The Excalibur Grandmaster is an example of a great chess computer that feel great and peforms like Kasparov on steroids. The feel of the thing – the size of the thing – and the weighted full size pieces are it’s strengths. We’ll come to the weaknesses in a moment. After setting up the board and turning on – the machine immediately feels right. This is electronic chess at it best. The size helps, a full tournament board with full size tournament pieces. Moving a piece from square to square is immediately reassuring through the ‘beep’ uttered by the chess machine (the sound changes for incorrect movements). No pressing down to activate the press sensory mechanism – it doesn’t have that limitation – the reed switch underneath the board top surface – one per square – picks up the abscence of magnetic pull and throws the software into a ‘from’ mode, paired with the ‘to’ mode when placed down onto the next square. No extra pressure, no typing in the move, the computer takes care of it all. With a maximum elo of over 2000 – you’ll have to play like a grand master to beat this grandmaster.
The weaknesses? It’s plastic. Novag’s new Citrine is all wood. But we expect our silicon oponent to be a little unnatural. However – plastic is plastic – for the price they could have made it in graphite. Also the booklet is a little dated. Come on Excalibur – it’s not the 1970’s – change the picture on the book! Another weakness is the fundamental technology of the reed switches – they are just too prone to failure through even minor drops. They are reasonably easily repaired, but the carriage to and from a repairer for modern electronics is too much for a machine that may realise further reed switch failure. This aspect of the machine isn’t just sub-optimal – it’s stupid of Excalibur – they’re stuck in last century’s electronics and user guides but with up-to-date software, reflective of the companies clash of values in customer service – truly awful.
Overall – still a Rolls Royce of a computer chess game – but come on Excalibur – move into 2007!