The Chess Variant Pages

Chaturanga 4-84


Peter Aronson


          In the end of the 19th century, researchers thought that Chaturanga for Four Players was the original predecessor of chess, and that it was three thousand years old. No one believes that any more. However, for the 84 Squares design contest I decided to update the "ancestor" of Chess for 84 squares and modern pieces (plus a few exotic touches like leaping Pawns and switching Kings and pocket Wazirs). Thus, Chaturanga 4-84, a Chess variant on 84 squares for two or four players.

Board and Setup

          There are four armies in this game, each of a different color. Each army starts with a King, a Queen, a Rook, a Bishop and five Pawns on the board, and a Wazir in hand. The armies are, starting from the top and moving clockwise around the board: Red, Green, Yellow and Black. Red is teamed with Yellow, and Green is teamed with Black.

10              W |:N:| B |:K:| Q |:R:|
9 | r |:p:|   |:::| P |:P:| P |:P:| P |
8 |:q:| p |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|
7 | k |:p:|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   | w
6 |:b:| p |:::|   |:\:| / |:::|   |:p:| n |
5 | n |:p:|   |:::| / |:\:|   |:::| p |:b:|
4   w |   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:p:| k |
3     |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::| p |:q:|
2     | P |:P:| P |:P:| P |:::|   |:p:| r |
1     |:R:| Q |:K:| B |:N:| W
    a   b   c   d   e   f   g   h   i   j
King (K): g10
Queen (Q): h10
Rook (R): i10
Bishop (B): f10
Knight (N): e10
Wazir (W): in hand
Pawn (P): e9, f9, g9, h9, i9
King (K): d1
Queen (Q): c1
Rook (R): b1
Bishop (B): e1
Knight (N): f1
Wazir (W): in hand
Pawn (P): b2, c2, d2, e2, f2
King (K): j4
Queen (Q): j3
Rook (R): j2
Bishop (B): j5
Knight (N): j6
Wazir (W): in hand
Pawn (P): i2, i3, i4, i5, i6
King (K): a7
Queen (Q): a8
Rook (R): a9
Bishop (B): a6
Knight (N): a5
Wazir (W): in hand
Pawn (P): b5, b6, b7, b8, b9
The four marked squares in the middle of the board (e5, f5, e6, f6) are referred to as the old squares, and are special.


          The rules of Chaturanga 4-84 are identical to those of International Chess (also called usual Chess), except when noted below.

          Each side consists of two armies: the Red and Yellow armies are allied against the Green and Black armies. The order of play is the Red army, the Green army, the Yellow army, then the Black army. You may not capture an allied piece.

          The game can either be played by four players, one per army, or can be played "double dummy", where each player plays both armies belonging to a side. The order of movement of the armies is not changed for two players.

          There are three ways to win:

  1. Capture (not checkmate) both opposing Kings;
  2. When an opposing army has no legal move (this includes when all pieces of that army have been captured), and it is time to move a piece of that army -- or in other words, stalemate is a loss for the stalemated side;
  3. Simultaneously occupy all four "old" squares in the middle of the board (e5, f5, e6, f6) with pieces of your side (from either or both armies).

          Note that capturing all pieces of an army does not win by itself, but leads to a stalemate (and thus a loss for that army's side) the next time that it is that army's turn to move. This means that play continues until that army's turn comes, and possibily the side that has lost all pieces of one army could still win by capturing the second King of their opponents, or by occupying the last old square.

The Pieces

          Each army consists of a King, a Queen, a Rook, a Bishop, a Knight and five Pawns on the board, and a Wazir in hand.

          Kings move as in usual Chess, and may be captured like any other piece. If an army loses its King, the rest of the pieces may still move normally. Kings have the additional power of swapping position with any adjacent piece on their own side (including pieces of the allied army). Kings are not affected by the old squares.

          Queens move as in usual Chess, except if they start their move on one of the four old squares in the center of the board, they may only move one square diagonally (like a Ferz).

          Rooks move as in usual Chess, except if they start their move on one of the four old squares in the center of the board, they are limited to leaping exactly two squares left, right, up or down, passing over any piece of either side on the first square (like a Dabbabah).

