The Chess Variant Pages




Optima

by Michael Howe
2/18/03

Introduction

In the early 1990s, influenced by my recent discovery of Robert Abbott's Ultima, I invented several chess variants that used differently-capturing pieces.  The most interesting of these was Optima, a game in which players used 10 pieces chosen from a pool of 20, ensuring that each game was different and that relative piece values were not necessarily constant.  When the program Zillions-of-Games came out, I realized that I finally had a chance to playtest Optima.  In the process of learning Zillions language and implementing Optima, I revised the rules, adding new pieces to the pool and balancing the game by adding guards, a unit intermediate in power between pawns and pieces.  The result, I hope, is a game that is both tactical and positional, with difficult and interesting decisions regarding piece exchanges, and virtually infinite in its combinational possibilities.  But all of that, of course, is for the players to judge.

Board

Optima is played on a checkered board 10 squares wide and 10 squares deep.  A smaller version on a 9x9 board using only 5 major pieces per side is also available.

Goal

To win, a player must capture an opposing royal piece, or deprive the opponent of moves (this can occur by immobilization, an effect possessed by several pieces).  A threefold repetition of a given position is a draw.

Initial Position

In the 10x10 game, each player has 10 pawns on his third rank, 10 guards on his second rank, and 10 pieces, one or two of which are royal, off the board.

In the 9x9 game, each player has 9 pawns on his third rank, 9 guards on his second rank, and 5 pieces, one which is royal, off the board.

Piece sets

In the equal-forces game, each player starts with the same set of pieces off the board.

In the unequal-forces game, a "pool" is created belonging to both players until the placement phase is complete.  In the 10x10 unequal forces game, the pool consists of 20 pieces, two or four of which are royal.  In the 9x9 unequal forces game, the pool consists of 10 pieces, two of which are royal (there is no double-royal option for the 9x9 game). 

In random games, either the pieces, the pieces and guards, or the pieces, guards and pawns are chosen randomly.  The same units are given to each player, and the pieces are randomly arranged by rotation symmetry (i.e., white's piece on a1 is the same type as blue's piece on j10).  Note that in random games, the pawn graphic does not change with the pawn rule; players must be aware of the fact that the pawn rule is nonstandard.  A description of the pawn rule in effect will appear on both the help bar below the board and in the description screen obtained by right-clicking the pawn.

Placement

Equal-forces: starting with white, each player in turn places one of his pieces on his first rank until it is full.  White then makes the first move of the movement phase.

Unequal-forces, single-royal: All placement is to each player's first rank.  White selects and places a royal piece.  Black then places his royal piece and selects and places one other piece from the pool.  Players then alternate placing two pieces from those remaining in the pool.  Placement ends with white placing the last remaining piece and then making the first move of the movement phase.

Unequal-forces, double-royal: All placement is to each player's first rank.  White selects and places a royal piece.  Black then selects and places two royal pieces.  White then places the remaining royal piece and selects and places one other piece from the pool.  Players then alternate placing two pieces from those remaining in the pool.  Placement ends with white placing the last remaining piece and then making the first move of the movement phase.

Note that because of the greater likelihood of imbalance of power between the two sides when choosing from a small piece set, no unequal-forces variant has been provided for the 9x9 version.

Pawns:

By default, pawns move one or two squares in the four orthogonal directions, and capture one square in the four diagonal directions.  A pawn that reaches the 10th rank must promote to a Wizard, which is the most powerful piece in the game and is only available by pawn promotion.

Players who wish to use other pawn rules may, by agreement, change to another of the allowed pawn definitions.  To do this in player-choice games played with Zillions, they will have to manually edit the Optima-10A.zrf or Optima-10B.zrf file.  The Optima-10C.zrf file provides automatic random selection of alternate pawns.

