The Chess Variant Pages





Of the making of these games there need be no end, and I have no doubt that many other varieties have been proposed and perhaps played, of which we have been spared the knowledge....

-- H.J.R. Murray, A History of Chess

Scirocco

Scirocco is a chess variant played on a 10 by 10 board. It was invented in 1998 and 1999 by Adrian King (your humble author). Scirocco is a submission for the the contest to design large chess variants.

A new, revised version of Scirocco has been created. That revision is here.

Priniciples I Tried to Follow in Designing Scirocco

I designed Scirocco to satisfy my own taste in chess variants. Some of the principles that I like are:

  • Too many powerful pieces on the board, at least at the start of the game, make the game too fast and tactical.
  • A wider variety of pieces makes the game more interesting, because a wider of variety of situations can develop.
  • If pieces have a finely graded range of values, figuring out what to exchange for what is an interesting problem.
  • An 8 by 8 board is small.
  • Making stalemate a win for the player who gives it reduces the number of draws. That is good, because draws are boring.
  • If (almost) every piece promotes instead of just Pawns, the game will probably be less drawish, because of the increased power on the board in the endgame. Also, the ending will be more tactical, with more potential for surprising endings.
  • If promoting a piece is optional, and the promoted piece's abilities are not a strict superset of its unpromoted abilities, then sometimes it may be better not to promote a piece when you can. This kind of choice adds interest to the game.
In designing Scirocco I also followed a couple of other guidelines to give the game its particular flavor, although I don't think these principles are necessary to make a good chess variant:
  • Every piece except the Pawn has a move that is the same forwards and backwards, and left and right. (In some variants, like Shogi, pieces have asymmetric moves).
  • There is a fixed starting array; players don't choose where to deploy the pieces initially.
  • Each player has only one of each kind of piece, except for the Pawns, Guards, and the eponymous Scirocco.
  • The initial density of pieces on the board is 50%, the same as in Orthochess.

The Inspiration for Scirocco

Scirocco's direct roots (although they may not be immediately obvious) are in Courier Chess, Christian Freeling's Grand Chess, and Chu Shogi. Indirectly, a number of the Scirocco pieces are derived from Timur's Great Chess, or Tamerlane Chess. The immediate inspiration for Scirocco was the following sentence in the entry for Courier Chess in D.B. Pritchard's The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants:
The Courier (believed then to be the strongest piece) moved as the modern B...

When I saw this I thought, What if the Courier were indeed the strongest piece in Courier Chess? You could change the move of the Courier to make it stronger, and perhaps reduce the strength of the true strongest piece in Courier Chess, the Rook.... Pursuing these ideas farther, the Courier evolved in my mind into the Scirocco, the shape of the 12 by 8 Courier Chess board changed to the 10 by 10 Scirocco board, and I added various pieces that I hope will make an interesting game.

To me, Scirocco has a sort of "antique" feel, like the chess variants from the medieval Islamic world. I named the game (and the most important piece in the game) for the wind that blows from the Sahara into Europe because that wind seemed like a good emblem for the Arabic influence that brought to Europe the game of Shatranj, which evolved into the modern Orthochess.

A Gentle Plea for Unnecessary Complexity

On first glance, the profusion of pieces in Scirocco may make the game look absurdly complex (then again, if you're a Chu Shogi player, it may look ridiculously simple). It is true that I put more different kinds of piece into this game than most chess inventors do, and I blatantly defied D.B. Pritchard's advice in his Encylopedia entry for "Designing a Variant":
An elegant game combines minimum rules with maximum strategy.... Many inventors assume that making a game more complicated will make it better but usually the opposite is true.
In my defense, I'd like to say to the following:
  • Although the number of types of piece in the game is large (36), it is not so difficult to learn the moves of the pieces as you might suppose. There is a fair amount of symmetry in the initial array, and there are some obvious patterns in the ways in which pieces promote. Furthermore, I use (and encourage the use of) flat, Shogi-type pieces displaying small diagrams showing how each Scirocco piece moves, so that it is hard to make a mistake.

  • In a sense, I have followed Pritchard's dictum, in that the concept I wanted to realize in Scirocco was the interaction of a large number of different kinds of pieces. I think I have done this with a minimum of distracting extra rules; the complexity inheres in the moves of the pieces, and not in exceptions to more general rules (like the castling move or 2-step initial Pawn move in Orthochess).

  • Finally, if a game is playable, who cares if it's minimal? This is, after all, an entry into a contest for large chess variants; if you want something small, play one of the various species of 5 x 5 games called Minichess. If you want something austerely elegant, play Christian Freeling's Chad. Or better yet, play Go.

