and it felt like an ill-fit for our daughter, who’s aged beyond its kindergarten theme.
Checkers For Kids isn’t for everyone, and there’s a chance it suits no-one. With a lack of tutorials for new starters, and a lack of difficulty settings to test experienced hands, it’s focused so narrowly that you wonder if there’s anyone who will stay with it for thirty minutes. If you’re willing to do the heavy-lifting, teaching your child how to play and layering on the entertainment yourself, then Checkers For Kids might do a job. For most children, though, it will feel like a chore.
You can buy Checkers For Kids for £7.49 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S