The Chess Variant Pages

Ladder Shogi

By Mason Green


Ladder Shogi is a Shogi variant invented for the 10-chess variant competition. I came up with the idea a while ago, while thinking about the promotion rules in Shogi--how almost everybody promotes to the same weak piece, the Gold General.

But what if pieces could promote again and again, to multiple stages? What if, when you capture an opponent's piece, you can make your own piece more powerful, and the amount of power added depends on the strength of the piece you captured? I thought about this for a while. Ladder Shogi is the finished result. The names for the pieces are based partly on Japanese mythology and medieval social hierarchy. Pieces can be thought of as "climbing the social ladder". In addition, there are several pieces which don't promote, and a handful which only promote once, as in Shogi. They are all called "non-value pieces". But the real stars of the game are the "value pieces", as they are known.

I chose to have 10 "stages" that a value piece may have, each of which is associated with a numerical value from 1 to 10, and to play the game on a 10*10 board. There are also 10 different types of non-value pieces (excluding the King). All of this qualifies the game for this competition.

Since this is a Shogi variant, most of the shogi pieces are present here in one form, and the drop rule exists (but it is possible for pieces to be "killed" and therefore be removed from the game permanently, unlike in Shogi.)


Physically representing the "value pieces" is the greatest challenge in this game. I think the best solution is to use ten-sided dice to represent them. The number of the side that's up represents the current stage that that piece is in. If ten-sided dice are not available, poker chips or Risk counters can be used instead. Keep in mind that there are no value pieces of stage 5 or greater on the board at the beginning, but they will promote later. Each player has 16 value pieces (all have the potential to reach ANY stage, not just the ones they start out as). Use blank shogi counters or heraldic pieces to represent the 11 (for each side) non-value pieces, and also use these to mount the dice or poker chips on so that the current owner of any value piece may be known. Some of the non-value counters (such as the Lance) will need to be marked on both sides because they can promote as in Shogi, and they must also be directional (point in one direction) because they switch loyalty when captured, again as in Shogi.

The King can be represented by an ordinary chess king, as it is the only piece that never switches sides.


The board is set up as shown:

White has, from left to right:

First row: burakumin, empty space, lance, ninja, kappa, king, dragon, cricket, ninja, lance.

Second row: two empty spaces, horse, 4, 3, 2, 2, 3, 4, horse.

First row: 1,1,1,1,1,2,2,1,1,1

Black's setup mirrors white's pointwise, as shown.

Movement of the Pieces


The King moves as a FIDE or Shogi King--one square in any direction. The King has the special power of Execution--any piece it captures is "killed" or removed from the game permanently, rather than going into your drop pile. If the King is checkmated, you lose!

Non-Value Pieces

The Dragon moves as a FIDE king. In addition, it has the power of Energizing. If you have a Dragon, and it is adjacent to two friendly pieces, you may move both on your turn, able to capture up to twice. This counts as one move. Dragons may not capture.

The Cricket moves as a FIDE king. In addition, it has the power of Infusion. A piece adjacent to a friendly Cricket may move twice in a row, able to capture up to twice. A piece adjacent to two friendly crickets may not move four times, only twice. Crickets may not capture.

The Kappa moves as a FIDE king. In addition, it has the power of Petrification. No enemy piece adjacent to a Kappa may move until the Kappa moves away. Therefore, it is the same as the Immobilizer from Ultima (except it moves as a King, not as a Queen). Kappas may not capture.

The Lance moves as a Shogi lance (any number of unobstructed squares directly forward). When it reaches the last rank, it promotes to a Flying Chariot (also a non-value piece).

The Flying Chariot (or Rook) moves as a FIDE rook.

The Ninja has the "diagonal" version of the Lance's move. In other words, it moves like a Bishop, but only forward (not backward). When it reaches the last rank, it promotes to an Angled Chariot.

The Angled Chariot (or Bishop) moves as a FIDE bishop.

The Honorable Horse moves just like it does in Shogi, having only the two forward-most moves of the FIDE knight. When it reaches the last or second-to-last rank, it promotes to a Shogun.

The Shogun (or Knight) moves as a FIDE knight.