    I don't think it's a big drawback for a large chess variant to require a few minutes of study before you learn the moves. Great Chess is one of the Great Mysteries of the human mind, and there's nothing wrong with having to go through a bit of an initiation. I say, revel in the pointless intricacies of the universe.

Thank you for listening to my rant. Now, on to the rules.

The Initial Setup

Scirocco is a game for two players, called Blue and Tan. Blue moves first.

In the initial setup, each player's first three ranks look, in words, either like this:

PawnPawnGuardPawnPawn PawnPawnGuardPawnPawn
 PriestSciroccoKingWazir FirzanCommonerSciroccoMarquis 
Chariot Stork Knight CamelDervishGoat Wagon

  • For Blue:
    Ch a1; St c1; N e1; C f1; De g1; Go h1; Wa j1;
    Pr b2; Sc c2; K d2; W e2; F f2; Co g2; Sc h2; Ma i2;
    P a3, b3; Gu c3; P d3-g3; Gu h3; P i3, j3
  • For Tan:
    Ch j10; St h10; N f10; C e10; De d10; Go c10; Wa a10;
    Pr i9; Sc h9; K g9; W f9; F e9; Co d9; Sc c9; Ma b9;
    P j8, i8; Gu h8; P g8-d8; Gu c8; P b8, a8

or like the mirror image of the above setup, that is:

PawnPawnGuardPawnPawn PawnPawnGuardPawnPawn
 MarquisSciroccoCommonerFirzan WazirKingSciroccoPriest 
Wagon GoatDervishCamel Knight Stork Chariot

  • For Blue:
    Wa a1; Go c1; De d1; C e1; N f1; St h1; Ch j1;
    Ma b2; Sc c2; Co d2; F e2; W f2; K g2; Sc h2; Pr i2;
    P a3, b3; Gu c3; P d3-g3; Gu h3; P i3, j3
  • For Tan:
    Wa j10; Go h10; De g10; C f10; N e10; St c10; Ch a10;
    Ma i9; Sc h9; Co g9; F f9; W e9; K d9; Sc c9; Pr b9;
    P j8, i8; Gu h8; P g8-d8; Gu c8; P b8, a8

Tan chooses the setup used by each player, and the 2 players need not have the same setup. Thus, there are 4 possible initial configurations altogether, which are known by the piece starting out in each player's lower-left corner:

  • Chariot-Chariot Setup: Blue Chariot a1, Tan Chariot j10.
  • Chariot-Wagon Setup: Blue Chariot a1, Tan Wagon j10.
  • Wagon-Chariot Setup: Blue Wagon a1, Tan Chariot j10.
  • Wagon-Wagon Setup: Blue Wagon a1, Tan Wagon j10.

The Chariot-Chariot and Wagon-Wagon setups, which have rotational symmetry, are equivalent to each other, since they are mirror images, and every piece in the game moves the same way to the left as to the right. The Chariot-Wagon and Wagon-Chariot setups, which have mirror symmetry, are also fundamentally equivalent. The rotationally symmetric and mirror-symmetric setups are fundamentally different, however; for example, opposing Firzans can attack each other in the rotationally symmetric setups but not the mirror-symmetric setups.

The Pieces

Here is a summary of the pieces used in the game. Their moves are described in a notation that I hope will not be too obscure (at least to those familiar with other chess variants), but if it is not clear, each piece is described in detail below.

PieceAbbreviationAbilities Promotes toPromoted AbbreviationPromoted Abilities
Pawn P forward W (moving) + forward F (capturing) Alfil AA
Dabbaba DD
Frog FrW + F + (3,0) leaper + (3,3) leaper
Guard GuW (moving) + F (capturing) Zebra ZZ
Bishop BB
Priest PrF + N Duke DuN + R4
Scirocco ScW + B Genie GeQ3 + capture by igui on adjacent squares
Vulture VuB (moving) + R (capturing) + W + F
King KW + F; royal Emperor EmW + D + A; royal
Wazir WW Zag ZaF + A + hop-capture over orthogonally adjacent pieces
Firzan FF Zig ZiW + D + hop-capture over diagonally adjacent pieces
Commoner CoW + F Wildebeest WiN + C
Marquis MaW + N Abbot AbN + B4
Chariot ChR4 Octopus OcF then R outwards; can move but not capture as F
Stork StW (capturing) + A Queen QR + B
Knight NN Rook RR
Camel CC Squirrel SqD + N + A
Dervish DeD + A; also, adjacent friendly pieces can hop over Dervish (without capturing it) Harpy HaQ (moving); cannot capture; relays to friendly pieces ability to move as N on squares one N-move away
Goat GoF (moving) + D Lioness LiW + F + D + N + A
Wagon WaR, but not to orthogonally adjacent space (blockable there) Spider SpW then B outwards; can move but not capture as W

Note that none of the initial pieces is as powerful as a Rook. I wanted to get away from the every-piece-an- Amazon feel of many modern chess variants, and encourage a more contemplative and less tactical opening than such games lead to. Ralph Betza's DemiChess is another recent variant with a similar aim (by someone who is a far better chess player than I am).

