Many of Convekta's products are designed for the serious chess player. However, Dinosaur Chess is something different - it starts at the very beginning, and assumes absolutely zero preexisting knowledge of the game. Indeed, it turns out that Convekta is only the distributor for the program, which is produced by a firm called Universis technology. In fact, you can find out much more about Dinosaur Chess at ChessOK and at the Dinosaur Chess Website: www.dinosaurchess.com.
This program is both slickly produced and well designed. Even though I do not have children, I think that the program will be interesting to them on a number of levels. In fact, the program so impressed me that I gave it to a friend of mine who does not play chess. She installed it on her computer, and turned her 4 year old son loose on it (with low expectations). It turns out that her son liked it, and they managed to get through the second lesson in the very first use of the program (40 minutes). She said that the program kept her son's interest - the Scottish accent of the teacher was cool, and that he liked the little explosions that accompanied captures.
The basic premise is that the player starts out as a little dinosaur, and as he/she makes progress through the game, he/she grows stronger. This is represented by a small on screen character - with both male and female representations available. The program operates in one of four modes: Learn, Play, Dino Fight and Progress.
Progress is a fairly simple display of number of pieces captured, dinosaurs defeated, etc. Dino Fight is a fairly simple game that allows the player to “battle’ against a dinosaur opponent. Most of the chess content is contained within the Learn and Play modules, which do pretty much what their names would imply. Learn mode contains a bunch of sequential modules that teach the basics of how the pieces move – how to capture, etc. This mode is the most interesting from a chess perspective. I went through the first few modules, and I think that they are well done. And aside from the chess content, they also have a fair amount of visual and audio gingerbread (but not too much) to keep kids interested. The teaching material is presented like a video, from a gentleman with a strong Scottish accent. Here's a screenshot of the rooks module, showing how the rook moves (this is accompanied by some audio, which I will not present here): You can see the player's mascot/avatar in the lower left hand corner of the screen.
A little later in this module, you get the opportunity to play a game that teaches the movement of the rook. While moving your rook, you need to eat the little bows and also avoid being eaten my the little velociraptors that are moving around the screen (the latter looks like a little lizard):
The above should give you an idea of what the program is like. I have not gone through every lesson, but the example that I presented here should be fairly indicative of the way the program imparts chess concepts.
Playing mode allows your child to play against the computer. The strength of the computer opponent is adjusted so that it can be beaten, but still present a challenge to the absolute beginner. Piece handicapping is also done so that your child can play a game against the computer, even before all the lessons have been completed. For instance, in the screenshot below, all one needs to know are how pawns and knights move.
I found Dinosaur Chess to be a real quality piece of software, and it is clear that time, resources and attention were lavished upon it. This program is suitable for parents who know absolutely nothing about chess, but want their children to learn. My admittedly small sample size leads me to believe that this program is a very good choice for those people that are either too busy, or are unable to teach their kids the game. So it gets two big thumbs up from me.
Must supply serial number during install. Trial version available for download here.