After thoroughly enjoying Sabacc from Disneyland, I kept wishing that Disney would make a real version of Dejarik, also known as Holochess. During the Smuggler’s Run ride, there is a moment when you can sit at the Dejarik table on board the Millenium Falcon and take a picture. My sister and brother-in-law heard my desire and lo and behold, they were able to find one on the complete opposite coast at Disney World!
Dejarik comes in a very high quality finished (and heavy!) wooden board that also doubles as a Checkers set. I’m not quite sure why they chose Checkers as the backup instead of Chess seeing how it is affectionately known as Holochess. The pieces seem to be injection molded plastic so they don’t have the same high quality feel as the board, but who cares...it’s Dejarik in the flesh!
Unfortunately, the technology to make reliable holograms does not exist yet as that is the only part of the theme missing from the game. However, the wooden feel of the board makes you think that you are playing on Kashyyk, which is a nice touch as normally the images you see of Dejarik are an industrial look aboard the Millenium Falcon. In the movies, it is sometimes difficult to make out the details of the pieces without pausing, but the detail in these pieces really capture the creatures they represent. The way they move and attack also complement the creature so it is intuitive. This is critical as there is no rhyme or reason with the colors or size of the creatures between the two sides, red and blue. This makes it confusing to remember which pieces are identical between the two sides since they look so different.
While Sabacc had a few critical gaps in its rules that needed to be filled in, Dejarik was pretty well covered. The most confusing part was in the setup where the rules have a picture of starting positions and state:
“The pieces start facing each other across the board. The Mantellian Savrip and Kintan Strider characters must start on the middle circle because they can move backwards off the board to the other side.”
What was confusing here is we interpreted this to mean that pieces were placed like chess where they were mirror images of each other, however the picture didn’t reflect this. We decided to clarify this with the following:
“The characters can be placed in any of the four spots closest to you (two in middle circle, two in outer circle). For example, the Mantellian Savrip can be placed in either of the two middle circle spots and the K’lor’slug can be placed in any of the three remaining spots.”
Another area of the rules that wasn’t quite clear was whether pieces can hop over other pieces during a move or attack. The only mention of a hop is with the Predator pieces (K’lor’slug and Ng’ok) where it clearly states it can hop during a move. However, the pictures shown for move and attack diagrams make it seem like pieces can go to any of the marked spaces in the diagram regardless of what other piece may be in the way. We decided to modify this rule with the following clarification:
“An attack is governed by the same rules as the character’s move. Only Predators are able to hop over other characters during a move or attack.”
The last rule we clarified was minor and in regards to a Scout’s movement. The rule states it can move “2 tiles in any direction”. This implies diagonal moves are allowed as the Brute characters can move diagonally, but if a Scout moved diagonally, then it could not end up in the spot directly diagonal of its starting position as the diagram specifies. To clarify this, we follow the rule that it is 2 tiles forward, backward, left, or right.
Overall, the game is very quick to pick up especially if you’ve played chess before. Even if you haven’t played chess before, this is a good way to get into tactical strategy games.
Having four different types of characters does provide many different ways to achieve your goal of capturing all your opponent’s pieces. Thinking in a circle does make it a little more difficult than chess. These are all hallmarks of a great tactical strategy game that takes practice and skill to master. In the few games we did play, a few things stood out that make us wonder if the game has a predictable end or if both players truly do have an equal chance of winning.
The first was that the game allowed for chained attacks meaning that after you capture one piece, if you can legally capture another, you are allowed to do so. This is supposed to resemble checkers where you can keep jumping your opponent multiple times. We don’t think this works for Dejarik because there are only 4 pieces per side so a single chained attack can be devastating for a player and there is no good mechanism for a recovery.
The second was that once you have one piece left, a 3 turn counter starts where the losing player must capture a piece to reset the counter or lose the game. In this scenario, the winning player can just run away and kill the clock which makes the endgame very anticlimactic. One variation we considered is to have the 3 turn counter be such that the winning player must capture the remaining piece within 3 turns to win. Another variation that we haven’t tried yet is to bring some elements of shogi in where pieces can come back to the board in order to keep the playing field even.
As a chess enthusiast, Dejarik is a game that is near to my heart. This is a game that will earn a spot in my chess collection and I will bring out to play with curious players. With the rules changes mentioned above, I think the game is more playable and more fun overall. It feels less like a souvenir from Disney and more like a real game. The 3 turn counter at the end I think still needs some work, but it does ensure the game doesn’t become a cat and mouse game towards the end. The rules are fairly simple so it is easy to pick up after a long time of not playing.
Dejarik is a classic tactical strategy game that transports players to the galaxy of Star Wars. It is well made and deserves a spot on any enthusiast’s shelf. There were some confusing elements in the rules, but with some clarifications, the game becomes more fun to play and adds more depth to the strategy. If, for some strange reason, you don’t enjoy the game, it always doubles as a really nice checkers (why not chess??) set.