The Chess Variant Pages


Rotary was invented by Christian Freeling in 1981.

The description below is taken from the website of Christian Freeling and Ed van Zon (with permission) (slightly edited by me); and also the pictures were taken from this website, called Mindsports.

See the Mindsports website for more information on Christian Freeling's other chess variants, methods to play several of these on the Internet against others, and more. Below, you read Christians description of his game, (in slightly edited version.)

The idea for Rotary came from Ploy, a proprietary game (3M) in the seventies. In this game the number of directions a piece could choose from, also determined its maximum range. This had two major drawbacks: first of all the limited and different ranges of the pieces did put a strain on clarity. A simple look at the directions was not enough: one constantly had to check the different ranges. The second flaw was even worse. By increasing the range with the number of directions, the strong pieces became even stronger, the weak even weaker. Moreover, three pieces of pathetic weakness - one step in one possible direction - were outnumbered by six very strong pieces, each able to go up to three steps in three possible directions. Although the weak ones were compensated by their right to rotate in the same turn, I've yet seldom seen a better example of `internal imbalance'. But I also immediately saw the possibility of a complete and consistent set of long-range pieces, to provide for clarity, separated by very orthodox pawns, to bring at least some strategy to a system of capricious tactics.

Once the idea was there, implementation was simple.


The game is played on a 9 by 9 board. The initial position is shown below.

Initial position.White:
King e2; Rook a1, i1; Scythe b2, h2; Axe c2, g2; Trident d2, f2; Pawn a3, b3, c3, d3, e3, f3, g3, h3, i3.

King e8; Rook a9, i9; Scythe b8, h8; Axe c8, g8; Trident d8, f8; Pawn a7, b7, c7, d7, e7, f7, g7, h7, i7.

As can be seen from the diagram, the king has four directions, with in the setup pointing diagonally. The rook has three directions, originally pointed horizontally left and right and straight forwards. The scythe has two directions, originally vertically forwards and backwards. The Axe has three directions, originally pointing diagonally or horizontally forwards. The trident has three directions, originally pointing diagonally forwards (left and right), and straight backwards.

The King may, at the cost of a turn, rotate on its place, provided this effectuates a change in orientation. It may also move one square in any of its four directions and rotate,but only after the move, as part of the same turn.

The right to rotate stationary makes stalemate an impossibility. Another unique & implicit feature is that a King may give check, even deliver mate as shown, to its counterpart.

King's checkmate

The pieces follow a logical sequence. All are subject to the following rules:

A piece may, at the cost of a turn, rotate on its place, provided this effectuates a change in orientation.

A piece may move one square in any of its directions and rotate, but only after the move, as part of the same turn.

A piece may move any distance in any of its directions, but if it moves more than one square, it loses the right to rotate in the same turn. The only exception is the Scythe that has the right to rotate in the same turn regardless the length of its move.


The first piece is the Axe. It has a middle direction flanked by two directions making a 450 angle with it. The second piece is the Rook. It has a middle direction flanked by two directions making a 900 angle with it. The third piece is the Trident. It has a middle direction flanked by two directions making a 1350 angle with it. The fourth piece is the Scythe. It has a middle direction flanked by 'two' directions making a 1800 angle with it. Here the variable directions melt into one. The Scythe's right to rotate after any move compensates for the actual loss of one direction.

Pawns are basically Chess pawns, but do not have the option of an initial double step. They promote optionally on moving to the seventh or eighth rank, compulsory on moving to the ninth. They promote to Queen. A Queen is a Rook with four directions (depicted on the reverse side). The player may choose its initial orientation.


The choice of pieces implies a board size of 9x9. I chose the Grand Chess type of initial position because it is elegant, puts the pawns at a reasonable distance, and allows for flexible development.


The strategic implications of the pawn structure differ little from Chess. Apart from this, it is difficult calculate deep in the game's rather capricious tactics, let alone to make a specific overall plan. The pieces are of roughly equal strength, but differ rather dramatically in timing. The forward oriented Axe, for instance, has no immediate possibility for retreat, so its encounter with an opponent's pawn structure should be avoided. The Axe usually becomes active in the later stages of the game when the number of pawns has reached saver levels. The Rook, to a lesser degree, encounters the same problems. The best orientation is usually with its middle direction obliquely forward or even sideways, to ensure the possibility of a retreat. The Trident can be brought into play in an earlier stage. Its directions are rather roundabout ensuring a greater flexibility. The Scythe is the opening piece par excellence. Its greatest joy is penetrating behind the opponent's pawn structure and finding the pieces, from its opponent's point of view, in precisely the wrong orientation. The amount of havoc a Scythe can create in these circumstances is unbelievable!
Rules written by Christian Freeling for the Mindsports Website, slightly edited for the Chess Variant Pages by Hans Bodlaender. Rules and images copyright Mindsports; used here with permission.
WWW page made: January 2, 1997. Last updated: January 23, 2005.