The Chess Variant Pages

Little Dragon Chess

By Peter Aronson


     Little Dragon Chess is a diminutive form of Chinese Chess (Xiangqi), with a few borrowings from Korean Chess (Changgi) and FIDE (International) Chess. It is played on a board of 41 points, as opposed to the usual Chinese Chess board of 90 points. As in Chinese Chess, there are two fortresses in which the Generals (Kings) must stay, and the board divided in the middle by a river, although, unlike in Chinese Chess proper, the river is a line, not a space between lines. Also, unlike in Chinese Chess, but as in Korean Chess, pieces may move along the diagonal lines of the fortresses. Additionally, unlike in Chinese Chess, but like in orthodox chess, Soldiers (Pawns) promote if they reach their opponent's back line. Finally, the Horse is replaced by the slightly more powerful Dragon (from which the name of the game comes), which is more suitable for the cramped nature of the board. There are no Elephants, Horses or Guards.

Board and Setup

     Little Dragon Chess is played on a board of nine horizontal lines (two of which are shorter than the rest) and five vertical lines (two of which are also shorter). The middle horizontal line is called the river, and effects the movement of Soldiers. Pieces are placed on the intersections of lines, referred to in this document as points. The three by three areas at either end of the board marked by diagonal lines are the fortresses.

                           9    D-G-D
                           8  R-C-+-C-R
                              | |/|\| |
                           7  S-+-S-+-S
                              | | | | |
                           6  +-+-+-+-+
                              | | | | |
                           5  +=+=+=+=+
                              | | | | |
                           4  +-+-+-+-+
                              | | | | |
                           3  s-+-s-+-s
                              | |\|/| |
                           2  r-c-+-c-r
                           1    d-g-d
                              a b c d e

G stands for General or King, R for Chariot or Rook, C for Cannon or Pao, D for Dragon and S for Soldier or Pawn. Lower case pieces are red, and upper case pieces are black.

Little Dragon Chess initial setup.

In the graphic, the fancy helmet is the General, the wheel is the Chariot, the Cannon is itself, the rabid sock-puppet is the Dragon, and thing that looks like either a helmet or a tent is the Soldier. The red and black pieces belong to the red player. The blue and black pieces belong to the black player.

General Rules

          The rules of Little Dragon Chess are identical to those of Chinese Chess, except when noted otherwise. The object of the game is the checkmate or stalemate of the opposing General. The two sides are called red and black. The red player moves first.

The Movement of Pieces

          The General, Chariot, Cannon and the Soldier move as they do in Chinese Chess, with the addition that they may also move along the diagonals of the fortresses, although only forward diagonals in the case of the Soldier. (Their movements are reviewed below.) Thus a Chariot on the center point of a fortress may move to any point of the fortress where not blocked by a friendly piece. Pieces moving on fortress diagonals must start and end their move on a fortress point.

          Soldiers may only move (and capture) a single step forward until they reach the river line (line 5). Once on or past this line they may now move and capture a single step to the left or right in addition to forward. Once they reach the opposing fortress they may also move and capture a single step forward along the diagonals. Upon reaching any of the three back points of the opposing fortress they promote to a Dragon, Cannon or Chariot.

          Dragons combine the movement of a Chinese Chess Horse (or Mao) with the moves a Soldier may make once it reaches the river. When moving as a Horse, they move one step orthogonally to an unoccupied point, then one step diagonally -- basically a Western Knight's move without the jump. This move may cross the missing corners to attack the back line of the fortresses. When moving like a Soldier, they may move one step forward, left, right or diagonally forward along a fortress line.

     Cannons move when not capturing like a rook: orthogonally across any number of unoccupied points. Additionally, Cannons may move diagonally along fortress lines. To capture, a Cannon moves zero or more points orthogonally or along a fortress line, leaps over a piece (friendly or opposed -- it doesn't matter), and lands on an opposing piece past that piece leapt over in the same direction. There can be no pieces between cannon and the piece leapt over (the "mount"), and between the mount and the piece captured.

     Chariots move and capture like rooks (orthogonally any distance without leaping over pieces), except that they may also move diagonally along fortress lines.

     Generals move and capture one step orthogonally, or one step along fortress lines. They may not leave their fortress. Generals may not face each other on the same vertical line without an intervening piece -- it would be considered check.


          Little Dragon Chess was designed as an entry in the Chess Variant Pages 41-Squares contest. I was playing around with possible boards, and noticed that a nine by five board less the corners (9 x 5 - 4 = 41) gave a place to stick a three by three fortress at each end. Suddenly, I had a board for a miniature version of Chinese Chess. I added the movement along the diagonals from Korean Chess because I always liked it, and I thought some additional mobility might help what is a fairly constricted game. I added Soldier/Pawn promotion because I felt that any Soldier that managed the almost impossible task of crossing the entire board deserved to be rewarded, and it makes for more decisive endgames. The Horse seemed too constrained on the narrow board, so I thought of the Fairy Chess piece the Dragon, which combined a Knight and a Pawn's movement. For this game, I combined the Horse and the Soldier's movements as that seemed equivalent (technically, I suppose a Dragon should be limited to only moving forward when on its own side of the river and moving as a Soldier, but given that the Elephant and Guard are absent, I figured the greater mobility was needed for defence).

          The graphics used in the board image above and in the Zillions implementation (from which it was made) are by Fergus Duniho, based on graphics by Daniel Kian McKiernan, except for the Dragon, which I made.

          I chose to use symbolic or iconic pieces in this article and in the Zillions implementation as I felt they were accessible to a wider audience. Also, I simply like icons better -- I haven't used English text on the pieces of any games I've designed either. But there is no reason why it couldn't be played using traditional Chinese Chess pieces, using the Horses for the Dragons.

Zillions of Games

          I have written an implementation of Little Dragon Chess for Zillions of games. You can download it here:

Written by Peter Aronson.
WWW page created: November 7, 2000. Last modified: March 1, 2001.