(Pocket-lint) – Square Off released its first robotic chess board a couple of years ago, to much critical success. It is now on the brink of introducing a lighter, more affordable model – Neo – and a games compendium that includes chess, but adds Draughts, Halma and Connect 4 to the mix too – called Swap.
Both are being sent to early Kickstarter backers from June this year.
A rollable chess computer will also be added to the lineup from March. It’s certainly a company on the rise therefore, not least thanks to increased interest in the age-old board game brought on by the hugely successful Netflix show, The Queen’s Gambit.
“The entire chess market has seen a significant uptick because of The Queen’s Gambit,” we were told by Square Off co-founder Bhavya Gohil. “And also because of pandemic.
“Due to the pandemic, people are at home and playing indoor games and board games. And then Queen’s Gambit happened. For us at Square Off, we are seeing a significant uptick in sales as well as a drop in the cost of acquisition. So, I would say three to four times is is the kind of uptake that we have seen in our sales.”
It has helped raise the firm’s profile and stands it in good stead for the future releases.
The Square Off concept is excellent. Unlike traditional AI chess games, a Square Off board has a robotic arm that moves opponent pieces automatically – much like the giant chess pieces in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. So it feels like you are playing someone who is really there.
And, in some instances, you are. Multiplayer matches can be organised through partners, such as chess.com, thanks to the board’s connection to a dedicated app. It’s an ideal way to test your chess skills, even when socially distancing.
When simply playing the AI, you can get plenty from the game too, as the app learns from your play: “We collect a lot of data of the games and then we try to give personalised learning experiences to you. So basically, that means the AI is adaptive. It adapts to your level of gameplay. So, if you are a beginner or a master it will play accordingly,” Gohil added.
Soon, as he explained, an artificially intelligent tutor will be added to take this further – it’ll help you learn more about the game as you progress: “We’re introducing an AI based tutor, Victor, who will be in the app.
“Victor will be an in-app coach and will teach you chess in real time. And it is a voice enabled coach, so will give you real-time feedback while you’re playing on the board. You can work on your attacks or defence or your entire game.
“You can go through an entire course to improve your game to learn chess from the very basics. So, that’s what we are trying to do with this piece of technology.”
It seems that the startup has merely made its first move.
You can find out more about Square Off and its robotic games in our exclusive interview as part of episode 89 of the Pocket-lint Podcast available now.
Writing by Rik Henderson.