Shredder Chess for iPad: Very Good, But Lacks UI Refinement

| In-Depth Review

Shredder Chess for the iPad is a strong Chess program, capable of grandmaster play. It has many nice features, but lacks just a little bit of UI refinement compared to, say, tChess Pro — previously reviewed.

The modern Chess playing engines have come a long way, helped considerably by three decades of tournament play and ever faster CPUs - which allow deeper ply searches. As a result, the goal is no longer simply to play a strong game of Chess. Instead, the goal is to provide a pleasing Chess environment in which the user can also tailor the strength of the Chess program to taste.

Shredder-1

The Best Looking Board and Pieces

For example, if you’re a very strong player, even a USCF Expert (ELO = 2000 to 2200), and you set the ELO rating of Shredder to 2600, you’ll have a tough time ever winning. Whether you can learn from the loss depends on your Chess insight and skill at analyzing various continuations. Accordingly, for the rest of us casual players, we want other things in a Chess program for the iPad in addition to being able to set the strength.

  • Are the board and pieces pleasing to the eye?
  • Is the user interface (UI) aesthetically pleasing?
  • Is good use of the screen space made?
  • Can the computer provide hints and coaching?
  • Can the game score in Portable Game Notation (PGN) be saved and e-mailed? (Also displayed during the game.)

As a result, the evaluation of a Chess program can boil down to criteria set by the reviewer, admittedly a subjective process. Also, many of the UI features are constrained by the iPad/iPhone SDK, so some UI features will be common. The superiority of one program may be in the details of the execution and the information supplied.

Features

Shredder Chess for the iPad has lots of features, so I’ll list the notable ones:

  • Portrait or Landscape mode
  • Adjustable ELO from 850 (beginner) to 2600 (Grandmaster)
  • Auto adjust of computer’s playing strength after a game (optional)
  • Several playing styles: normal, solid, passive, aggressive.
  • Coaching option
  • Options for the board and piece designs
  • Real-time evaluation of the position
  • Corral of captured pieces
  • Sound effects
  • Manual input (called “Enter Moves”) to play and study a game from a book or magazine.
  • Flip the board (black on the bottom)
  • Play a Chess Problem/puzzle
  • Chart of the user’s rating over time

Most of the controls for managing the game play are in the upper right bar above the board. I’ll call them, left to right, settings, file, and actions. The settings popover defines things like playing strength, coaching on/off, playing style, the board and piece designs and whether the board coordinates are displayed.

Shredder-2

Settings Popover

What I Did and Didn’t Like

Right away, there were some things I liked and didn’t like here. I really liked the annotation under the ELO rating that defines the strength: beginner, advanced, club player, expert, Master, etc. In fact, the entire settings popover is prettier and more informative than tChess.

What I didn’t like was the selections for board and piece design and the way the options inside <…> don’t wrap around.  (The developer differs, and doesn’t like wrap arounds. You don’t know where it ends, and you wonder if you’re seeing a repeat.) As for piece design, only one looked clear and traditional: the style shown in my screenshots. The rest are rather hyper-modernish and faddish, and I don’t think they’ll appeal to many players. In contrast, tChess has a meticulously designed classic Staunton choice — which I showcased in the review of tChess.

Shredder-3

Actions Popover

Another thing I didn’t like was the utilization of the display. The coordinates are placed on the square rather that outside and along the edge of the Chess board. This is a design subject to taste, but I’ll argue that keeping the squares clean and the pieces legible and traditional is a better design philosophy.

Just as with tChess, one can save and load a game. Shredder displays a lot more information (metadata) about the game in the log file than tChess — which merely allows a string of characters.

Shredder-4

Saved game log

Another thing that Shredder lacks compared to tChess is the ability, when playing back a saved game, to bring up the PGN score and select where you want to start. That allows you to either analyze the game from the end backward or play the game from the beginning very easily. With Shredder Chess, the only choice is to step backwards. The developer, Eiko Bleicher pointed out to me that if you hold down the back arrow, the game will progress to the beginning very fast. Still, I’d prefer to simply touch the score where I’d like to start playing — as in tChess.

When e-mailing a game, the PGN listing is sent as an attachment instead of in the body of the e-mail. I can see how this might be advantageous because Shredder is available in three different versions for the Mac, and the extension of the listing is .pgn. If you double click such a file with Mac OS X, and Shredder is installed, it will automatically load the game.

Shredder-5

Game listing, standard PGN Form (BBEdit)

I liked the coaching mode. If you make a really bad move, Shredder Chess will (optionally) alert you and give you a chance to take it back. While you can’t take back moves in official play, this can be a useful tool when learning against the computer.

In contrast to tChess, there is no way that I could find to bring up the entire score of the game during the game. Shredder is limited to a two line display of the score at any one time.  With all that wasted real estate on the display, this is a grave oversight.

Finally, I wasn’t pleased with the utilization of the screen space, especially in landscape mode. There is a vast gray area that’s distracting and exhibits, in my opinion, questionable design aesthetics. tChess solved that problem by restricting to portrait mode.

Shreddrr-6

Landscape Mode

The End Game

Shredder Chess sells for exactly the same price as tChess Pro, US$7.99. It’s in the same class as tChess Pro, and I think either program would offer any Chess player, novice or experienced Master looking for a challenge, a fun and productive playing experience.

Shredder Chess, however, doesn’t have that look of visual refinement (except in the popovers) and doesn’t offer 3D views, essential for some player’s pattern recognition. That is, some players have a particular kind of Chess blindness in 2D that they do not have in a 3D view (or a real, physical chess board and pieces.) So my original reaction stands. tChess is the best overall Chess experience I’ve seen to date on the iPad. Shredder Chess comes in a very close second.

Shredder Chess is available for the Mac in three versions, and there is a 30 day free trial.

Product: Shredder Chess for iPad

Company: ShredderChess

List Price: US$7.99

Pros:

Strong Chess engine, great detail in popovers, coaching mode, auto adjust of playing strength, landscape mode, graph of player’s ELO rating, adjustable computer ELO from 850 to 2600, excellent detail in saved game log file, Chess puzzles.

Cons:

Limited selection of traditional chess pieces and board designs, limited options for replaying a saved game, poor use of screen area, inability to bring up entire score of game during the game.

The TMO Express Newsletter emails you the latest Apple headlines every weekday.

No Comments

Log-in to comment