The Pawn, Guard, and Scirocco all have special promotion rules, as explained below.

In alphabetical order:

Abbot (Ab)

The Abbot moves and captures like a Knight, or like a Bishop, but not farther away than 4 spaces.

The Abbot is based on the frequently invented combination of Knight and Bishop. Since Grand Chess was a part of the inspiration for this game, I thought I should have a Knight + Bishop piece in the game somewhere, but I seemed to have too many strong promoted pieces, so I limited the range of the Bishop movement. The Knight + Bishop combination is called the "Cardinal" in Grand Chess, and I thought I'd keep the ecclesiastical theme in the Abbot's name (as well as the Priest's).

Alfil (A)

The Alfil is a (2,2) leaper; that is, it leaps 2 spaces diagonally, ignoring any intervening piece.

The Alfil is a piece of ancient lineage, being the predecessor to the modern Bishop. It seemed unfair to leave it entirely out Scirocco, since it entertained so many for so many centuries. However, it is a very weak piece, weaker even than the typical piece in this game, and so it has a place only in the complex promotion sequence of the Pawn.

Bishop (B)

The Bishop moves the same as its Orthochess equivalent; that is, it moves when not capturing diagonally any number of clear spaces, and captures by moving diagonally across any number of clear spaces to the first space occupied by an opposing piece, which the Bishop replaces.

The Bishop is a part of the complex promotion cycle for the Guard.

Camel (C)

The Camel is a (3,1) leaper; that is to say, it leaps directly to any space that could be reached by moving 3 spaces along any rank or file, and then one space at right angles. It is thus a sort of extended, colorbound Knight.

The Camel is exactly the sort of piece I wanted to showcase in Scirocco: fairly weak, but not worthless (it's worth a little less than a Knight). The Camel's movement geometry is also different from that of every other unpromoted piece, so that it can attack without being attacked.

Chariot (Ch)

The Chariot moves and captures like a Rook, but not farther away than 4 spaces.

The Chariot is one of the 2 Rook-like pieces I derived by reducing the strength of a Rook, so that the Scirocco could claim to be the most powerful piece on the board (at least initially).

Ralph Betza has conducted some experiments with this piece.

Commoner (Co)

The Commoner (known in some games as the "Mann") moves and captures exactly like a King, but is not royal (capturing it does not end the game).

This piece is retained from Courier Chess, although I moved it away from the King in the initial layout to make the layout more symmetric.

Dabbaba (D)

The Dabbaba is a (2,0) leaper; that is, it leaps 2 spaces orthogonally, ignoring any intervening piece.

The name "Dabbaba" was used for various unorthodox pieces in medieval Islamic chess variants. The move we generally associate with this name today is the one from Timur's Great Chess. The word "dabbaba" means a kind of war machine; its English translation is "sow", but I have no idea what it looks like.

In Scirocco, the Dabbaba is a part of the complex promotion sequence of the Pawn. The Dabbaba is too weak to be a valuable piece in the endgame; in play, it is usually promoted quickly to the rather powerful Frog.

Dervish (De)

The Dervish moves and captures 2 steps orthogonally or diagonally. It leaps any intervening piece without capturing or being blocked by it. In addition, any friendly piece on any of the 8 adjacent squares may leap to the opposite side of the Dervish (to move or capture, provided the target square is not occupied by a friendly piece). Thus, if you have a Dervish on g5 and a Pawn on f4, the Pawn may leap to h6 (or make a normal Pawn move).

A piece cannot promote on a turn when it uses the Dabbaba- or Alfil-like move relayed by a Dervish; it can promote only when moving under its own power.

A dervish is a Muslim ascetic. Dervish orders are known for their whirling dances (to induce a trance-like state). The movements of the adjacent pieces across the Dervish reminded me of whirling, whence the name.

Duke (Du)

The Duke moves and captures like a Knight, or like a Rook, but not farther away than 4 spaces.

