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PACHESSI -- A Chess Race Game

By Peter Aronson

Introduction

          In the course of considering possible 40 square boards for the Chess Variant Pages' 40-squares variant contest, I realized that a 7 by 7 board with a 3 by 3 island removed from the center would have 40 squares. Examining the resulting board, I was struck by how much it resembled a board for some sort of race game.

          India, the generally accepted home of chess, has also been a major point of origin for race games. H.J.R. Murry (in A HISTORY OF BOARD-GAMES OTHER THAN CHESS) credits India as the source of both square and cruciform race games. Chess in India was first played on a board for a square race game -- Ashtapada -- and Indian chess boards continued to bear the crosscut markings for the older game until at least the 19th century.

          While the name of this game is a joke on the cruciform race game Pachisi, I've freely borrowed from the whole chapter on race games in Murry. As long as I was using elements from old Indian race games, it only seemed appropriate that the chess elements should come from an old form of chess native to India: Chaturanga. Chaturanga for four players, when played with dice, already seemed like a cross between a chess game and a race game. Even the traditional colors of the armies in four-player Chaturanga are identical to the four traditional colors for Pachisi pieces.

Overview

          Pachessi is a race game with chess pieces for two or four players (four players play as two teams). The goal is to move your pieces counterclockwise around the board and back to their starting square, then to bear them off the board. In a two- player game, each player has four pieces: a Raja, an Elephant, a Horse and a Ship. In a four-player game, the ships are not used. Two six-sided dice are used to determine which pieces can move on a turn. Taken pieces are sent off the board, and must be re- entered. The first player to bear off all of their pieces wins. For a team game, if either player on the team wins, the entire team wins.

The Board

          Pachessi is played on a board of 40 squares, in the shape of a 7 by 7 square with the center 9 cells removed. The board should be checked, and the starting positions of the pieces should be crosscut.

The Pieces

          If there are two players, each player has four pieces, a Raja (King), an Elephant (Rook), a Horse (Knight) and a Ship (Bishop). If there are four players, the Ships are not used. All pieces move as their modern chess equivalents, except that the Elephant (Rook) can move at most three squares at a time, and (with minor exceptions) that no piece may move clockwise. (The Ship has the modern Bishop's move instead of the traditional Ship's move of a diagonal jump of two, as the latter move would make movement on this board impossible!)

Initial Setup

   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
 7 | R | E | H | S |   |   |   |   7 | R | E | H |   |   |   |*R*|
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
 6 |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   6 |   |   |   |   |   |   |*E*|
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
 5 |   |   |           |   |   |   5 |   |   |           |   |*H*|
   +---+---+           +---+---+     +---+---+           +---+---+
 4 |   |   | PACHESSI  |   |   |   4 |   |   | PACHESSI  |   |   |
   +---+---+           +---+---+     +---+---+           +---+---+
 3 |   |   |           |   |   |   3 |*h*|   |           |   |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
 2 |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   2 |*e*|   |   |   |   |   |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
 1 |   |   |   | s | h | e | r |   1 |*r*|   |   |   | h | e | r |
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+     +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
     a   b   c   d   e   f   g         a   b   c   d   e   f   g

          2 Player Setup                     4 Player Setup

   R = Raja (King)                     R  = Black
   E = Elephant (Rook)                *R* = Red
   H = Horse (Knight)                  r  = Yellow
   S = Ship (Bishop)                  *r* = Green








When playing with four players, Black and Yellow are allied against Red and Green.

Play

          To start, each player (or team) rolls two six-sided dice, with the player (or team) rolling the highest going first (a team winning the die roll decides which player within the team goes first). Thereafter, play rotates to the right (counterclockwise).

          At the beginning of each player's turn, the player rolls two six-sided dice to determine which pieces they will move. The following chart is used:

  Roll         Piece
  ====         =====
    1          Ship (Bishop)
    2          Horse (Knight)
    3          Elephant (Rook)
   4,5         Raja (King)
    6          Any Piece

If a number for a piece that has already been born off is rolled, it is counted as if it had been a 6 (any piece). Die rolls must be used if at all possible, by a move of at least one square. The same piece may be moved more than once in the same turn if the die rolls allow. When playing with four players, since the Ships are omitted, rolls of 1 are to be rolled again.

