The Chess Variant Pages

Summoner's Chess

by Michael Schmahl


I have always been fascinated by the wide range of regular and fairy-chess pieces, and combinations thereof. I wanted to design or play a game that would be as 'generic' as possible, allowing a large variety of possible pieces, yet still be playable and interesting. I went a different route than csipgs chess, and invented a type of collectible-card game. This is an idea that's been brewing off and on in my head since 1998, when I first discovered the CVP.

Movement capabilities are described on cards, which can be used, individually or in combination, to create pieces, which are later added to the board. Each player creates an individual deck of cards for play in Summoner's Chess

This game does not actually exist, but I would love to actually create it and find someone willing to give it a try.


A normal 8x8 chessboard is used. White starts with a King on e1; Black starts with a King on e8. Initially there are no other pieces.

Each player has his own deck of cards, and is free to include whatever cards he wishes in the deck. At the beginning of the game, each player shuffles his deck of cards, and deals himself a hand of seven cards. 


Pieces are created and improved through the use of cards. Once designed, they are introduced to play on squares adjacent to the friendly King, or via promotion.

This is a sample list of cards that might be available for use in Summoner's Chess. There could (and should) be even more cards available. Some interesting pieces such as the Crab and Grasshopper can't be created with this card set. If you actually want to try this game, you could design more cards to your heart's content.

Available cards
Name Betza notation csipgs value Summoner's Chess Value Description
Peasant fmW 0.45 0 Moves w/o capturing one square forward.
Sword fcW 0.45 0 Captures one square forward.
Novice fmF 0.63 0 Moves w/o capturing one square diagonally forward.
Spear fcF 0.63 0 Captures one square diagonally forward.
Scout fmN 0.63 0 Moves w/o capturing one knight's-move forward.
Pike fcN 0.63 0 Captures one knight's-move forward.
Soldier fW 0.75 1 Moves one square forward.
Courtier sW 0.75 1 Moves one square sideways.
Escort ? 0.90? 2 Moves one step clockwise or counterclockwise around a friendly piece
Retreater bR 1.00 2 Moves backward like a Rook.
Acolyte fF 1.05 2 Moves one square diagonally forward.
Horse ffN 1.05 2 Moves one knight's-move forward (Shogi knight).
Go-Between fbW 1.05 2 Moves one square forward or backward
Wazir W 1.50 3 Moves one square orthogonally.
Dabbabah D 1.50 3 Jumps two squares orthogonally.
Ferz F 1.50 3 Moves one square diagonally.
Alfil A 1.50 3 Jumps two squares diagonally.
Vao ? ? 4 Moves w/o capturing as a Bishop, but captures diagonally by leaping over a screen.
Windmill ? ? 4 Moves any number of spaces clockwise or counterclockwise around a single friendly piece.
Cannon ? ? 5 Moves w/o capturing as a Rook, but captures orthogonally by leaping over a screen.
Lance fR 2.50 5 Moves forward like a Rook.
Rank-Mover sR 2.50 5 Moves sideways like a Rook.
Knight N 3.00 6 Jumps to the nearest square not in an orthogonal or diagonal line.
Guard FW 3.00 6 Moves one square orthogonally or diagonally.
Bishop B 3.30 7 Moves any number of squares diagonally, without jumping over other pieces.
File-Mover fbR 3.50 7 Moves forward or backward like a Rook.
Rook R 5.00 9 Moves any number of squares orthogonally, without jumping over other pieces.
KnightRider NN 5.50 10 Moves as a Knight. If the square landed on is empty, may continue making additional Knight-jumps in the same direction.
Rider N/A N/A Special Play this card at the same time as another movement ability card. The piece has the ability to repeat that same movement, in the same direction, as long as no occupied squares are landed upon (but the final such move may capture an enemy piece). The value of this card, when played, is one plus the value of the movement ability card it modifies.
Clone N/A N/A Special This card replicates all the movement abilities of any piece on the board or in reserve, including those of your opponent. The value of this card, when played, is equal to the sum of the value of all cards used in creating the copied piece, plus one for each card used in creating that piece.