The Burakumin (or untouchable) moves as a FIDE queen. It may not, however, end its turn on a square adjacent to ANY piece, friendly or hostile. It may also not pass through a square adjacent to any piece, unless it is a capturing move and the piece is being captured by the Burakumin. The same "untouchability rule" also holds true for all other pieces--they may never be adjacent to a Burakumin unless to capture (this means that the Burakumin may not capture pieces except from a distance, and vice versa). Even the drop rule is second to the untouchability rule--a Burakumin may not be dropped next to another piece, nor a non-burakumin piece dropped next to a burakumin. The only exception to this rule is that both Burakumin may be next to each other, because each is every bit as "unclean" as the other.

Value Pieces

Pieces 1 through 4 may move one square in any of the indicated directions, and the Merchant (1) and Craftsman (2) go immediately to the owner's drop pile should they reach the end (because they could otherwise go no further).

The Merchant (1) moves as a Pawn from shogi--one square forward for both passive movement and capturing.

The Craftsman (2) moves as a "Berolina" version of the shogi pawn--one square diagonally forward for both movement and capturing.

The Farmer (3) moves as a Merchant or one square horizontally.

The Samurai (4) moves as a Craftsman or one square horizontally.

Pieces 5 through 7 move one or two squares in any of the given directions (they do not jump if going two squares).

The Silver General (5) moves in the same directions as a Silver General from Shogi (diagonally or straight forward) except that it may go one or two squares.

The Gold General (6) moves in the same directions as a Gold General from Shogi (any direction except diagonally backward) but it may go one or two squares.

The Platinum General (7) moves in the same directions as a Drunken Elephant from some of the older Shogi variants (any direction except straight backward) but it may go one or two squares.

Pieces 8 through 10 move as riders.

The Dragon Horse (8) moves as a Bishop or as a King.

The Dragon King (9) moves as a Rook or as a King.

The Dragon Emperor (10) moves as a FIDE queen.


"White" goes first. All pieces move as they take in Ladder Shogi. When a value piece takes another value piece, the following happens: The captured piece is removed from the board and goes into the capturing player's drop pile. The capturing piece, meanwhile, gains experience equal to the value of the piece it captured. For example, if a Samurai (4) captures a Farmer (3), the Samurai gains 3 points of experience, promoting it to a Platinum General (7) because 4 + 3 = 7. It's that simple. If the sum of the capturing and captured pieces is greater than 10, the excess may be transferred to any adjacent friendly pieces. If there are none, the excess experience vanishes into thin air. When a non-value piece captures a value piece, or a value piece captures a non-value, no promotions of this type occur, but the drop rule still holds (exactly like Shogi). When a King captures a piece, however, that piece is "killed" and can never return to play.

All pieces, including value pieces, are in their most basic state when dropped. All value pieces, therefore, are dropped as Merchants. Shoguns are dropped as Horses, Angled Chariots as Ninjas, etc. Checkmate may not be made by the drop of a Merchant (pawn).

Inventor Comments:

Ladder Shogi may at first appear complicated, but in reality it is quite simple. Learning the Lance, Ninja, and Horse, and their promoted forms, is no sweat. The Dragon, Burakumin, Kappa, and Cricket are also quite easy. The moves of the value pieces are probably the hardest, and beginners might want to have a cheat sheet around to learn those moves. Even these can be mastered in a short while.

Ladder Shogi is based on Japanese folklore and medieval social hierarchy. The social standings of Samurai, Farmers, Craftsmen, and Merchants were precisely in that order in medieval Japan. There were burakumin (untouchables) who performed the dirty work of burying the dead and other unclean tasks. In mythology, the Kappa was a malicious water demon that could freeze anybody who saw it with fear. The Crickets and Dragons were considered symbols of good luck.

Also, I felt that Generals should be stronger than they are in Shogi (because they're leaders) so the Gold, Silver, and Platinum (my own name) generals can now move up to two squares.

Also, the promotions for some of the original shogi pieces have been switched around. In Shogi, the Lance originally promoted to a Gold General, not to a rook. There was no ninja, and the horse promoted to a Gold General as well. I added the Ninja to make the game more symmetric, and changed the promotion scheme to one that is also more symmetric and (to my mind) nicer.

This game was inspired somewhat by Way of the Knight (promotion, although that game has quite different promotion from this one), and Sho shogi (the drunken elephant's move). Later I found out that Mortal Shogi also has a "ladder" (after I came up with the idea for Ladder Shogi) but that game's promotion/demotion rules are quite different.

I hope you like Ladder Shogi!


Written by Mason Green. Webpage posted: March 5, 2005.