The Chess Variant Pages

Storm the Ivory Tower:
Old Rules


Created by Fergus Duniho in 2003, Storm the Ivory Tower is a synthesis of Smess and Chinese Chess. The name is modeled after "Take the Brain," the British name for Smess. The Ivory Tower is the sanctuary of the Brain, the royal piece in this game. It is the counterpart to the palace in Chinese Chess. The name also has a connection to the Chinese name for Chinese Chess, which literally means Elephant Chess, for ivory comes from elephants.

As in Smess, each space on the board is a square with arrows on it, and it is these arrows that determine which directions any piece may move. No piece is distinguished from others by which directions it may move. But unlike Smess, the pieces aren't limited to riders and one-step leapers. Chinese Chess has the distinction of using several pieces that are distinguished from each other by more than what directions they move. This allows for an easier adaptation to a Smess-type game. Storm the Ivory Tower draws from Chinese Chess to introduce distinctively new pieces to a Smess board. The Yahoo is based on the Horse, the Dumbo on the Elephant, and the Clodhopper on the Cannon. Due to the configuration of arrows in the Ivory Tower, The Brain and his Toadies move mainly as the General and his Councellors do in Korean Chess. The Ninnies are more like Korean Pawns than Chinese Pawns, for the game has no river, and they aren't limited to moving forward. These similarities to Korean Chess are mainly due to the greater similarity of Smess to Korean Chess. Every piece is either taken from Smess or based on Chinese Chess.


This board is based on the same idea as the Smess board, but it is not closely modeled after it. Each side of the board has an Ivory Tower, colored in different shades of ivory, which plays the same role as the palace in Chinese Chess. The arrows in the tower are configured to keep the Brain and his Toadies from leaving. Some arrows are configured to give pieces similar moves to their Chinese Chess counterparts at the beginning of the game. Orthogonal arrows are blue or green. Diagonal arrows are brown. An empty board is shown here, so that you can see all the arrows without pieces obscuring any.


The setup is based on Chinese Chess. Each piece starts in the same position as its counterpart from Chinese Chess. The piece colors of red and blue are common to both Smess and Chinese Chess.


Every piece in this game is the analogue of a Chinese Chess piece. The main difference is that these pieces are not distinguished by which directions they can move. They are distinguished only by the other characteristics that distinguish the pieces in Chinese Chess. Brains, Ninnies, and Numskulls come from Smess. The other pieces were created by myself, Fergus Duniho.

The Brain is the royal piece in this game. You lose if it's checkmated or stalemated. It moves one space in any direction indicated by the arrows on the square it moves from. Due to the configuration of arrows in the Ivory Tower, it may never leave the Ivory Tower. But it does have an additional power beyond what the Brain has in Smess. It may move like a Numskull to capture the enemy Brain. Since Brains are never captured, this works much like the rule against opposing Kings in Chinese and Korean Chess. The difference is that the Brain cannot attack the other Brain from the third rank, for none of the spaces in the Ivory Tower's third rank point toward the other Ivory Tower. This allows one Brain to actually check the other Brain on occasion.

The Toady moves one space in any direction indicated by the arrows on the square it is on. Like the Brain, it may never leave the Ivory Tower, for the configuration of arrows in the Tower keeps it trapped inside. It is called a Toady, because it always stays close to the Brain. It is based on the Councellor from Chinese Chess. It moves just like the Councellor in Korean Chess.


The Yahoo is the counterpart of the Horse. It makes a two-step move. First, it moves one space in any direction that the arrows on its square point. But it cannot stop at this point. So long as this space is empty, it continues its move by stepping one more space in any direction that the arrows on this new space point. This allows a Yahoo to change directions on its move. Like the Chinese Chess Horse, the Yahoo can be blocked. It cannot stop on the first step of its move, and it cannot leap over an occupied space. One more restriction on the Yahoo is that it may not finish its move on the same space it started from.

There is one exception to how the Yahoo normally moves. Whenever it moves from or within its own side's Ivory Tower, it moves against the arrows on Ivory Tower spaces rather than with them. So, when the arrows on a space within its own Ivory Tower affect its movement, it can move in any direction opposite to the arrows. This exception keeps it from becoming trapped in its own Ivory Tower, a predicament that would make the game too drawish.

The name comes from Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, in which Gulliver comes upon an island of intelligent horses who use stupid, uncivilized humans as beasts of burden. The horses call these people yahoos. This makes Yahoo a fitting name for the piece that replaces the Horse.

The Numskull is the counterpart to the Chariot. It slides any number of spaces along any rank, file, or diagonal the arrows on its square point. It never changes direction on its move. Only the arrows on the square it begins its move from affect the direction of its move. It moves across any number of empty spaces until it stops on an empty space, captures an enemy piece, or is blocked by a friendly piece or the edge of the board. It may never jump over another piece. The piece and its name both come from Smess.

The Clodhopper is based on the Cannon from Chinese Chess. It moves like a Numskull, except that it may capture a piece only by hopping over an intervening piece. I came across the name Clodhopper while searching for synonyms for Boor, because I thought a piece that captured by hopping over others seemed a bit boorish. Clodhopper seemed to be an especially fitting name, because this sort of piece is technically known as a hopper. In this sense, Clodhopper was fitting in two ways. You may think of the piece as one that hops over clods, for most of the pieces in this game are clods of some sort. You may also think of it as a clod who hops. The word literally refers to a kind of big, heavy shoe. By analogy, it refers to some kind of uncultured lout.

