Video Checkers (Atari VCS, Dec 1980, Atari)
In 1980, Checkers feels like the new Blackjack.
Blackjack seems like it was a requirement to be on every system. Checkers... well, maybe not on every system. It was already on the Fairchild Channel F (which, I missed back when I played through 1978 like... more then a decade ago, but less than 40 years ago. I'll get to it soon.) and we've seen it on the Intellivision and Atari. Now we get to play it on the Atari again.
This time, I did think about going to use the world-famous A.I. Checker Program, Chinook, but alas, I wasn't patient enough to sit through the Atari's "thinking" phases at its top level, so I'm just going to go over the features that this Checkers has.
Nine levels of difficulty: Games 1-9 represent Checkers against the Computer in 9 levels of increasing difficulty. Game 10 is human vs. human in case all of the checker boards in your house had been stolen or something or you wanted the novel feeling of playing the game on the TV. I'm not judging you for this. The computer takes longer to decide its move the higher the skill level. Ranging from less than two seconds on Level 1, to 30 seconds on Level 6, to 15 minutes per turn on Level 9.
"Giveaway" Checkers: Games 11-19 are called "losing" or "giveaway" Checkers. Giveaway Checkers is a variant of the game where you try to lose your pieces first by forcing your computer opponent to jump your pieces. I honestly had never of this version of Checkers before. Skill level of the computer increases as you move from game 11 to game 19, of course.
Game Select (to change skill level) functional during a game: Something interesting about the Game Select switch. You can start playing a game on a skill level and decide, in the middle of the game, (but not while the computer is thinking) to increase the skill level. I thought that was kind of neat.
Checker notation is used: Atari's Video Checkers uses checker notation and it's noted at the top of the screen. The manual specifically mentions playing other computer opponents and using the Checkers notation to convey the moves to avoid any confusion. (I tried playing two computers against each other when the board is inverted on one. It is hard (for me) to turn my brain around like that. The number system makes it easier to translate the moves to the other computer.)
Checker Notation bonus: The B/W switch lets you change up the numbering system in case the computer playing against the Atari is less flexible. This was thoughtful to include and makes the Atari seem to be the more gracious opponent. ("Oh, of course, binary opponent. This unit is happy to adjust its numbering settings for you! It's no trouble at all!")
Set up your own board: Moving the left difficulty switch to "a" allows you to set up the board however you like and then play it by putting the switch back to "b".
Actual instructions on playing Checkers!: Yeah, I mention this because Activision's manuals are pretty light in general (which was mostly fine). Their manual for their Bridge game didn't fuss with giving the rules at all and their manual for Checkers was also quite brief. Atari's Video Checkers' manual seems absolutely luxurious in comparison.
My impression is that the feature set of Video Checkers is pretty rich. I'm not knocking the others (and I'm not going back to actually compare them, lawds no.) but if I had to pick the one I've liked the most so far, I'd have to pick Atari's Video Checkers. I still need to look at Checkers on the Fairchild Channel F though.
One game left for the Atari in 1980, Activision's Skiing.