Battle Chess follows the same rules as traditional chess, with pieces moving in an animated fashion and battles playing out so that the capturing piece defeats its target. Furthermore, when checkmate is delivered, the checkmating piece fights and defeats the king. Since there are six types of pieces for each color, and a king cannot even check (let alone capture) another king, there are a total of 35 different battle animations. The rook, for example, turns into a rock monster and kills a pawn by smashing its head, and the rook kills the queen by eating her. There are some pop-culture homages; the knight versus knight animation references the black knight fight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and the king versus bishop fight pastiches the short battle between Indiana Jones and a swordsman in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The game can be also played in a 2D version with no animations, and the Amiga CDTV version features a fully voiced introduction describing the movements of the pieces for the benefit of beginners. Digitized sound is utilized in the DOS version for all battle sound effects and is played through the PC speaker, without the need for a sound card, using a technique akin to RealSound.
Battle Chess can be played against a human opponent (by hotseat, null modem or over a local area network in some ports) or against the computer’s artificial intelligence (AI). The game has an opening library of over 30,000 moves (which were not available for the Commodore 64 and Apple II versions).