On each player's turn, that player's turn progresses through the following phases:

  1. Draw: Draw a card. White does not draw a card on the first turn. If there are no cards left in a player's deck, that player no longer gets to draw.
  2. Move: Make a move on the chessboard. The move must be legal with respect to check. Captured pieces are removed from the game.
  3. Summon: Move a reserve piece onto any empty square adjacent to your King.
  4. Create: Play cards to create new reserve pieces. Each card describes a movement ability. A card may be played to create a new piece with that ability, or to add the ability to an existing reserve piece. The total value of cards played by a player may not exceed the number of squares on the board that were occupied by that player's pieces at the beginning of his turn.
  5. Discard: If you have more than seven cards in your hand, discard the excess.

Promotion: If a piece reaches a square from which it could not make a legal move on an empty chessboard, it may be replaced, as part of its move, with any piece from reserve. The displaced piece is returned to the reserves.


I don't know how well I've balanced the card-values. I've decided to include some of the 'compounds' to allow players the option of using stronger base pieces to build on. I think the game would be too slow if, in order to make a Queen, a player was forced to play Wazir+Rider+Ferz+Rider.

I've toyed with the idea of including 'spells' that would have an effect directly on the playing field, or would modify the rules of the game (e.g. draw an extra card each turn), but I think such spells would make it too hard to plan ahead.

If every card is used separately to create a piece, there will be an average of one new piece for each player each turn. Since not all cards work well alone as pieces, the rate of creation of pieces should be closer to one every two-and-a-half turns. 

Playing Tips

It would be important, when building a deck, to have a good mix of 'weak' cards and 'strong' cards. A player whose deck has too many weak cards will be stuck putting Wazirs and Ferzes on the board while his opponent is generating Queens, MarshallRiders, and Amazons. On the other hand, with too many strong cards, a player might get stuck with a hand of cards with value 2 or higher, and be unable to create any pieces at all for several turns.

The size of a deck is also a factor. If the deck is too small, a player will run out of cards early in the game, and be unable to create new pieces. If the deck is too large, the probability is increased of getting a hand of too many weak cards or too many strong cards.

Computer Play

Fergus Duniho has created a deck of cards for use with his "Magic Chess" variant, which he is currently playtesting. The same deck of cards can be used to play a version of Summoner's Chess on Game Courier.

In this version, White begins with Ke1, Pd2, Pe2, and Pf2. Black begins with Ke8, Pd7, Pe7, and Pf7.

In addition to piece cards, there are also 'location' cards. Location cards are of five types:

  • Letter card: Must be used in combination with a Number card to specify a square on the board.
  • Number card: Must be used in combination with a Letter card to specify a square on the board.
  • File card: Used alone, can specify any square on the given file (column).
  • Rank card: Used alone, can specify any square on the given rank (row).
  • Any space: Used alone, can specify any square on the board.

In the Summon phase, location cards may be used to specify an empty square on the board. The piece being dropped is placed on that square instead of one next to the friendly King. The total value of cards a player plays in a turn still cannot exceed the number of squares occupied by that player at the beginning of the turn. So the use of location cards entails the loss of time in creating new pieces.

The Locust, Grasshopper, Universalist, and Giraffe cards are not used. If a player finds one of these in his hand, he plays it (so the opponent can see), and draws a replacement.

The color of the piece cards is ignored.

The Joker and Wildcard cards are used as "Clone" cards, and have a fixed value of 10.

Enhancing off-board pieces is not allowed in this version, since there are already several high-powered combination pieces available.

Extra Kings: If a King card is played to create an extra King, it may only be dropped when a player is otherwise checkmated. In this case, the player's move in the "move" phase is to remove the mated King from the board. The extra King is placed, in the "summon" phase, on any empty square on the board (where it is not in check).


  • Enough cards for each player. These could be made from 3"x5" index cards, cut in half, to make a manageable deck.
  • Several, perhaps dozens, of distinguishable pieces for each player. Perhaps plastic poker chips with label stickers.
  • A regular chessboard.

Written by Michael Schmahl.
WWW page created: March 23, 2004.