Excalibur's GameTime II

by Chris Kantack

Why this review?

While I don't participate in actual chess tournament play, I frequently volunteer to work at such events.  Being a floor judge, I'm always intrigued by the large variety of chess clocks that players bring to these tournaments.  While most analog chess timers follow pretty much the same basic design, the electronic (digital) chess clocks come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and functionality.Excalibur's GameTime II chess clock - click for a larger image

Several years ago, I was interested in purchasing a digital clock but couldn't really justify the expense.  At that time, most digital chess timers cost around 90 dollars or more.   For those that play a lot of OTB (Over The Board) tournament or serious club chess, this may not seem to be too much to pay.  But many of us now play a lot of our games over the Internet (where a separate timer isn't needed) or in other more casual venues where the expense of obtaining a pricey digital chess clock may not seem justified.

At the same time, Excalibur Electronics asked me if I was interested in testing a new digital clock that was to be priced around 50 dollars.  I jumped at the chance!  Was this new clock to become the clock that would finally "kill off" the analog chess clock market.   As far as I'm concerned, the only reason analog chess clocks are still around is due to their lower cost.   At 45 to 65 dollars, most analog chess timers are priced at half what their  digital counterparts retail for.  Of course, you sacrifice quite a bit nowadays when you purchase an analog timer.  Analog chess clocks can't automatically handle multiple time controls.  Time controls specifying countdown delays or time accumulation per move increments are not supported by the traditional analog chess clock.  Blitz chess is poorly handle by an analog timer (unless the clock was especially made for rapid time controls).  Let's face it, second by second precision just isn't there with analog chess clocks.  The worst sin of analog chess timers, in my opinion, is the subtle indication of game end.  As a floor judge, I don't know how many times I've seen both players fail to detect the falling of their (or their opponents) flag.

This web page was written to tell you about Excalibur's GameTime II game timer.  Note, in addition to chess, GameTime II contains provisions for timing crossword games as well as the game of Go.  I'll touch a bit on these other features, but the focus of this web site is chess. Read on to see if Excalibur's GameTime II is worthy enough to be your next chess clock.

 

First, a bit of history...

Excalibur has been selling chess timers for around 18 years.  A few years back there was interest in developing a successor product that would cost less and be able to better support other games such as Scrabble and Go.  Other design goals included larger display digits and much longer battery life.  While GameTime II was being developed, it was decided to also provide it the means of supporting the most modern time controls in chess.  Since the original GameTime already included a DELAY feature, this only meant that GameTime II also include the ACCUM function.  That is, with GameTime II, you can set the clock to add a certain number of seconds to each players time after each move.  ACCUM style time controls are now becoming quite popular in Europe and in top-level chess events all around the world.

GameTime II was introduced in late February 2002 on a limited production basis.  Further refinements have been made over time and the clock has been in full production since mid-2002.

 

Overall design and dimensions

GameTime II looks nearly identical to its earlier brother (the original GameTime).  The base of the clock is approximately 6 1/2 inches wide by 3 3/4 inches deep.   The thickness of the base is about 2/3 of an inch.  The upper display portion of the clock is approximately 4 3/4 inches wide.  The display itself is angled at approximately 45 degrees.   The display area has a width measurement of 4 1/2 inches with a height measurement of 1 inch.  (Actual digits are up to 3/4 inches in height!)  A brightness (contrast) control dial is located on the right side of the clock

On top the base portion of the clock are the dome-capped plungers.  These domes have a diameter of approximately 1 1/4 inch.  Up/down plunger travel is about 1/4 inch.  One slightly recessed sliding switch, located at the center of the base, is used to place the clock either in a "pause" or "play" state.   The "pause" state is used to put the clock into a mode where the settings and/or game time can be set or adjusted.  Of course, during game play the countdown of time can be paused by either player leveling the plungers.  (Just like with most analog chess clocks.) 

Between where the plungers reside and the display area are four silver colored buttons.  These buttons are used to set up the time control and to enable or disable the clock's various features.  Also, on top of the base are two LEDs (one on each side of the display).  These LEDs along with a "flag icon" on the display, indicate which player has lost a game. 

A very stable and durable unit

Four rubber feed are mounted on the bottom of the unit.   These feet do a superb job of keeping the clock in place during play.   I've placed this clock on various wood, glass, steel, and even relatively soft textured surfaces.  This clock will not slide around!  It grips whatever surface you would use for chess. 

