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I'm not sure it'd be a dealbreaker not to have the animation, though. You don't have animation in real chess and miniatures games...why is it a must in a videogame?
From what I am picturing of your vision, I think this is a case where you can break the rules. Normally I'm all over animation and stuff, but I think the vision you have can work in this case.
Perhaps a swap out of different "poses" of the character pieces might be appropriate in certain situations. Like swap out a "Sword-holding" piece to a "Mace-holding" piece. Or a Standing piece to a laying down (dead or unconscious) piece.
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