A review of `Guide des échecs exotiques & insolites, by Jean-Louis Cazaux
Jean-Louis Cazaux, Guide des échecs exotiques & insolites
ISBN: 2-7027-0628-2, Editions Chirons, 2000-24, rue Monge 75005, Paris
Janvier 2000, 224 pages
For people, interested in chess variants, and able to read French,
the book of Cazaux is a very worthwhile contribution to knowledge of
chess variants, partly because of a systematic set-up and clear
Cazaux strives with his book three purposes: First, he wants to let an
uninitiated public know the immeasurable richness of variants. Secondly,
according to Cazaux, French publications on chess variants are hard to
access; he wants to fill this gap and with this describe the precise
rules of the better variants. Thirdly, he wants to help and inspire
inventive minds to develop new variants.
What is a chess variant? Cazaux says that he follows the definition of
Pritchard: every game related to, derived from, or inspired by chess
(i.e., the orthodox chess) is a chess variant. I think that this
definition is too broad and not satisfying: some of the `variants'
described by Cazaux are indeed interesting new games but have little in
common with the game of chess. It remains a hard task to give a
satisfying definition of what is a chess variant.
Cazaux also mentions the large increase of the number of chess variants,
nowadays counted in thousands.
Arrangement of the book
After the introduction, ten chapters follow where the following groups
of variants are treated: 1. the `ancestors' of the orthodox chess; 2.
medieval variants on this; 3. chess games from the Far East; 4. variants
of the Asiatic chess games; 5. new dimensions of the chess board; 6.
fantasy variants; 7. military variants; 8. geometric differences;
9. three dimensional chess; 10. and finally variants `on the borderlines
of chess', which are sometimes combinations between chess and other
games, like `les Échecs football'. However, the question is whether we
are dealing here with chess variants.
The groups show clearly the historic developments of the chess game and
of chess variants, and the geographic variation in forms of chess.
Cazaux shows that not only in the last century, but already in the
Middle Ages and also in Asia in early times variants have been developed
on the known and most widely spread forms of chess (Sjatranj, Chinese,
and Japanese Chess.)
Description of the variants
Every chapter starts with an introduction where the - mainly historic -
context of the group of variants is described. After this, with the more
important variants within a group, a further commentary follows, a clear
diagram of the board and pieces, a description of the pieces, and the
Variants in movement of and taking by a specific piece can be seen in
different variants, e.g., only `moving', `jumping without taking',
`jumping with taking', `shooting' (taking without moving). This together
increases the insight of the reader in the movement possibilities and
the `taking power' of the pieces. I found the one-dimensional chess
Comparison of the variants
By the great variation in movement of and taking by the pieces in the
many variants it is hard to remember these and obtain quickly an
overview. The stylized representation of the movement of pieces as is
given with the games Chu Shogi and Tai Shogi (taken from S. Evans, and
originally given by G. Hodges) is perhaps, with some modifications, also
usable for other variants. Where possible, for a group, a table that gives an
overview of the variants could be made with the variants below each
other, and the different pieces aside each other.
Some authors or inventors aim for every increasing numbers of pieces
and/or squares, like with Tai Shogi with 625 squares and 177 pieces per
player. Such an extreme variant can only be played by a few (or nobody).
This is an undesirable development; in my opinion, Cazaux should have
made a critical remark about this.
Better is it to introduce with a smaller number of squares and pieces
new ways of movement and taking. For instance, the `shooting' (taking
without moving oneself) is an interesting variation that can be played
well. Also, a zig-zag movement like in checkers can be used very well.
Relations and combinations with other games
From the richness of variants, one sees also resemblances with other
board games, like e.g., checkers, go. Perhaps this could have been
stressed a little more firmly.
I missed variants where besides chess pieces also cards are used. The
use of a die could have received more attention in some variants. The
variant `Tandem chess' (or `Double Bughouse') is unfortunately not
Perhaps a wish that is harder to fulfill: a mention where some chess
variants are obtainable and/or directions how one can make such chess
variant games oneself (in particular, different chess pieces.)
These comments contain some remarks and wishes. However, the big virtue
of Cazaux is that he shows in his book clear insight in the development
of chess with its numerous variants in the course of time and urges the
reader to think about the course of pieces. Thus: much appreciation!
K. B. A. Bodlaender
This review was written by K. B. A. Bodlaender in Dutch. Translated into
English by Hans Bodlaender. K. Bodlaender is the father of Hans
WWW page created: April 14, 2000.