          Bishops move as in usual Chess, except if they start their move on one of the four old squares in the center of the board, they are limited to leaping exactly two squares diagonally, passing over any piece on the first square (like an Alfil).

          Knights move as in usual Chess. They are not affected by the old squares.

          Wazirs move one step Rookwise. They are not affected by the old squares. The Wazirs start off of the board, and as a move may be dropped onto any empty square on the board except the four old squares in the center of the board.

          Pawns move as in usual Chess, except that they have no initial double-move (and so can not capture or be captured en-passant), and they have the additional power that they may leap over a piece of either side immediately in front of them, landing on an empty square immediately behind the leapt over piece. For the Red Pawns, forward is down, for the Green Pawns it is left, for the Yellow Pawns it is up, and for the Black Pawns it is right. Pawns attack along the diagonals on either side of their forward direction.

Pawns promote upon reaching the far side of the board, or upon reaching a square on which an opposing piece other than a Pawn started, or upon capturing a King or a Queen. Here are the squares on which Red army's Pawns promote (aside from by capture), indicated by a circle or a star.

10              W |:N:| B |:K:| Q |:R:|
9 | * |:::|   |:::| P |:P:| P |:P:| P |
8 |:*:|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|
7 | * |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |
6 |:*:|   |:::|   |:\:| / |:::|   |:::| * |
5 | * |:::|   |:::| / |:\:|   |:::|   |:*:|
4     |   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::| * |
3     |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:*:|
2     |   |:::|   |:::|   |:*:| * |:*:| * |
1     |:*:| * |:*:| * |:*:| 
    a   b   c   d   e   f   g   h   i   j
The other armies' promotion squares can be determined in a similar fashion. Pawns promote to any piece previously lost by their army other than a King, but are not required to promote when they make a move that would allow them to promote. A Pawn starting its turn on a square on which it could promote, may as its move for that turn, promote without any other movement. Pawns swapped onto a promotion square by a friendly King do not promote at that time, but may promote later as above. Pawns are not affected by the old squares.


          Many four-player Chess variants restrict communication between players. I suggest three modes of communication, but do not insist on any of them. Players should agree on their rules for communication before play begins. The suggested modes are:

  • Unlimited communications. Players can say anything they like to their teammate, as long as it is said at the table, and in a language that their opponents understand. Speaking in code is unsportsmanlike.
  • Signs. Each player has three signs: one with "Help!!!" written on it, one with "Do you need help?", and one with "Just WHAT are you doing!?" written on it. Players may not directly talk about the game, but they may hold up one of their three signs so that all may see.
  • Total silence. No word whatsoever may be spoken at the game table. Facial expressions are discouraged. Humming is an automatic loss. Rubber mallets may be distributed for enforcement.


          This game can easily be played with two different Western Chess sets (invert a Rook for the Wazir), and either an Omega Chess board or an International Draughts/Checkers board, with the squares not required blocked out with construction paper (the board being basically 10 by 10 with four strips of four squares blocked off). Even better would be one of Fergus Duniho's Chess Variant Construction Set, so that the exact board could be constructed.


          This is a relatively conservative design for me. Really. I've adapted the rules for Chaturanga for Four Players to an 84 square board, updated the pieces for modern movement, and added a few additional elements for interest. The leaping Pawns are to help avoid congestion; they originated in L. Legan's game Fortresses of 1913. The swapping King was borrowed from Fergus Duniho's game Yáng Qí, without the restrictions of not using it when in check or with Pawns. This move allows the Bishops to change color, and makes it a bit harder to hunt down all of the Kings. The pocket Wazir was to give each side one more piece without having to find a place on the board for it (and because pocket pieces are fun). It also allows a slow moving piece to be put where it is needed. The old squares makes the Queen and Bishop revert to their most likely moves in Chaturanga, (the Rook in Chaturanga did not move like a Dabbabah -- that was added for balance -- although some people believe that in some ancestoral version of Chess it did so move), making the center harder to control. Of course, if you can occupy all four of the squares, that's another way to win, making the center more desirable.

Zillions of Games

          I have written an implementation of Chaturanga 4-84 for Zillions of games. You can download it here:

Zillions does not handle team games well, so the ZRF is for 2-Player or "double-dummy" play only.

Written by Peter Aronson.
WWW page created: January 7th, 2002.