The Duke is to the Marquis as the Abbot is to the Priest; it extends the one-step move to a 4-step ride. However, I made the Marquis promote to the Abbot, not to the Duke, so that the promoted Marquis wouldn't be a superset of the Marquis (meaning there might be situations where you would decline promotion). Hence the Priest promotes to the Duke, not to the Abbot.

The Knight + Rook combination is called the "Marshall" in Grand Chess, and I thought I'd give this piece a vaguely military sounding name. "General" sounded too much like "Genie", and is also the translation of "Firzan". The two-character abbreviation for "Colonel" would have been identical to that of "Commoner". I settled on "Duke"; the name is hard to confuse with that of other pieces, and was originally a military title, from Latin dux, meaning "leader".

Emperor (Em)

The Emperor moves and captures one or 2 steps orthogonally, or 2 steps diagonally. When moving 2 steps, it leaps any intervening piece without capturing or being blocked by it. In other words, the Emperor moves as a Wazir, Dabbaba, or Alfil.

The Emperor is more difficult to catch than a King, especially if it is in the middle of the board. However, it is vulnerable to attacks from diagonally adjacent squares, so it is not always wise to promote a King to an Emperor.

Firzan (F)

  • Promotes to Zig

The Firzan, also known variously as "Fers", "Ferz", or "Farzin", moves and captures one step diagonally.

The Firzan (Arabic, from the Persian word for "general") was present in the oldest forms of chess of which we are aware, but has been replaced in Orthochess by the Queen. The Firzan is also present in Courier Chess.

Frog (Fr)

The Frog moves and captures as a Commoner or as a (3,0) or (3,3) leaper; that is, it can move to an adjacent square, or leap to a square 3 steps away orthogonally or diagonally (ignoring any intervening pieces).

The Frog is the end point of the promotion sequence of the Pawn. It has considerable forking ability, and often plays an important role in the endgame.

Genie (Ge)

The Genie moves and captures as a Queen, but not farther away than 3 spaces. In addition, the Genie can capture an opposing piece on an (orthogonally or diagonally) adjacent square without moving.

The Genie is generally the most powerful piece in the game because of its ability to capture a protected piece without exposing itself to harm. Endgame strategies often include an attempt to promote a Scirocco to a Genie, although this is somewhat more difficult than promoting it to a Vulture; see the promotion rules under the entry for the Scirocco.

Goat (Go)

The Goat moves and captures by leaping 2 steps orthogonally (like a Dabbaba); it may also move one square diagonally, but not to capture. When moving 2 steps, it leaps any intervening piece without capturing or being blocked by it.

The Goat is a weakened form of Kirin, a piece from Chu Shogi. The Kirin can capture as well as move one step diagonally. I wanted to add the Kirin for a bit of Chu Shogi flavor, but I already had too many 8-fold leapers, so I toned it down a bit and gave it a less exotic name.

Guard (Gu)

The Guard moves without capturing one step orthogonally, or captures one step diagonally. It is a sort of omnidirectional Pawn.

The Guard's Pawn-like nature allows it to participate in a Pawn chain, but unlike an easily blocked Pawn, it can get up and leave if it becomes bored.

The Guard, along with the Pawn and the Scirocco, has special rules governing its promotion. The Guard promotes to a Zebra in the usual way; however, the Zebra also promotes to a Bishop, again subject to the usual promotion rules. That Bishop, however, is entitled to promote back to a Zebra (again, only under the standard promotion conditions), which may promote back to a Bishop, and so on. I wanted an excuse to include both the Zebra and the Bishop in the game, and this seemed like an amusing way to do it.

Harpy (Ha)

The Harpy moves like a Queen, but cannot capture by itself. However, any friendly piece a Knight's move away from the Harpy is temporarily granted the additional power to move and capture like a Knight (as long as it starts its move a Knight's move away from the Harpy); pieces that can already move like a Knight are not affected. A piece cannot promote on a turn when it uses the Knight's move relayed by a Harpy; it can promote only when moving under its own power.

The Harpy is kin to the Knight in Knight-Relay Chess, but unlike the Relay Knight, a Harpy is not immune from capture.

The Harpy is pretty useless if you don't have a lot of pieces left; in such a case, it's probably better to leave your Dervish unpromoted. If you have a bunch of weak pieces and can place the Harpy where it influences several of them, however, the Harpy can be quite powerful.

King (K)

The King moves and captures one step to any of the 8 orthogonally and diagonally adjacent squares. Capturing the opposing King or Emperor wins the game (by convention, the game more commonly ends with checkmate, an unstoppable threat to capture the King or Emperor. However, note that the victory conditions for Scirocco are different from those of Orthochess).