The wide base, excellent weight distribution, and superb traction from the supplied rubber feet make this an extremely stable chess clock.  In fact this is the most stable chess clock I've ever encountered.  This clock is perfectly suited for those "wild blitz and bughouse games" that are becoming more and more popular in the chess world.  Overall construction is very solid.   Indeed I've encountered other GameTime units that are 5 years old that still look and work like new.  I've given three different GameTime II units various "torture tests" where I've tried to simulate many, many, months if not years of  chess play.   A properly adjusted and cared for GameTime II timer should last many years.

Recessed Power On/Off Button

The power button is located on the bottom of the unit.   It is recessed and requires a full two second depression to turn the clock off.   Thus one need not worry about accidentally shutting off the unit should it get bumped. 

If the clock is already off, the power button need only be pressed for a fraction of a second in order to power the unit on.  I thought that this might be a potential problem.  (Having the clock turn on inadvertently.)  However, I've done some testing where I've placed the GameTime II clock into the Excalibur GameGear chess tote.   I then gave the bag some pretty rough handling to see if I could get the unit to turn itself on.  So far I haven't been able to get a GameTime unit to "accidentally" turn on.   GameTime II chess clock bottom side - click for a larger view

It's a good thing that GameTime II doesn't easily turn itself on as it lacks an automatic power off feature.  I think it would be nice if the clock would power itself off if left in a "Pause mode " or "Game Ended" state for say,  more than 30 minutes.   This would prevent any chance of inadvertently  draining the batteries.

An ACL (system reset) button can also be accessed from the bottom of the unit.  As with other Excalibur products, the ACL button is deeply recessed within the unit.  A small toothpick or pin can  be used to reset the clock to its initial default factory settings if desired.

Quick Reference "Information" Plate

A nice plus is the information plate also located on the bottom of the GameTime II.  A description of each button's functions and a chart showing the available preset time controls are listed here.  With 96 preset time controls available, this quick reference table can come in very handy!  

Wonderful display!

image of GameTime II chess clock display - 5 minutes per game with 5 second delay

The one inch high display is super!  Most other digital clocks don't come close to having a display as clear and easy to read as the GameTime II.   This display is angled just right for both players and spectators alike.   The large crisp digits on this display can be easily read from 20 feet away!  Even the smaller digits used for the move counter and (sometimes for) displaying the seconds, can be read from up to 10 feet away.

GameTime II chess clock set for 120 minutes for first time control - with 5 sec delay

As a floor judge, I do my best not to intrude upon a game--unless called upon.   It's very nice to be able to check on the progress of a game without having to get so close as to potentially distract the concentration of the players.   The display is also very logically laid out.   In addition to the "running countdown" a large black arrow will point to the player whose clock is currently running.  In addition to the LED indicators on the base of the unit, a  game ended condition is signaled by a large flashing flag for the player who has run out of time.   (You can also choose to have an audible beep along with the flashing indicator at game end.)

500 hours (estimated) battery life

The rear of the unit (behind the display) contains the battery compartment.  Assuming you don't leave the unit on for days on end, you'll probably gets years worth of chess play from just one set of 4 AA batteries.  Because the GameTime II's electronics are the same as that used in the LCD Handheld chess units, battery replacement should be very infrequent for this clock no matter how much you play chess.  In fact, you'll probably want to open the battery compartment every 6 to 12 months or so.  Not because you need to change batteries....but just to make sure the batteries are not corroding.

Plunger Action Noise: GameTime II's Achilles heal

Unfortunately, all is not wonderful for this clock.  It does have a "dark side" and I'm not talking about its color!  GameTime II has one of the louder plunger actions that I've encountered.  The plungers and impact of the plunger domes are quite audible.   Even some of the cheapest analog clocks (like the Aradora Plastic Clock) have a "quieter action" than that used in the GameTime.  Recently Excalibur has made a refinement to the GameTime unit in an attempt to reduce the noise of the plunger.   While I'm happy that they improved the situation somewhat, it still could be quieter.  Much of GameTime's noise problem could probably be resolved if the domes were made of a soft rubber or other flexible substance.  However, currently it's hard plastic hitting hard plastic which can makes for a noisy timer.

