Dearly beloved, let us talk for a moment about chess. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that writing a novel is like playing a game of chess, but that isn’t what I’ll talk about today.
Chess is a wargame of ancient origin. Eight pieces and eight pawns on a side, a board of sixty-four squares arranged in a square. The rules are formal and fixed. The last successful variation to chess was nearly five hundred years ago: The Mad Queen’s Game, which gave the queen the power to move the length and breadth of the board in a single move rather than being limited to one square in any direction (like the King’s move).Chess is an excellent source for pithy quotes:
“The blunders are all there on the board, waiting to be made.”No successful variations in the last five hundred years, did I say? I lied. There have been many; they just haven’t caught on universally. Many of them are called Fairy Chess, a term that became popular in Great Britain around WWI, when “fairy” meant “whimsical.”
Sometimes the board is modified (the right edge and the left edge, or the top and the bottom, become continuous to make a cylinder, for example). Sometimes the pieces get unusual moves or unusual methods of capturing other pieces. Sometimes dice or cards add randomness. Sometimes … things get weird. Let’s look at some creative chess games.
Adding a Piece
The Blue Queen is a queen, painted blue, or otherwise differentiated from the colors of either side. She moves like a normal mad Queen. She starts somewhere in the center of the board. And she belongs to whichever side is currently moving.
Adding a Piece and some Randomness
Behemoth Chess requires a piece (such as an Orc) that starts the game on d4 (Gads, I hate algebraic notation! That means Q4). That’s the Behemoth. The Behemoth doesn’t belong to either player, and it’s indestructable. You also need two dice, one eight-sided, the other four sided.
Before each move, the moving player rolls the dice. The eight-sider shows the direction the Behemoth will move, the four-sider shows the number of squares it will move. A roll of 1 on the eight-sider points toward black’s queen’s rook, the rest follow clockwise.
The board wraps for the Behemoth (but not for the other pieces and pawns). If the Behemoth leaves at the top of the board, it emerges on the bottom of the board exactly as if they were connected.
Anything that the Behemoth tramples it crushes. Those pieces and pawns are removed from the board. This means that … should the White player roll 6-4 on the first turn, that both sides would lose their queens.
If the Behemoth crushes a king, that side loses. Otherwise play continues until one side or the other wins by checkmate.
This variant is credited to Donald Seagraves.
Oddness in the Universe
Alice Chess is played with one chess set and two boards. The pieces and pawns are set up normally on one board. They move and … when they move, at the end of the move, the piece teleports “through the looking glass” to the other board.
Pieces and pawns that move on that board teleport back to the first board at the end of their moves. Moves are the same as for regular chess. If the target square on the other board is occupied you can’t move to an otherwise legal square on this one. Moves must be legal on the board on which they are made. The game ends with checkmate.
(A variant of this variant allows you go make a “zero move,” to just drop from one board to the other ending on the same square you started on, only on the other side of the looking glass. Kings can’t zero move to get out of check.)
This variant is credited to V.R. Parton.
A Guessing Game
This variant, Kriegspiel, requires two chess sets, three boards, and three players. Two of the players set up on two boards facing one another, with a screen between them so they can’t see the other’s board. The White player has only the white chessmen; the Black player has only the black chessmen. The third player is the referee; she can see both of the first two’s boards, and has her own board set up with both white and black. This board is screened so that only the ref can see it.
The object of the game is checkmate, by the usual rules.
Each side moves in turn; after each move the ref either says “legal” or “illegal.” If the move is illegal the moving player must take it back and try another move until hitting on a legal move.
Before moving, a player may ask “Any?” meaning “Are any pawn captures possible?” If there are, the ref replies “Try,” and the moving player must attempt a pawn capture before attempting any other move.
When a piece or pawn is captured, both sides are informed of the fact, and what was captured, but the player losing the chessman isn’t informed of what it was that performed the capture.
You can play a game against the computer here to see how it goes.
This variant is credited to Henry Michael Temple.
Games with Unusual Boards
I’ve already mentioned boards that wrap around right-and-left and top-to-bottom. You can find variants with round boards, hexagonal boards, boards that have more squares than standard and boards with fewer squares.
St. Teresa of Avila is the patron saint of chess.