          As noted above, pieces move as they do in chess, except they may not (with minor exceptions) move clockwise. In a straight section, a piece may not make any move that results in it ending up "behind" its starting location. On a corner diagonal square, a piece can not make any move that would violate the above rule in either straight section adjacent to the corner. The following diagram shows which moves are forbidden from which squares:

   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
 7 |N+W| N | N | N | N | N |E+N|
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
 6 | W |N+W| N | N | N |E+N| E |
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
 5 | W | W |           | E | E |        North
   +---+---+           +---+---+          |
 4 | W | W | PACHESSI  | E | E |    West -+- East
   +---+---+           +---+---+          |
 3 | W | W |           | E | E |        South
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
 2 | W |W+S| S | S | S |S+E| E |
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
 1 |W+S| S | S | S | S | S |S+E|
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
     a   b   c   d   e   f   g

  N = Northern Quadrant (no eastward moves)
  W = Western Quadrant (no northward moves)
  S = Southern Quadrant (no westward moves)
  E = Eastern Quadrant (no southward moves)

          Combined quadrant squares have combined prohibitions. A piece may not make any move that results in it being displaced in any of the directions prohibited by its starting square.

          Notice that an Elephant or Raja on a square immediately counter-clockwise from a corner square (b1, g2, f7 or a6) can actually move in the clockwise direction. These are the only squares from which this is possible (these squares are the "minor exceptions" noted above).

The next diagram gives examples of movement for each piece:

   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
 7 |   | s |   |   | r | r |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
 6 |   |   | S |   | r | R |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
 5 |   | s |           | e |   |
   +---+---+           +---+---+
 4 | s |   | PACHESSI  | e |   |
   +---+---+           +---+---+
 3 |   | H |           | e |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
 2 |   |   |   | h |   | E | e |
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
 1 | h |   | h |   |   |   |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
     a   b   c   d   e   f   g

The capital letters above represent the various pieces, the lowercase letters the squares to which they can move.

          Taking is by replacement, as is normal for chess. Taken pieces are removed from the board, and require a move to re-enter on to their starting square. If the starting square is occupied by a friendly piece, then the taken piece can not be re-entered. If the starting square is occupied by a hostile piece, then the taken piece may be re-entered, and the hostile piece is taken as a result.

          There is no concept of check, checkmate or stalemate, but if a player's Raja is taken, that player may not move any of their pieces (regardless of their die rolls) until it is re-entered. That player's pieces, however, may still be taken, even by their teammate (this is the only condition under which a player may take their teammate's pieces). A Raja that has been born off the board has no such effect on its side.

          If a player takes a piece (either an opponent's or a teammate who has had their Raja taken, but not yet re-entered), they get an immediate "grace" move, and may roll a single six- sided die and move again. A player may have any number of grace moves in a turn, as long as they continue to take a piece with each move. However, if a player makes two captures with the initial roll of their turn, they still only get a single grace move for the captures.

          If a player's Raja has been captured, and one of the player's other pieces is occupying the Raja's starting square, the player may (with an appropriate die roll) return the Raja to the board, capturing their own piece as if it were hostile. The player does not receive a grace move for this special capture.

          Once a piece has circumnavigated the board counterclockwise, and returned to its starting square, it requires an additional move to be born off. If that piece is taken before it can make that last move, it must circumnavigate the board again before it can be born off. A player is not required to bear off a piece that has been around the board -- it can be sent around the board again in order to attack an enemy or to help a teammate. If a piece is on its second or later traversal, and it is taken, it still must traverse the board once again before it can be born off.

Other Boards

          Once I had the basic idea of the game down, I tried experimenting with other board sizes. Boards smaller than 7 by 7 seemed unworkable. A traditional 8 by 8 chess board with a 4 by 4 hole in the center works very poorly for the ship. A 9 by 9 board with a 3 by 3 hole in the center (elephants moving 4) worked well enough, although neither my daughter Jenny or I liked it as much as the 7 by 7 or the 11 by 11 board. The 10 by 10 board with a 4 by 4 hole in the center looks playable for a two player game, but the North-South ships are on a different color than the East-West ships. An 11 by 11 board with a 5 by 5 hole in the middle seems to work nicely. We call that version "Grand Pachessi".