This may or may not be a problem for you.  In most homes or at an elementary scholastic tourney, the GameTime's noise level probably won't even be noticed.  I've met owners of GameTime clocks who've never given its audibility a second thought.  However, in high school tournaments, serious club, or other adult tournament play, the GameTime II's noise level could be quite a distraction to other players.  I myself have played with a number of different digital chess clocks with quieter action than the GameTime II.  (Some clocks have all electronic designs producing no audible recording of the move unless programmed to do so.)  If you are looking for a very silent clock....you'll need to look elsewhere.

 

Summary of GameTime II's Features

This web page provides a link to Excalibur's GameTime II Instruction Guide.  Therefore I won't go into great detail on how each feature is implemented.  But I would like to provide you with a quick summary of several key features and why I consider them important.  The GameTime II is the most feature rich game timer I've yet encountered. 

3 Time Controls Supported

GameTime II can support up to three time controls per game.   The first time control is known as the Primary time control unless it is the only time control (such as all moves in 30 minutes).  In which case it becomes the "Sudden Death" time control.  If there are three time controls in a game, the second time control is known as the Secondary Time Control.  The final time control is always the "Sudden Death" time control.

Accumulate

The Accumulate feature is new to GameTime II.  It is the addition of this function that allows GameTime II to support all recognized time controls.  Let's take a quick look at some of the most commonly used time controls.  The information presented in the following table comes from The Official Rules of Chess by Eric Schiller and Richard Peterson (Cardoza Publishing 2001).

Time Control Name

Classic

Modern

Professional 40 moves in 120 minutes, then 20 moves in 60 minutes, then all moves in 30 minutes 40 moves in 120 minutes, then 20 moves in 60 minutes, then all moves in 30 minutes with 10 seconds added each move of this final period
Master 40 moves in 120 minutes, then all moves in 60 minutes 40 moves in 120 minutes, then all moves in 60 minutes, with 30 seconds added each move
Expert all moves in 120 minutes all moves in 120 minutes, with 10 seconds added each move
Amateur 30 moves in 90 minutes, then all moves in 60 minutes all moves in 75 minutes with 10 seconds added each move
Club all moves in 60 minutes all moves in 60 minutes with 5 seconds added each move
Sport ("Action Chess") all moves in 30 minutes all moves in 20 minutes with 10 seconds added each move
Rapid all moves in 15 minutes all moves in 10 minutes with 10 seconds added each move
Blitz all moves in 5 minutes all moves in 3 minutes with 5 seconds added each move
SuperBlitz all moves in 3 minutes all moves in 2 minutes with 2 seconds added each move
Bullet all moves in 2 minutes all moves in 1 minute with 1 second added each move
Lightning 10 seconds per move 10 seconds per move
Hourglass An initial amount of time is specified and a player loses if the difference between the player's time and the opponents time exceeds that amount. An initial amount of time is specified and a player loses if the difference between the player's time and the opponents time exceeds that amount.

Most digital chess timers won't have a problem with the "classic" time controls listed above.  But note the defining characteristic of most "modern" implementations of these same time controls.  Time is added back with each move.  Note, this is not the same thing as the "delay function" which is non-accumulating.  While the modern version of these time controls have yet to take hold in the United States, it's comforting to know that your chess clock can handle them if and when they do become more popular.

The accumulate function of the GameTime II can be set to any value up to 60 seconds.  You can define the accumulate function to apply to all time controls (Primary, Secondary, and Sudden Death) or only to the Sudden Death time control.

Delay

The Delay function adds a small time interval at the beginning of each player's turn before that player's clock starts running.  For example, if player A has 30 minutes remaining on his clock, and the the current time control specifies a 10 second delay, player A will continue to have 30 minutes remaining as long as he registers his move (that is, presses his plunger)  within 10 seconds of his opponent's move registration.   Delay settings in competitive chess are typically 5 or 10 seconds per move.  GameTime II allows a delay value of up to 19 seconds.   As with the accumulate feature, the delay feature can be set to apply to all time controls or just to the Sudden Death time control.  

Note, the Delay and Accumulate features cannot both be used together.   This is consistent with all current chess time controls.  That is, as of this writing, delay and accumulate are never used simultaneously in competitive chess.

Hourglass

GameTime II has a special preset to handle the Hourglass time control.  In this time control, each player normally starts with the same amount of time on their respective clocks.  For each second that player A's clock is counting down, player B's clock will count up accordingly.  When player A has pressed his plunger to register his move, player B's clock will then begin its  countdown with those seconds being added to player A's clock.