Guards

By default, a guard moves and captures one or two squares in any direction.  Guards do not promote.  Players who wish to use other guard rules may, by agreement, select another of the allowed guard definitions.  To do this in player-choice games played with Zillions, they will have to manually edit the Optima-10A.zrf or Optima-10B.zrf file.  The Optima-10C.zrf file provides automatic random selection of alternate guards.

Pieces

The pieces move and capture as explained below, using references to orthodox chess pieces and to well-known variant pieces for clarity.  For those unfamiliar with the variant pieces to which I refer, brief definitions can be found below.

The pieces have a wide variety of powers, some of which are negated by certain piece attributes, as explained below.

"Proximity" capture means that a piece moves to an empty square and thereby captures enemy units on adjacent squares.  A piece that is "shielded" cannot be captured by proximity.  Variants are provided in which pawns are shielded exclusive of all other pieces; these variants have the effect of reducing the power of proximators, which are generally very powerful.

"Immobilization" means that a unit can neither move nor capture, although an immobilized immobilizer continues to immobilize others.  A "resolute" piece cannot be immobilized.

"Rifle" capture means that piece captures an enemy unit where it stands, without moving.  An "armored" unit cannot be captured in this way.    Guards are armored.  This can be changed, and other pieces can be made armored, by agreement between the players (this will require editing of the ZRF).

"Conversion" is the ability of one piece to change an enemy piece into a friendly one by various methods.  A "loyal" piece cannot be converted.  Royal pieces are captured by whatever method would have converted them.

The Pieces:

Agent: moves as a bishop or wazir; may leap along a diagonal line to the square immediately beyond an enemy unit, except a loyal piece, which converts the enemy unit into a friendly one.  When making a leaping conversion move, it may freely leap over any and all other units on that line.

Ambassador moves and captures like a 2 or 3 square leaping queen.  Captured units are converted into friendly ones of the same type and placed on the square from which the ambassador started its move.  Cannot capture loyal units.

Archer: moves and captures up to 3 squares like a queen and may also capture by shooting an enemy without moving, unless that enemy is armored.

Basilisk: moves and captures like a king or knight, and immobilizes any enemy unit, except resolute pieces, a knight's move away.

Bastion: moves and captures like a ferz, dabbabarider, or slipping dabbabarider.  A slipping dabbabrider first moves one square orthogonally, and then continues in a series of two-square leaps in the same direction.  Shielded.

Battlement: moves like a rook; or moves one orthogonally, turns 90 degrees, and continues like a rook; or like a rook, turns 90 degrees, followed by one orthogonally.  The battlement therefore has two possible paths to squares that are are adjacent ranks or files.

Cavalry: moves like a knight, or to any square than can be reached by first moving like a knight to an empty square and then moving like a knight again.

Centaur: moves and captures like a knight, bishop, or wazir.  Resolute.

Chamberlain: makes one or two consecutive rook moves of one or two squares.  It may capture on either or both parts, but it cannot return to the square from which it started the move.  Loyal.

Chaplain: moves like a wazir, ferz, or alfil, but only to empty squares.  After a ferz or alfil move, all enemy units adjacent to the square to which the chaplain moves are captured, unless they are shielded.

Charger: moves like a knight, but only to empty squares.  All enemy units adjacent to the square to which the charger moves are captured, unless they are shielded.

Chimaera: moves and captures like a rook and immobilizes any enemy unit, except resolute pieces, a rook's move away.

Citadel: moves like a rook but only to empty squares.  Must stop at the first square it encounters that is adjacent to any enemy unit.  All enemy units adjacent to the square to which the citadel moves are captured, unless they are shielded.

Crusader: moves and captures like a king or knight.  Captured units are converted into friendly ones of the same type and placed on the square from which the crusader started its move.  Cannot capture loyal units.

Cyclops: moves and captures like a bishop and immobilizes any enemy unit, except resolute pieces, a bishop's move away; it also moves like a noncapturing wazir.

Dauphin: moves and captures like a queen, and can also leap exactly one unit while capturing like a queen.  Loyal.