The King has moved the same way for almost a millenium and a half, so why mess with success?

Knight (N)

The Knight is a (2,1) leaper; that is to say, it leaps directly to any space that could be reached by moving 2 spaces along any rank or file, and then one space at right angles.

The Knight is a piece retained from the earliest known forms of chess. I placed it towards the center because it seemed a little difficult to develop from the wings on the 10 by 10 board, where it starts out in Grand Chess, but it isn't particularly easy to develop from its back-rank initial position in Scirocco, either.

Lioness (Li)

The Lioness can leap to any square a King could reach in 2 moves; that is, it is a combination of Wazir, Firzan, Dabbaba, Knight, and Alfil.

The Lioness is inspired by the Chu Shogi piece called the Lion. In addition to moving like the Lioness, the Lion can make 2 full King-type moves on a single turn, with the ability to capture pieces on both parts of the move, or to move back to the starting square. This seemed like too much power to put on the board in Scirocco, even in the endgame, so I used the weaker (but still impressive) Lioness, which is worth roughly as much as a Queen.

The promotion of Goat to Lioness also has a Chu Shogi origin; in Chu Shogi, the Kirin, which inspired the Goat, promotes to a Lion.

Marquis (Ma)

The Marquis moves and captures like a Wazir or a Knight.

The antecedent of the Marquis is the Marshall (Rook + Knight) of Christian Freeling's Grand Chess, but the Marshall is much too powerful (worth nearly as much as a Queen) to be a starting piece in Scirocco.

Octopus (Oc)

The Octopus moves one step diagonally, then like a Rook orthogonally, but only in a direction away from its starting square. That is, it cannot reach an orthogonally adjacent square. It can both move and capture on the Rook-like part of its move, but it can only move without capturing to the diagonally adjacent square. That means that the closest square on which it can make a capture is a Knight's move away.

The name "Octopus" for this piece comes from a copy of some unpublished material on a game concept called "Generalized Chess" by the great game inventor Wayne Schmittberger, forwarded to me by Edward Jackman. It wasn't clear from Wayne's description whether his Octopus could actually move one space diagonally or had to move at least as far as a Knight, so I split the difference and allowed the Scirocco Octopus to move like a Firzan but not to capture like one.

The ultimate ancestor of the Octopus is probably the Giraffe of Timur's Great Chess. Timur's Giraffe moves differently from the piece we usually know today as the Giraffe; Timur's Giraffe moves like the Octopus, but must move a minimum distance of 4 steps, i.e., at least as far as a modern Giraffe's move.

Pawn (P)

The Pawn moves one step straight ahead when not capturing, or one step diagonally forwards (left or right) to capture. Unlike the Orthochess Pawn, the Pawn in Scirocco does not have the option of making a 2-step move.

The Pawn promotes to the Alfil, which is worth barely more than a Pawn, and which in turn promotes to the Dabbaba, which is scarcely worth more than the Alfil. The Dabbaba, however, promotes to the Frog, which is reasonably powerful.

The reason for the Pawn's long promotion sequence is that although I wanted it to promote to a piece strong enough to make a difference in the endgame, it didn't seem fair to promote the Pawn to a piece too far out of proportion with the Pawn's own strength. So I made the Pawn first go through the ritual of promoting to Alfil and Dabbaba before it could become a Frog.

Once in a great while, there will actually be a position in the endgame where it is better not to promote a Pawn, Alfil, or Dabbaba immediately, but such situations are rare.

Priest (Pr)

The Priest moves and captures like a Firzan or a Knight.

The antecedent of the Priest is the Grand Chess Cardinal (Bishop + Knight), just as that of the Marquis is the Grand Chess Marshal.

Queen (Q)

The Queen moves and captures like a Rook or Bishop, as in Orthochess.

The promotion of the Stork to the Queen was inspired by the Chu Shogi Phoenix's promtion to Free King. In Chu Shogi, the Free King moves just like an Orthochess Queen, and the Scirocco Stork was derived from the Phoenix.

Rook (R)

The Rook moves the same as its Orthochess equivalent; that is, it moves when not capturing orthogonally any number of clear spaces, and captures by moving orthogonally across any number of clear spaces to the first space occupied by an opposing piece, which the Rook replaces.

The Rook has moved the same way since the earliest forms of chess, but it was too powerful as an initial piece for Scirocco.