As with the other time controls, you can specify a delay or accumulate value with the Hourglass time control.   You can even specify a different start time amount for each player--thus providing one of the players with a handicap.

Gong

The Gong time control give you 10 seconds for each move.  Thus every time you press your plunger, your time will be reset back to 10 seconds.  Unless of course, you fail to make your move within 10 seconds.  (In which case you forfeit the game.)

Special time controls for Go and other word games

GameTime II has a number of features that will appeal to Go players.  Four presets support Byo-Yomi Overtime and three presets support Canadian Overtime.  There are time control features for other word games as well.   For more information, consult chapters 7 and 8 of the Excalibur GameTime II Instruction Guide.

Custom (User-Defined) Time Controls

Despite the many pre-defined time controls built-in the GameTime II unit, (91 of them!), there may be times when you may need to use a time control other than what is offered by the factory default presets.  This is especially true if you are playing in many adult chess tournaments.  I went thru all the upcoming events listed in the February 2002  issue of NorthWest Chess Magazine to see which tournaments could be accommodated by existing GameTime II presets.  Of the 24 events listed, 14 had time controls that were already defined in the GameTime II's memory.  The other 10 tournaments had requirements that did not fit into any of the pre-defined time controls.  Such events can easily be accommodated thru one of the 5 custom (user-defined) time controls that are available.   Custom time controls are also the means by which you can set up a "time-odds" game.  That is, a game where one player is handicapped by starting the game with less time than his opponent. 

You may be thinking "custom time controls sound nice but you probably lose them once you turn off the unit!".  Not so with the GameTime II.  Not only are custom time controls saved when you power off the unit, but when the batteries do need to be changed, which won't be often, you'll most likely retain your custom time controls provided you insert a new set of batteries within 20 to 30 seconds of removing the old ones.   

Other Features Available

With the GameTime II you can also:

    - specify whether or not to force a time forfeit (game end) if a time control has been exceeded
    - adjourn a game in progress and resume play for a later time
    - elect to display (or hide) the move counter
    - choose to end a game after a specified number of moves
    - determine whether or not an audible beep is heard at game end
    - elect to sound a warning beep just before the end of a time control
    - enable a "negative" time to count up for word games

 

User Interface and Instruction Manual

Of course, all the features in the world are not much use if you can't easily access them.  Fortunately GameTime II has a very good interface.  In most cases you configure clock settings by first leveling the plungers and then sliding the Play/Pause switch to Pause.  In Pause mode you then press the Select button as needed to access the value(s) and/or function(s) you wish to configure.  The "+" and "-" buttons can be used to easily toggle (enable/disable) a function or modify a time or counter value.  (Holding down the "+" or "-" buttons allows you to quickly advance thru possible values while quick presses of these same buttons allow incremental changes to the time or counter setting that you are adjusting.)  A verify button is available to quickly and easily check all your settings to ensure that you have your time control(s) configured exactly the way you intended them to be.  I find the ability to quickly change settings to be very straightforward.   The Excalibur GameTime II Instruction Guide provides clear steps on accessing all the features of the GameTime II.

Note however, that configuring a chess clock (any digital chess clock), can be a bit intimidating at times.  When possible, use the presets and always have your the Instruction Guide handy. 

Incredible Value!

Excalibur's GameTime II clock has a suggested retail price of $49.95 and can be found at:    www.chesshouse.com as well as at many other chess retailers. 

When comparing with other digital chess clocks in the same price range as the GameTime II, check carefully to see if these other clocks support the delay, accumulate, and the several other features that make the GameTime II a great buy.  

Summary

Excalibur's GameTime II sets a level of price/performance for a digital chess clock and word game timer that is tough to beat!  This highly durable clock supports all current chess time controls and features a display that is second to none.  Its user interface and instruction manual are also very good.  My only real complaint with the GameTime II is the noisiness of its plunger action.  Those who play competitive chess in very quiet environments (and wish to be as silent as possible), should not consider this clock as plunger presses on the GameTime II are quite audible.  For most of you who don't require a super quiet clock, I highly recommend the GameTime II.   It offers top-of-the-line functionality and it is truly a quality clock being offered at a good price.

Any Questions!

If you have any questions or comments on the GameTime II, feel free to send me an email.    Direct your email to chessinfo@kantack.com  or click on the envelope icon below.

 

Related Links

GameTime II Instruction Guide GameTime II Instruction addendum
The Chess House Excalibur Electronics home page

 

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