Saturday, June 21, 2014

Chess Variants

The more I play, the more I think that Chess may very well be the greatest board game of all time.  As I play, I notice the incredible amount of narrative possibility in a game of chess.  If you stop to analyze and converse about every move in a game, then you can make a story around it.  

You can also use multiple games to make multiple scenarios.  Imagine one board represents two warring countries, while another board represents a single battle.  This is, of course, the obvious example of war and battle.  However, you could say one game represents the actions within a place, such as a high school, and the other board is a given classroom.  And while the pieces are placed in a way where they are opposing one another, the individual pieces may not understand why they are making the moves they are making.  Their awareness might be very limited.

Lately I've noticed a tendency in my play:  I like to move my pawns, and I like to protect my pieces.  Frequently I end up with very complicated boards with lots of pieces in random locations.  This makes it tough to keep track of everything, which can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on the relative skill at spacial management of the players.  I don't claim to have a lot of this skill, but I do like to test it regularly, and I think I may be getting better.

I noticed this because a different game I played involved a lot of trading of pieces, and now the board is nearly bare, but the game seems to be pretty balanced.  It's like we're starting the game with fewer pieces.

On that note, here are some Chess Variants.  The Wikipedia article on chess variants archives hundreds of different versions of chess.  I want to play them all and invent my own!  Just to see how they turn out.  

Actually, I have participated in the invention of a couple different chess games.  When I was a teenager, my friend Cortez and I made 'super chess' one day, using my giant (32" x 32") chess set. Just for fun, we changed the rules of chess, inflating the abilities of each piece.  Pawns can move like kings, still kill diagonally.  Bishops gained the ability to move to one adjacent space, thus changing which color tile they are on.  The knight can now skip over any number of pieces during the 'L' shape, thus allowing it to make really long moves if there are enough pieces in the way.  And the rooks could explode, killing themselves and all pieces adjacent to them.  We only played 'super chess' a couple of times, and it was fun, and strategy was completely out the window.  

Another time, my friend Ghost and I worked out a game that we ended up calling 'Samurai Showdown' in which we used a chess board and index cards to create a combat game involving fantasy classes.  This game was more akin to Final Fantasy Tactics, as each player had two actions: movement and attack. Free movement within a number of steps, attack and defense power.  Unfortunately, we balanced the game such that the Samurai was the only character with greater attack than defense, resulting in every game coming down to a battle of Samurai.  

A final Chess Variant came from a roommate of mine, who invented Beer Chess.  The rooks were replaced with beers, and the owner must drink the rooks when they are captured.  The deviousness of this game is that my roommate would be really really drunk when we started, and I would feel very guilty making him drink more, and this affected my strategy.  

As a past time, Chess Variants are a lot of fun, and I am happy to be reminded of the possibilities.  I think I will buy my chess sets in pairs from now on.  The game of chess has enough depth in it to survive and thrive on a world-scale for hundreds of years.  People know this game so well, that there is a book containing every move ever made in professional play.  That's a lot of play testing and also a lot of narrative possibility.  But with dozens of available Chess Variants, and hundreds more possible, there are that many more narratives to explore.  Perhaps most will self-destruct, as our Samurai Showdown version did.  But the search has its own rewards of joy and entertainment.  



  1. The 7x7 board looks like it would be a lot of fun to play and that games wouldn't last too long, when compared to a standard game of chess. And do the same rules apply to the pawns as far as moving/attacking goes? If that's the case then they're only there to act as a wall unless goated into attacking.

    I think with the 12x16 board, I still would only want to have one king and one queen and have them centralized. Maybe have the bottom row be something like:
    Imagine the possibilities with castling!

  2. That's awesome! You castle, and then later on, you can castle again!