The Dumbo is based on the Elephant from Chinese Chess. It steps two spaces in any direction the arrows on its square point. It steps one space, then one more space in the same direction. If the first space it moves to is not empty, it may not move to the second space. Besides its two-space move, it may move one space without capturing. The name comes from the Disney character, Dumbo the flying elephant. But this piece should be thought of as a stupid person, not an actual elephant. The image shows a big-eared person with a tie over his nose.

The Ninny normally moves one space in any direction indicated by the arrows on its square. But when a Ninny is in its own Ivory Tower, it moves against the arrows rather than with them. This means that it can move in any direction for which an arrow is pointing in an opposite direction. Moving against the arrows in the Ivory Tower allows it to escape the Tower, and it also limits the Ninny's mobility within the Tower. This solves two problems. It keep Ninnies from being trapped in the Tower, and it prevents them from being used as extra Toadies, which would make the game too drawish. When a Ninny enters the enemy Ivory Tower, it may promote to any captured piece except a Toady. The player also has the option of letting it remain a Ninny. If it remains a Ninny, it may promote on any subsequent turn that it moves. The piece and name both come from Smess, except that its powers have been somewhat modified for this game. The Ninny is the counterpart to the Pawn in Chinese Chess. It is more like the Pawns in Korean Chess, for it is not limited to moving forward, and its powers don't change upon crossing a river. In fact, like Korean Chess, this game has no river.


Aside from pieces, setup, and the nature of piece movement, which are all described above, the only other thing that distinguishes Storm the Ivory Tower from standard Chess is the object of the game. The object is based on what it is in Chinese Chess instead of standard Chess. The object is to either checkmate or stalemate your opponent's Brain. This is equivalent to capturing the Brain, which is the goal of Smess, except that no capture is actually made. Three-times repetition is also a loss-condition, at least as the game in implemented by Zillions. The rule should really be the same as in Chinese Chess, which is that the same piece may not check the the Brain three turns in a row.


This is one of my most ambitious games to date, and it has required lots of playtesting and tweaking. The earliest version of this game was more of a straightforward combination of Smess and Chinese Chess, but it was much too drawish. Ninnies and Yahoos could both get trapped in a player's own Ivory Tower, which weakened one's attack while also making one's defense too strong. The counterpart to the Elephant, then called a Sycophant, did not have its one-space non-capturing move, and the arrows on the board confined it to its own side of the board. Limiting the Sycophant to one side of the board made the game more drawish by limiting offensive capabilities while overstrengthening defensive capabilities. To make the game less drawish, I had to limit the defensive capabilities of each side while strengthening the offensive capabilities. To do so, I first tried replacing the Sychophant with a piece based on the Korean Elephant, which I called a Dumbo. But I found it too hard to keep track of where this piece could move. It overcomplicated the game, and I decided I wanted a simpler piece more similar to the Chinese Elephant. So I just increased the powers of the Sycophant and renamed it Dumbo. Sycophant had seemed a suitable name when the piece couldn't wander far from the Brain. But now that it could cover the whole board, the name of Sycophant no longer suited it as well. But since Dumbo was a suitable enough name, I gave it that name instead. As for the Ninnies and Yahoos getting trapped in their own Ivory Tower, I tried various solutions until I found one I liked better than the others. I once tried demoting them to Sycophants. I also tried giving them special exit moves. I finally decided to have them move against the arrows while inside their own Ivory Tower.

Computer Play

If you have Zillions of Games installed on your computer, you can play this game. Download file:

You can also play this game by email using the Play-by-Mail system. Here is page with its preset:


To play this game, you should print out a copy of the board. A color printout would be best. If you're able to, make your own board by printing out sections onto sticker paper, then affixing them to artist canvases or to other game boards. A Smess set does not have all the pieces for this game. One option is to use Chinese Chess pieces for their equivalents in Ivory Tower Chess. Another option would be to print out piece images and to apply them to red and blue poker chips. You can either do printouts onto sticker paper, or you can glue your printouts onto the poker chips.

Korean Variant

This variant bases pieces and setup on Korean Chess instead of Chinese Chess. It is like the main version with these differences. Each Brain begins on the center space of his ivory tower, and the Dumbo and Clodhopper move differently, as described below.

This Dumbo is based on the Elephant from Korean Chess. It makes a three-step move with one change of direction. It first moves one space in any direction indicated by the arrows on its square. It then moves two more spaces in any of the directions indicated by the arrows on the square it just moved to. At each but the final step of its move, its move is blocked if the space is occupied. On the last step of its move, it may either occupy an empty space or capture an enemy piece.

This Clodhopper is based on the Cannon in Korean Chess. Like the Numskull, it rides any number of spaces in a straight line, moving in any of the directions that the arrows on its starting space point. But it must hop over another piece to move anywhere. No Clodhopper may hop over another Clodhopper, and a Clodhopper may be used to block a Clodhopper attack.


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Written by Fergus Duniho.
WWW page created: Sunday, September 7, 2003.