The Chess Variant Pages




Reality Check

Enter a world of deception and illusions, where nothing is quite what it seems, and that which IS what it seems must be destroyed.
'Reality Check' was created in 9/1998 by Andrew Juell as an entry in the contest to create a chess variant on 39 squares. An insane cross between Stratego, Memory, and (of course) chess, it's crazy enough that it seems to work! Inspiration credits go out to 'Robber Barons', 'Plateau', and the others who beat me to the basic board shape. Please direct any questions to (email removed contact us for address) mail.com.

Game setup

Each side has ten flippable pieces, probably best represented for the frugal player with poker chips or some such, taking care that pieces are distinguishable by color, but that any upturned face of a given type is indistinguisable from all others. These pieces are (with X-Y meaning X is on one side and Y is on the other)

P-P, P-N, P-B, P-R, N-N, N-B, N-R, B-B, B-R, and R-R

Each player chooses where to place which pieces in the opening setup, within the restriction that the board must appear as in the diagram, keeping one piece in-hand.

    BASIC BOARD

        r
       nbn
      ppbpp
     .......
     .......
     .......
      PPBPP
       NBN
        R









(for ADVANCED BOARD (untested but neato) see variant 4 below)

The goal of the game is to remove all four of your opponent's 'true' pieces (those with identical flip-sides). You may also technically win by preventing your opponent from making an obligatory drop, but this is extremely difficult to force.

All pieces move and capture as the normal chess counterparts of their upturned face, with the exception of Pawn faces, which move one square in any rookwise direction, and capture one square in any diagonal direction, and also lack a double move.

Each turn, a player exercises one of four options:

  1. First moves one of their pieces without capturing and then flips over ANY one piece, provided their opponent did not flip or drop this piece immediately before. This flip is mandatory if a non-capturing move is made.
  2. Drops a piece in-hand into one of the nine squares occupied by their pieces in the opening setup. This action may not be used to capture a piece (the square must be unoccupied)
  3. Makes a capturing move with one of their pieces, returning the captured piece to its owner's hand. This may not be used against one's own pieces
  4. Making a capture with one of their pieces, declares a Reality Check, in which both the capturing and the captured pieces are publicly flipped. If both pieces are 'true' (they are identical on both sides) the captured piece is removed from play completely. If the capturing piece is not 'true' (oops. ^_^) the piece reverts to its status before being flipped after being shown to the opponent.
White may do only the first half of #1 on their first move. Neither player may hold more pieces in-hand than the number of 'true' pieces they have in play minus one. Thus, at the start, each player may have up to three pieces in-hand at once, though this will be reduced as play proceeds. If for any reason they find themselves over this limit, they are obligated to use their move to drop a piece. If they are unable to do so (the enemy has completely overrun your home zone) they lose the game. When a captured piece would return to a player's hand, and in this way make the number of captured pieces larger than the limit of three pieces, the player owning the piece may choose whether to have the piece in his hand (and hence to use his next move for a drop) or to refuse to take the piece to his hand, in which case the piece is removed from play.

Variant Zero (the way the game should really be played):

This game is meant for fairly quick-paced over-the-board play. Looking at a move list is cheating. Now I recognize that this will be impossible to enforce in net play, and probably really shouldn't apply at all to postal play, which is supposed to give you time to do thorough analysis and what-not anyway (and which gives you way too much time to forget). You can feel free to ignore this rule under those circumstances (not that I could stop you anyway) but the game is at its best when it's possible to forget where you put your own pieces. ("Anyone remember where we parked?")

Variant One: Strategic Retreat

You may now capture your own pieces, returning them to your hand, provided that this does not cause you to exceed your in-hand limit (still number of 'true' pieces left in play-1). Now why the heck would you want to do that, I hear you ask... If you could drop pieces anywhere that's one thing, but you have to lose a tempo just to drop back at the start!

OK, imagine you've just made a Reality Check. Hopefully, a quarter of your troubles have been permanently disposed of, but either way you've left your opponent with some disturbingly exploitable information regarding the location of one of your true pieces... Step into the shoes of your opponent for a second. If you happen to be sure that you have a 'true' piece ready to counterattack, you're in luck. (I mean you were very foresightful to have put it there...^_^) But if you don't, you probably don't want to take the risk of immediately capturing the offender, because then it regains the protection of anonymity and may spend any amount of time in-hand. You want to be sure that you get it good, so you take the time to set up a Reality Check you know will be successful. Back to the first player again...knowing what your opponent will be trying, you would REALLY like to get your 'true' piece somewhere safe, but assuming your opponent has a decent memory, you're in a situation where you can run, but you can't hide. Capturing your own piece lets you 'hide'. This will tend to make games last longer, and be a bit more dependent on 'blind fate'.

Variant Two: Memory

Each player now has a fifth option for how to use their turn. They may select two of their opponent's pieces on the board, and flip them. If their formerly hidden sides match, both pieces are sent to the opponent's hand. If they do not, the flipping player must reveal one of his 'true' pieces and remove it from play. A risky maneuver, but hey, knowledge is power in this game.

This rule was not motiviated by any underlying strategy, it's just fun that's all... By the way, it's not a good idea to do this to two of your opponent's pieces with identical upturned faces...^_-

Variants Three and Four: Flexibility, and a *gasp* Original Board!

Set up a screen between the two players, and they may set up nine pieces in their half of the board in any manner they please. White may not capture on the first move, but may use a flip in addition to making a captureless move. An obvious potential problem with this is the likely very large number of captures which are possible right off the bat, but given the nature of the game this will likely only cost the worse-off player a few tempi of development (besides, you should have planned that he might have put that bishop there!) As an attempt to circumvent this before it becomes a problem, a new Board is provided, which can also of course be used in combination with other variants...
xxxx...
xxx ...
xx . ..
x  .  X
.. . XX
... XXX
...XXXX
This may become the primary board (especially considering the number of other people who stumbled onto the simple shape of the basic board) but a bit of experimentation is in order before declaring it fit for play in this particular game. I'm halfway tempted to patent it (jk), what with that nice little 'each piece has a sweet spot' effect...definitely something to try with other games!

Last But Not Necessarily Least: A Dice Variant

For those of us with an insatiable desire to play games involving both chance and incomplete information, I present this alternative.

Instead of being allowed to flip any piece arbitrarily when using move type #1, instead roll a die. On results of

  1. : Flip any piece with a P facing up
  2. : Flip any piece with an N facing up
  3. : Flip any piece with a B facing up
  4. : Flip any piece with an R facing up
  5. : Flip any piece belonging to you
  6. : Flip any piece belonging to your opponent
If you're feeling particularly silly, you may want to roll two dice and flip two pieces, one meeting each criterion, each turn.
Written by Andrew Juell. Graphic diagram and one sentence with clarification from an email of Andrew Juell added by Hans Bodlaender.
This is a submission for the contest to design a chess variant on a board with 39 squares.
WWW page created: September 10, 1998. Last modified: November 30, 1998.