Scirocco (Sc)

  • Promotes to Genie after an orthogonal move; promotes to Vulture after a diagonal move

The Scirocco, for which the game is named, is the most powerful of the pieces initially on the board. The Scirocco moves and captures one step orthogonally or any number of steps diagonally, that is, as a Wazir or Bishop. This is the same as the move of the promoted Bishop (or Dragon Horse) in Shogi; the Dragon Horse also exists as an unpromoted piece in Chu Shogi.

The Scirocco, like the Pawns and Guards, is unusual among the pieces in this game in that each player starts off with more than one. I figured that if I wanted to model my game after Courier Chess, then as in that game, I should have a setup where there were twin stars of the show (the 2 Scirocchi) arranged symmetrically about the center.

Like the Pawns and Guards, the Scirocco is also governed by unusual promotion rules. Like any other piece, the Scirocco can promote only at the end of a move that starts or ends within the promotion zone, but in the case of the Scirocco, the promotion allowed depends on the kind of move the Scirocco makes. After a diagonal move, the Scirocco promotes to a Vulture; after an orthogonal move, to a Genie.

When I first started play-testing this game, the Scirocco promoted only to a Genie, regardless of how the Scirocco moved. However, Genies seemed to dominate too many of the endgames. I thought I would make it more difficult to obtain a Genie, and so came up with the idea of the alternative (and weaker) promotion to Vulture. Since it is generally easier for a Scirocco to enter the promotion zone diagonally rather than orthogonally, the new rule made it somewhat easier to obtain a Vulture than a Genie. The result seems to be that endgames are less stereotyped than before I introduced the Vulture, since Genies appear in fewer games.

Spider (Sp)

The Spider moves one step orthogonally, then like a Bishop diagonally, but only in a direction away from its starting square. It can both move and capture on the Bishop-like part of its move, but it can only move without capturing to the orthogonally adjacent square. That means that the closest square on which it can make a capture is a Knight's move away.

The Spider is the diagonal counterpart of the orthogonal Octopus, and like the Octopus, was taken from an unpublished piece by Wayne Schmittberger.

Squirrel (Sq)

The Squirrel moves and captures as a Dabbaba, Knight, or Alfil.

The Squirrel is among the many interesting pieces that appears in Anthony Dickins's A Guide to Fairy Chess. Dickins ascribes its invention to N. Kovacs of Budapest.

Stork (St)

The Stork moves and captures by leaping 2 steps diagonally (like an Alfil); it may also capture one square orthogonally, but not move there without capturing. When moving 2 steps, it leaps any intervening piece without capturing or being blocked by it.

The Stork is a weakened form of Phoenix, a piece from Chu Shogi. The Phoenix can both move and capture one step orthogonally.

Vulture (Vu)

The Vulture captures like a Rook and moves without capturing like a Bishop. It may also capture like a Firzan and move without capturing like a Wazir, so that it can both move and capture on adjacent squares.

The Vulture is only somewhat more powerful than the Scirocco, and weaker than the Scirocco's other promotion, the Genie. However, it is often easier to promote a Scirocco to a Vulture than to a Genie.

Wagon (Wa)

The Wagon moves and captures like a Rook, except that it may not move to or capture on an adjacent space. However, the Wagon may be blocked by a piece on an adjacent space. For example, if a Blue Wagon is located on a1, and Tan pieces are located on a2 and a3, then the Blue Wagon cannot move along the a-file or capture either Tan piece.

An adjacent-space restriction similar to the Wagon's is also found in the Talia, or Scout, in Timur's Great Chess (the web page translates "Talia" as "Picket"). However, the Talia moves as a restricted Bishop, rather than a restricted Rook.

I wanted a weakened form of the Rook so that the Rooks would not steal the show from the Scirocco. Of all the spaces a Rook can move to, the immediately adjacent spaces are probably the most important (at least until the board opens up), so removing the ability to reach an adjacent space makes the Wagon weaker than the Rook by more than you might expect. I chose the name "Wagon" because its meaning is similar to "Chariot", the original name of the Rook; wagons are generally less maneuverable than chariots, so the name seemed appropriate.

Wazir (W)

  • Promotes to Zag

The Wazir moves and captures one step orthogonally.

The name "Wazir" (Arabic, "vizier", meaning a government minister or adviser), like the name "Dabbaba", was used for pieces with different moves in different medieval Islamic chess variants. The Wazir's move in Scirocco is the one commonly used today, and is the same as in Timur's Great Chess.

The Wazir in Scirocco has sufficiently low mobility that it is seldom worthwhile advancing it, and it often winds up as a defender of the King in the endgame.

Wildebeest (Wi)

The Wildebeest moves and captures like a Knight or Camel.

