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Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Orion Millennium chess computer 6 in 1


From 2004, the box has a still young-ish Karpov's face on it. I'm wondering if he is recommending the product or the game of chess in general!

As far as actual chess-playing goes, this kind of cheap chess computer is now mostly superseded by mobile phones at the low end, and digital boards towards the higher end. As a design object, a more vintage device would have been prettier, but it's not the ugliest I've seen.

It's not just a chess computer, the featured six games are Chess, Checkers, Othello/Reversi, 4-in-a-row, Halma and Nim. Incidentally, Nim was probably one of the first electronically implemented "digital" games. I'm only looking at the chess variant here.

The machine operates with 4 AA batteries, and there is no connector for a power supply.

First a small disappointment: The chessmen were missing from the box, only the generic button-like pieces for the other games were left. As this cost me only 4 euros I don't mind that much. The instructions were in place. Even in good complete condition, I'm not seeing people asking more than 20 euros for this.

I used my magnetic pieces from a tiny travel set. They are a bit too small and a bit hard to tell apart, but at least I could test the board.


The board feel is sturdy and weighty enough, the footprint is less than A4, squares are 21mm giving about 168mm board size. Given the chessmen are not large to begin with, it's a pity there is no storage for them in the case itself, it wouldn't have made the computer much larger.

After inserting the batteries, the computer gave a friendly beep. It works!

The moves are activated by pushing the board at the starting position and then the ending position. This can be done with the pieces. It's not highly convenient but at least simple to understand. I felt I had to press the squares quite hard. Typing in the moves might have been more effective, but there's no option for that.

At the start it felt needlessly complicated that I had to perform the pushing of opponent's moves too. But it is understandable, as it prevents mistakes from happening.

In castling, you need to perform both the king and the rook moves.

As the computer is initially in a tutor mode, some moves were greeted with 'bad move' sounds. The step has to be passed with 'next move' key. I felt sometimes pressing this also switched the player sides. Hmm. Well, the tutor can be turned off by pressing first what looks like the "Cancer" horoscope symbol, and then the tutor key.


Playing

I played one game from start to finish against the computer, at the default level, which must be really easy. In this opening (Ruy Lopez), it seems the opening library ended after 4 moves (4 white, 4 black pieces moved) as then the computer started using time for thinking. Thinking took about 10 seconds on this default level.

Me vs. Millennium Orion 1-0:

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4
5. Bxc6 dxc6 6. Nxe5 Be6 7. h3 Bc5 8. d3 Nf6
9. Bg5 O-O 10. Nd2 Qd4 11. Bxf6 gxf6 12. Nef3 Qxb2
13. Nh4 Bxa2 14. Qg4+ Kh8 15. Rfc1 a5 16. Ne4 Bd4
17. Nf5 Qxa1 18. Qg7#

My move 15. Rfc1 was made by the computer too, as I had managed to mess the turn order because of the tutor mode. After that, I turned off the tutor.

Looking at the game in Stockfish, I made a mess out of it at the very start but the computer did not follow through in this level. (That 15. Rfc1 move was a mistake, too).

It does look like two noobs playing. The game ended with the computer allowing me to checkmate even though it could have been prevented.


The manual indicates there are many combinations of difficulty/time options to make the computer play a harder game. It's just not easy to figure out what the levels are and what level of human play they might correspond to. But I suspect the thinking time will increase drastically on the higher levels.

It's also possible to adjust the play style between passive and aggressive (5 levels, normal giving the best play). Perhaps I'll try to challenge a more difficult level some time.

The computer includes a library of "classic" chess games, including Fischer, Karpov, Kasparov and the Kasparov/Deep Blue games, a total of 320 games. These are listed in the manual but they are not dated. It is unclear if the AI is able to draw any wisdom out of these games, probably not.

(This also means there are more Kasparov than Karpov games stored inside!)

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