Deacon: moves like a wazir or bishop that may freely leap over any and all units.  Captures like a wazir or a bishop with the added ability to leap exactly one unit while capturing.

Diplomat: moves up to 3 like a queen to empty squares; it converts enemy units (except loyal pieces) into friendly ones by approaching them; i.e., by moving directly toward then and stopping on an adjacent empty square.

Dragoon: moves like a wazir or dabbaba but only to empty squares.  All enemy units adjacent to the square to which the dragoon moves are captured, unless they are shielded.

Envoy: moves like a range-2 queen to empty squares; a one-square orthogonal move converts all enemy units adjacent to the destination square, except loyal pieces.

Falcon: moves like a queen with unlimited hopping; it hops to an empty square immediately beyond an enemy unit to capture that unit.  Resolute.

Frigate: moves and captures like a rook; also makes orthogonal proximity captures when moving to empty squares.

General: moves like a queen and freely leaps any number of pieces when moving; it must hop exactly one piece when capturing.  Can also capture like ferz or wazir.  Shielded.

Gorgona: moves like a queen and cannot capture; it immobilizes all enemy units a queen's move away, except resolute pieces.

Hero: moves and captures by leaping up to 3 squares orthogonally or diagonally.  Resolute.

Inquisitor: moves like a bishop or wazir to an empty square; bishop-moves capture all enemies adjacent to its destination square except shielded ones; it must stop on first square it reaches that has an adjacent enemy.

Juggernaut: slides up to three squares like a queen, capturing all enemy units in its path.  It stops only at the player's choice or if it encounters the edge of the board or a friendly unit.  Resolute.

Keep: moves like a king or rook; converts enemies by orthogonal approach or by 1-square orthogonal swap.  Approach means moving directly toward an enemy unit and stopping on an adjacent empty square; the enemy unit then becomes a friendly one.  To swap convert, the keep makes a one-square capture of the enemy piece, which is then converted into a friendly one and placed on the square from which the keep moved.  Approaching a loyal unit has no effect; neither may a loyal unit be swap-converted.

Kite: moves like a wazir or a bishop with the ability to hop any and all units on the diagonal.  If it moves to an empty square immediately beyond an enemy unit, that unit, and all others in a continuous line with it along the diagonal, are captured.  Can also capture like ferz or wazir.

Lancer: moves and captures like a king or knight; it can also capture by shooting an enemy while remaining in place, unless that enemy is armored.

Legion:  slides like a rook, capturing all enemy units in its path.  It stops only at the player's choice or if it encounters the edge of the board or captures an armored unit.

Marshal: moves and captures like a rook, knight, or ferz.  Shielded.

Medusa: leaps to the first or second square orthogonally or diagonally to capture, may move like a queen when not capturing, and immobilizes all adjacent enemy units, except resolute pieces.

Minister: makes one or two consecutive bishop moves of one or two squares.  It may capture on either or both parts, but it cannot return to the square from which it started the move.  Can also move and capture like a wazir.  Loyal.

Myrmidon: moves and captures like a wazir, ferz, knight, or camel.  Shielded.

Nomad: moves and captures like a knightrider, dabbabarider, or alfilrider.  Resolute.

Owl: moves like a rook with the ability to hop any and all units on the rank or file.  If it moves to an empty square immediately beyond an enemy unit, that unit, and all others in a continuous line with it along the rank or file, are captured.  Can also capture like ferz or wazir.

Parapet: moves like a rook that may freely leap over any and all units.  Captures like a rook with the added ability to leap exactly one unit while capturing.

Patriarch: moves like a bishop to an empty square; then turns 90 degrees and moves/captures like a bishop again.  It cannot stop after a single bishop move.  It can also move and capture like a wazir.

Phalanx: moves like a bishop or wazir, capturing all enemy units in its path.  It stops only at the player's choice or if it encounters the edge of the board or captures an armored unit.