The Wildebeest, also called the Gnu ("gnu" being another word for "wildebeest"), is among the pieces described in Anthony Dickins's A Guide to Fairy Chess. Wayne Schmittberger liked the piece well enough to name a chess variant, Wildebeest Chess, after it.

Zag (Za)

The Zag moves and captures like a Firzan or Alfil; in addition, it may leap an orthogonally adjacent hostile piece to capture it, provided that the space immediately beyond (where the Zag winds up) is empty. The Zag may not move orthogonally when not capturing, however.

I made up the name and the move of this piece especially for this game. The Zag is the diagonal counterpart of the orthogonally moving Zig.

Zebra (Z)

The Zebra is a (3,2) leaper; that is to say, it leaps directly to any space that could be reached by moving 3 spaces along any rank or file, and then 2 spaces at right angles. This makes it an even more extended "Knight" than a Camel.

Because of its long reach, the Zebra is fairly weak as leapers go; it has relatively few squares on the board from which it exercise its full power. This weak-but-not-too-weak piece seemed like a good first step in the promotion cycle of the Guard.

Zig (Zi)

The Zig moves and captures like a Wazir or Dabbaba; in addition, it may leap a diagonally adjacent hostile piece to capture it, provided that the space immediately beyond (where the Zig winds up) is empty. The Zig may not move diagonally when not capturing, however.

I made up the name and the move of this piece especially for this game. The Zig is the orthogonal counterpart of the diagonally moving Zag.

Promotion Rules

A piece may promote at the end of any move it makes that starts or ends (or both starts and ends) in its owner's promotion zone. Blue's promotion zone is ranks 8 through 10, or Tan's home territory; Tan's is ranks 1 through 3, Blue's home territory.

Promotion is always optional. Even when you move a Pawn onto the 10th rank, you are within your rights (if not in your right mind) not to promote it.

Promotion cannot occur when a piece moves using a movement capability relayed by a Dervish or Harpy. If a piece to which a movement capability could be relayed already has the movement capability in question (as in the case of a Goat leaping orthogonally over a Dervish), the piece is considered to be moving under its own power, and may promote if its move starts or ends within the promotion zone.

If a Dervish located within the promotion zone relays a move to another piece, the Dervish does not thereby gain the right to promote on that turn.

Victory Conditions

You lose the game (and your opponent wins) if any of the following occurs:
  • Your King or Emperor is captured.

  • Your King or Emperor is bared; that is, your only remaining piece is the King or Emperor.

    Unlike the usual version of this Bare King rule, there is no provision for a draw if you can immediately bare the opponent's King or Emperor; as soon as you are down to one piece, you lose, period.

  • It is your turn and you have no legal move.

It is not, strictly speaking, illegal to move your King or Emperor into check. It is certainly foolish, though.

Note that these rules make stalemate a loss for the stalemated player, not a draw.

The Bare King rule means that when you are reduced to 2 pieces, both are effectively royal.

You can move your King into what looks like check if it captures your opponent's next-to-last piece, since you win the game before your opponent can recapture (the Zillions file I made doesn't permit this, since it thinks the game ends with checkmate rather than actual capture of the royal piece, but fortunately, this situation is rarely important in practice).

Repetition

It is illegal to make a move that causes a given game situation to occur a 3rd time in the same game. Two game situations are considered the same if the same types of pieces are in the same places and it is the same player's turn to move.

Specifically, repetition does not result in a draw; one player must make a move that leaves the cycle of repeating moves. When a player is to move but has no move that would not cause an illegal repetition, that player loses the game.

As an example of this repetition rule, consider how it would apply to a trivial game played on a 2 by 3 board, with rules the same as Scirocco except as specified. The game starts with a White King on a1 and a Black King on b3; in this microscopic chess variant, there is no Bare King rule (so the game is not already over at the beginning). This game must proceed as follows:

1. K-b1 K-a3
2. K-a1 K-b3 ; 2nd occurrence of initial position
3. K-b1 K-a3
4. K-a1

At this point, the move 4. ... K-b3 would recreate the initial position again; this would be the 3rd occurrence of that position, so the move is not legal. If this variant allows a King to move into check, Black must do so (with 4. ... K-a2 or 4. ... K-b2), in which case White will capture the King and win on the next move; if this variant does not allow moving into check, then Black has no legal move, and loses immediately.

Draws

If you have read the above rules carefully, you will realize that any game of Scirocco played to the bitter end cannot result in a draw. Even if neither player is checkmated or reduced to a single royal piece, the repetition rule ensures that the game will end, because the number of possible board positions is finite, and each position cannot occur more than twice. When no more positions are available, the player whose turn it is will lose.

