The Chess Variant Pages


By Charles Gilman

This is another Anglis Qi variant like Isis and Cam, again inspired by riparian cities with distinguished (though this time newer) universities. Two such cities at the western end of the old Mercia-Wessex border, Bath and Bristol, share a river, the more southerly of the two left-bank tributaries of the Severn called the Avon. The name Avon also means the cities and their environs considered as a single area, among the most pan-European in provincial Britain with links to such instances of an immigrant and his son making a big impact on some profession as the Cabots, Herschels, and Brunels. While nowhere can match Oxford for fantasy heritage the relatively obscure Katherine Roberts is, like this variant's inventor, a graduate of Bath and the more widely-known (at least in Britain) Terry Pratchett has been awarded honorary doctorates from bo Bath and Bristol. As with Isis and Cam the premise is the university Chancellors and local church leaders inviting an equal each from other cities and (alas, for the same date!) the royal family.

As there are two cities it is a four-player game, two players sharing the White and two the Black pieces. With one university north and one south of the River, same-colour pieces start in opposite corners. The board is a FIDE one with an extra rank at each end, numbered 0 and 9. To prevent an early massacre, moves crossing the boundary between files d and e must include at least one square each side on ranks 2-7, either as start/end (the only option for a Knight move) or en route (c1-f4 is allowed, as it passes through d2, but c0-f3 is not). Players are initially restricted to moves starting or ending their side of the River. Playing order is White 0-4, Black 5-9, White 5-9, Black 0-4.

Where pieces vary, symmetric but mostly short-range pieces on the Bristol files are balanced by a Queen and forward-only pieces on the Bath ones. Forward always means away from the player moving them, so forward-only pieces crossing the River change both direction and player (but within the same team of two players) for their next move. As usual in my 4-player variants there is no castling, no surprise given that there are neither Kings nor Rooks! The pieces are as follows. Names without their own link are from my piece article Man and Beast 01: Constitutional Characters.
Queen Prince Princess ROYALTY: Britain has never had a King during the history of Bath University (and, if I and other campaigners for a republic get their way, never will again). Therefore each army has a cross-section of the royal family circa 2000: a QUEEN, two PRINCES (moving like Kings but without the uniqueness), and a PRINCESS (a Queen confined to the 3 forward directions). No single type of royal piece need be retained, but a legal move must end with at least one from the player's army their side of the River. This is the only River restriction on any piece. White starts with Queen f0, Prince b9/c9, Princess g0; Black starts with Queen f9, Prince b0/c0, Princess g9.
Marshal or Chancellor MARSHAL, also called Chancellor: combines all moves of Rook and Knight, and is the dominant piece. White a9/d9/e0/h0; Black a0/d0/e9/h9.
Bishop BISHOP: of Bristol only as Bath's moved many centuries ago to Wells, well away from the Avon. White b8/c8; Black b1/c1.
Abbot ABBOT: combines forward moves only of Bishop and Wazir, and represents the prominence of the Abbey in central Bath. White f1/g1; Black f8/g8.
Caryatid CARYATID: combines forward moves only of Rook and Ferz, and represents the fact that, while its University is very new, Bath as a city dates from Classical times. White e1/h1; Black e8/h8.
Carpenter CARPENTER: combines all Knight and Dabbaba moves, and represents a branch of the crafts especially useful (wood being lighter than water) in Bristol's long shipbuilding history. As Lewis Carroll's poem featuring his Carpenter character is set by the sea, that character may well have been intended as a shipyard employee. In this variant it is unblockable. White a8/d8; Black a1/d1.
Pawn PAWN: The most numerous piece, no initial double move, promoted to Wazir on crossing the River. White a7-d7/e2-h2; Black a2-d2/e7/h7.

A player with no legal move (including ending with a royal piece on their half of the board) drops out of the game. All that player's turns are subsequently missed. Their partner, if still in the game, gains total control of the army with extensive promotions: Princess to Queen, Caryatid to CHATELAINE (all Rook and Ferz moves), Abbot and Bishop to PRIMATE (all Bishop and Wazir moves), and Pawn to Wazir. This strengthening is some compensation for the army moving only half as often as before. The form of partnership is suggestive of the card game Bridge, appropriate for a river through two such distinguished cities and thus so impressive a range of bridges! The game ends when both an army's players drop out of the game.

This variant can be played with varying amounts of communication allowed between partners. For example, you might allow an opinion to be expressed on a partner's initial proposal for a move but not on any change of mind. It can also be played with wins and losses for teams or individual players. In the latter case the player whose move ends the game ranks first and the first player to drop out fourth.

It is playable using two FIDE sets distinguishable by size, with (large/small) Pawns for Wazir/Pawn, Rooks for Marshal/Caryatid, Knights for Marshal/Carpenter, Bishops for Bishop/Abbot, Queens for Queen/Princess, and both Kings for Princes. No substitution is needed for mass promotions when a player takes control of their entire army, such promotion being obvious from the partner dropping out.

Since this variant I have posted two further 4-player multi-city ones set in more northerly conurbations. Irwell uses the same size (and shape) board but with armies more intermixed and no restriction on crossing between files. Aire has a larger, H-shaped board with sections of camp at different distances from the River and a ban on moving through concavities.

Written by Charles Gilman.
WWW page created: October 17th, 2004.