Prelate: moves like a bishop; or moves one diagonally, turns 90 degrees, and continues like a bishop; or like a bishop, turns 90 degrees, followed by one diagonally.  The prelate therefore has two possible paths to squares that are are adjacent same-color diagonals.  Also moves and captures like a wazir.

Prince: moves and captures like a knight or a range-3 queen.  Loyal.

Queen: moves and captures like a chess queen. Loyal.

Ranger: moves and captures in a zig-zag series of wazir-steps, turning at a right angle after each step; for example, north-east-north-east, etc.

Regent: moves to empty squares like a range-3 queen but must stop at the first square that as an adjacent enemy unit.  All enemy units adjacent to the destination square are captured, except those with the shielded attribute.

Scout: moves and captures like a wazir, or in a zig-zag series of ferz-steps, turning at a right angle after each step; for example, northeast-northwest-northeast-northwest, etc.  Resolute.

Sloop: moves and captures like a bishop or wazir; also makes diagonal proximity captures when moving like a bishop to empty squares.

Spearman: moves and captures like a rook, and may capture an enemy without moving, unless that enemy is armored.

Spy: moves as a rook; may leap along an orthogonal line to the square immediately beyond an enemy unit, except a loyal piece, which converts the enemy unit into a friendly one.  When making conversion, the spy may freely leap over any and all other units on that line.

Swordsman: moves and captures like a wazir or bishop, and may capture a bishop's move away without moving, unless that enemy is armored.

Tower: moves like a rook to an empty square; then turns 90 degrees and moves/captures like a rook again.  It cannot stop after a single rook move.

Vicar: moves like a king or bishop; it converts enemies by diagonal approach or by 1-square diagonal swap.  Approach means moving directly toward an enemy unit and stopping on an adjacent empty square; the enemy unit then becomes a friendly one.  To swap convert, the vicar makes a one-square capture of the enemy piece, which is then converted into a friendly one and placed on the square from which the vicar moved.  Approaching a loyal unit has no effect; neither may a loyal unit be swap-converted.

Viceroy: makes one or two consecutive king-type moves.  It may capture on either or both parts.

Wizard: moves and captures like a queen; immobilizes adjacent units (except resolute pieces); one-square moves to empty squares result in adjacent captures of all non-shielded units.

Variant piece descriptions:

Wazir: one square like a rook

Ferz: one square like a bishop

Camel: like a knight, but the rectangle is 2x4 instead of 2x3

Dabbaba: two squares like a rook, leaping over the first square.

Alfil: two squares like a bishop, leaping over the first square.

Knightrider: any number of consecutive knight moves in a single direction.

Dabbabrider: any number of consecutive dabbaba moves in a single direction.

Alfilrider: any number of consecutive alfil moves in a single direction.

A note on the graphics:

I have tried to be consistent and logical with the graphics so that players, with some experience, can recognize the abilities of the pieces at a glance.  Bishop, rook, knight, and queen shapes have been used for pieces that have those predominant movement and capturing patterns.  Double movers have double shapes.  The prelate is a triple bishop to represent its ability to move along three adjacent diagonals, and the battlement is a wide rook to represent the same idea orthogonally.  Some pieces, like the general, hero, juggernaut, falcon, patriarch, tower, and myrmidon have unique graphics.  Certain symbols have been used for special abilities: diamonds for converters; concentric circles for immobilizers; arrows for rifles; hollow asterisks for proximators; three parallel lines for replacer/hoppers; infinity sign for owl and kite; jagged line for crooked-sliders; dagger for flying-converters.  In addition, color-coding has been provided as an aid to help players remember passive piece properties.  Red highlighting indicates a shielded pieces; green highlighting indicates a resolute piece; purple highlighting indicates a loyal piece.  Each alternate Guard also has its own graphic, but here are no alternative graphics for the various possible pawns.  Players will have to take note of which pawn rule is in effect.  I welcome feedback that might help make the graphics easier to understand and more attractive. 

Computer Play

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