Players may, however, agree to a draw if they are so inclined.

It is conceivable that both players may be reduced to a small number of weak but highly mobile pieces, so that the repetition rule must be invoked to determine who wins the game. For example, each player might have an Emperor and a Harpy. In this case, the 2 sides can wander aimlessly about the board for an astronomical number of moves before the repetition rule finally cuts off one player or the other, and figuring out which player will lose is an absurdly difficult proposition (I think. I haven't actually tried to prove this; there may be some mathematical shortcut that makes the winner in this case obvious). In such a case, unless the players are particularly pigheaded, they should agree to the draw.

I'm not going to pin down exactly when agreeing to a draw is advisable, but if I hear of anyone playing a game of Scirocco that lasts thousands of moves, I will be very disappointed.

Strategy

Scirocco has not been extensively play-tested. In fact, I have played it only against Zillions (and I have let Zillions play against itself). However, so far, the game seems to play pretty much the way I envisioned it. It will, however, be interesting to see how 2 human players do with the game, since Zillions definitely does not play the way a human being would.

Scirocco typically opens with both sides advancing their weak pieces (Pawns, Guards, and Firzans) to try control the middle ranks of the board. The center files appear to be less critical than in Orthochess, probably because there are more files, and because so many of the pieces are short-range and would not gain mobility by being in the exact center of the board.

The opening may see an exchange or two (the Camels are often exchanged in the rotationally symmetric setups), but exchanges don't usually begin in earnest until after around move 20. By this time, stronger pieces will have been moved in to back up the weak pieces advanced in the opening.

The midgame consists of a long series of positional posturings and occasional exchanges (of pieces that are close in value, if the players are both good). Eventually (somewhere around move 50 to 80 or so) the board has been significantly cleared, and one or both players can make a breakthrough into the promotion zone.

Zillions plays a pretty good middlegame (much better than I do, if I crank its thinking time up; but then, I'm a pathetic chess player). However, Zillions doesn't seem to have much of a sense of the value of promotion, and rarely sacrifices material to achieve a breakthrough. A human player who hasn't lost too much material in the middlegame can take advantage of this weakness in Zillions to make an early breakthrough with a strongly promoting piece to mate the computer's King.

I hope that a game between 2 competent, aggressive human players will often end in a tight mating race. If some decent players are willing to try the game, then we'll see.

Most games of Scirocco seem to last around 100 moves, give or take a couple of dozen. Games ending in bared King (or bared Emperor) and games ending in mate both occur pretty frequently.

Notation

Most of the types of moves in Scirocco do not present any problem for conventional chess notation. Some possible points of difficulty:
  • Simple moves: Because the abbreviations of many piece names are 2 characters, it looks less confusing to me to use a dash consistently between a piece abbreviation and the piece's destination (e.g., Wa-a7 rather than Waa7), but leaving out the dash does not actually introduce any ambiguity.
  • Relayed moves: These can be recorded as normal moves; it should be obvious from context when a move was relayed.
  • Promotions: You can record these as unpromoted-destination=promoted or Shogi-style as unpromoted-destination+, since it is always obvious from context what a piece promotes to.
  • Igui captures: I suggest using the x! notation usual for Chu Shogi; e.g., Gex!c6 for a Genie capturing a Pawn on c6.
  • Hop-captures: This can be notated as a normal capture or normal move, since there is no ambiguity (a Zig or Zag always winds up one square beyond where the capture occurred); however, a notation showing both the capture square and destination square (e.g., Zixd4-e5) may avoid momentary confusion in the mind of a reader.

The Zillions File

Zillions of Games! is a computer program that plays a variety of strategy games. In addition to playing the games that come with the program, if you design your own game and describe it to Zillions using the remarkable ZRF language (a process that requires only a modicum of hair-pulling and teeth-gnashing), then Zillions will play your game, too. This is a marvelous, awesome, stupendous, amazing thing, and if you have a PC and don't have a copy of Zillions, then you should click on over to the Zillions Development web site and order yourself a copy right now. (Alas, a Macintosh version is not available.)

I have made a Zillions file (well, really a bunch of files; a number of bitmap files are necessary in addition to the ZRF file, so that Zillions can draw the board and the pieces) which I have ZIPped and which you can download. The ZIP file expands to a directory called Scirocco; if you unZIP it into the Zillions directory, and double-click on Scirocco\scirocco.zrf, you'll be playing Scirocco!


Written by Adrian King.
This variant is an entry in the 1999 Large Variant contest.


WWW page created: March 2, 1999. Last modified: May 8, 1999.