The Chess Variant Pages


A large but simple chess variant


First off -- most of the ideas for this chess variant were borrowed from other games. Some from historical variants, some from newer variants. I've added what I think are a couple of (minor) new ideas to the game, but for those looking for something radically different from orthodox chess, this is not where you'll find it.

I've tried to take a "minimalist" approach here -- trying to simplify the rules as much as possible, while still retaining complexity in game strategy and tactics. There is a Zillions of Games rules file available for anyone who would like to try out this game.

Board and Setup

diagram of board and initial setup

Pieces created using Armando Hernandez Marroquin's Chess Motif font.
Board created using Zillions of Games software.

| r |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | r |
|   |   |   | n | k | q | n |   |   |   |
| h | c | b |   | i | i |   | b | c | h |
|   | h | h | h | h | h | h | h | h |   |
|   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |
|   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |
|   | H | H | H | H | H | H | H | H |   |
| H | C | B |   | I | I |   | B | C | H |
|   |   |   | N | K | Q | N |   |   |   |
| R |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | R |

     Ascii diagram of initial setup

The Pieces

Horseman (H)
This piece was inspired by the Cavalier from Fergus Duniho's Cavalier Chess. It moves like a combination of a orthodox chess pawn plus a non-capturing Horse (from Xiangqi), but can only move forward and cannot leap other pieces. No en-passant or initial two-move. Normal chess-type promotion.
   +---+---+---+---+---+     +---+---+---+
   |   | + |   | + |   |     |   |   |   |
   +---+---\---/---+---+     +---+---+---+
   | + |   | | |   | + |     | x | + | x |
   +---\---+-|-+---/---+     +---\-|-/---+
   |   |\__|_H_|__/|   |     |   | H |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+     +---+---+---+

    Forward horse move         Pawn move
                           (+) non-capturing
                           (x) capture only

Cannon (C)
Same as in Xiangqi (Chinese chess). A Cannon may make a non-capturing move like a rook. To capture a piece, it must (moving like a rook) leap over exactly one piece (friend or enemy), and then capture the enemy piece as it continues the rook move. The Cannon is an interesting piece, and well suited to a large board.

Nightrider (I)
From T. R. Dawson's Fairy Chess. Moves like a knight, but may continue jumping in the same direction. The Nightrider though its move is sometimes difficult to visualize, provides a ranged knight piece that takes good advantage of a large board.
  Combined rook plus knight or bishop plus knight pieces (marshall or chancellor from Grand chess) were considered, but I felt the Cannon and Nightrider make for a more dynamic mix of pieces.

Knight (N)
Same as in orthodox chess.

Bishop (B)
Same as in orthodox chess.

Rook (R)
Same as in orthodox chess. Notice that Rooks occupy their own row -- I "borrowed" this idea from Christiaan Freeling's Grand Chess.

Queen (Q)
Same as in orthodox chess.

King (K)
Same as in orthodox chess, but no castling. King moving onto "last" row wins game. Check, checkmate and stalemate still apply as in orthodox chess.


With this game I've attempted to:

  • Simplify the rules. No en-passant, no castling. Pieces are standard chess pieces with some other well-established pieces added. The horsemen are new and were added to speed up "pawn" development on the larger board.
  • Reduce the chance of a draw (King promotion wins).
  • Create pieces that make more sense on a larger board (using Horsemen instead of Pawns, Nightriders in addition to Knights).
  • Create a more lively game -- faster development of pieces, more dynamic interactions.

Castling and en passant seem like unnecessary complications -- without the option of castling, the game is much more lively in that the king is much more likely to be exposed earlier in the game. No need to worry about all the rules regarding castling -- where the king is supposed to land, or moving the king through check, etc.

Since pawns (horsemen) have greater mobility, there is no need for a special initial move rule, and hence no need for an en passant rule. Horsemen may still be blocked, but their greater mobility leads to faster development, and, at least in theory, a much more lively game.

Adding an extra winning condition is an added complication to the rules, but I felt worth it in making the game less likely to end in a draw. It also may make for a more exciting end-game.

The opening setup was inspired by the setup for Grand Chess. The rooks have their own row, so the player need not spend time clearing out the first rank to get their rooks doubled. All pieces are initially covered by at least one other piece.

The game is a superset of orthodox chess in that it has all the same pieces (except of course for the horseman, which is really a superset of a pawn).

Written by 
David Howe.

WWW page created: January 8, 1999. Last updated: March 21, 1999.