Grand Pachessi

          Grand Pachessi is played using the same rules as regular Pachessi, with the following differences:

          The board is 11 by 11 with a 5 by 5 hole cut out of the center. The initial setup is:


    +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
 11 | R | E | H | S |   |   |   |   |   |   |*R*|
    +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
 10 |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |*E*|
    +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
  9 |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |*H*|
    +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
  8 |   |   |   |                   |   |   |*S*|
    +---+---+---+                   +---+---+---+
  7 |   |   |   |                   |   |   |   |
    +---+---+---+      GRAND        +---+---+---+
  6 |   |   |   |     PACHESSI      |   |   |   |
    +---+---+---+                   +---+---+---+
  5 |   |   |   |                   |   |   |   |
    +---+---+---+                   +---+---+---+
  4 |*s*|   |   |                   |   |   |   |
    +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
  3 |*h*|   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |
    +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
  2 |*e*|   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |
    +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
  1 |*r*|   |   |   |   |   |   | s | h | e | r |
    +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
      a   b   c   d   e   f   g   h   i   j   k











(Red and Yellow are not used in the two player game, of course.)

          Elephants may move up to 5 squares in a move. A Raja's move is one or two squares in a straight line. Horses may make a (1,2) jump like a standard chess knight, or a (1,3) jump like a camel. Example moves:


    +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
 11 |   | s |   |   |   |   | r |   | r |   |   |
    +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
 10 |   |   | s |   |   |   |   | r | r |   |   |
    +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
  9 |   |   |   | S |   |   | r | r | R |   |   |
    +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
  8 |   |   | s |                   | e |   |   |
    +---+---+---+                   +---+---+---+
  7 |   | s |   |                   | e |   |   |
    +---+---+---+      GRAND        +---+---+---+
  6 | s |   |   |     PACHESSI      | e |   |   |
    +---+---+---+                   +---+---+---+
  5 |   |   |   |                   | e |   |   |
    +---+---+---+                   +---+---+---+
  4 |   |   | H |                   | e |   |   |
    +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
  3 | h |   |   |   | h | h |   |   | E | e | e |
    +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
  2 |   | h |   | h |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |
    +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
  1 |   | h |   | h |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |
    +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
      a   b   c   d   e   f   g   h   i   j   k

          Ships are not removed in the four player game, as they are on the smaller board.

Notes

          Even when reduced to three pieces on a side, the four player game can be pretty silly, and may run forever.

          I considered having some squares on the board marked as safe squares, where pieces can not be captured, as are found in many race games. However, with a short race course, and generally fast moving pieces, these didn't seem to add anything to the game, so I left them out.

Acknowledgments

          Many thanks to daughter Jenny for eagerly helping me playtest this game in all of its versions (even the awful first version!). And thanks to my wife Casceil for proofreading this note.

Bibliography

 Bell, R.C., BOARD AND TABLE GAMES FROM MANY CIVILIZATIONS, Dover,
 1979.

 Betza, Ralph, "Chessopoly", The Chess Variant Pages, 1997.

 Bodlaender, Hans, "Chaturanga for four players", The Chess
 Variant Pages, 1998.

 Murry, H.J.R., A HISTORY OF BOARD-GAMES OTHER THAN CHESS, Oxford
 University Press, 1952.

 Parlett, David, THE OXFORD HISTORY OF BOARD GAMES, Oxford
 University Press, 1999.

 Randolf, Alex, STEEPLE CHESS (game), Ravensburger, 1976.

 Schmittberger, R. Wayne, NEW RULES FOR CLASSIC GAMES, John Wiley
 & Sons, 1992.


Written by Peter Aronson.
This is an entry in the contest to design a chess variant on a board with 40 squares. You may want to compare this game with Rollerball.
WWW page created: August 6, 1999. Last modified: September 7, 1999.