The Chess Variant Pages Menu

A Chess-like Variant Construction Set

This is my attempt at creating a game that allows players to build their own armies. Players basically design their own pieces by purchasing a base, and then adding abilites (and possibly disabilities), each of which have their own costs. This allows extensive flexibility in creating new pieces. Keep in mind that this document is a (very) rough draft, and that I'm still thinking about costs, which (to me anyway) are very problematic. I have not assigned costs to any of the limitations as I am at a loss on what cost breaks to assign to them.

Some of the ideas in this document were inspired by John William Brown's "Meta-Chess" book. Namely, his idea of a chess variant "kit", and his methods for generating and specifying new chess piece variants. But, whereas John's book attempts to remain true to chess and its historical precendents, I've made no such attempt for this game.

Note: since the original writing of this document, I have received some helpful (and thoughtful) feedback from John William Brown (see John's critique). Following John's terminology suggestions, I have changed some of the names. The "thief" advantage was originally called "stealth", and the "orthan" primitive was called "orthag". I will also soon be posting my responses to some of John's ideas and comments.


There are five basic pieces. They generally are facing in a particular direction. These pieces move as do pieces in orthodox chess, ie. they may move into any empty square, or, if moving into a square containing an enemy piece, capture that piece. In the following descriptions, 'forward' is in reference to the direction that the piece is pointing.

Unidirectional pieces, when in a position where no further movement is possible (ie. they've run into the edge of the board), may make a 180 degree rotation for their move.

A phsyical piece would look much like a shogi piece, but thicker, and with four little slots on top into which advantage and disadvantage tokens could be inserted. A fifth slot would be used to identify the base piece type. So a set would consist of a number of base pieces (both dark ones and light ones) and a number of piece type tokens along with the various advantage and disadvantage tokens.

Name Description Cost

Prime (P)
Moves one square forward. A single prime with no other tokens, would operate much as a Chinese pawn -- that is, a piece which moves and captures one square forward. The differences are: (1) primes don't promote on the last row, (2) primes have no initial 2-square move, and (3) a prime might be facing in any direction, not necessarily straight forward (relative to the player). 5

Orth (O)
A Prime that is restricted to moving orthogonally. 4

Diag (D)
A Prime that is restricted to moving diagonally. 3

Orthan (G)
Moves one square othogonally forward and then one square diagonally foward. Moves through the squares (ie. does not leap). 5

Null (N)
A Prime which does not move. 2


Advantages are components that add to a Primitive's capabilities. Generally they either add a fixed amount, or multiply the cost of purchasing a piece.
Name Description Cost

Extends move an extra repetition. add 2 to base cost multiplier

May continue to repeat same move any number of times. add 8 to base cost multiplier

Piece is able to leap over another piece. add 4 to base cost multiplier

Piece is able to leap over any number of other pieces. add 8 to base cost multiplier

Piece is able to make two moves. These moves need not be the same. For example, a Prime + multimove would be able to move forward one square, capturing an emeny piece in that square, and then continue on to the next square and possibly capture an enemy piece there also. If effect, the piece gets two actions per turn instead of just one. add 4 to base cost multiplier

The piece may not be captured or have its tokens removed via a capture. Tokens may still be removed via a 'thief' move. It is illegal to create a royal piece with this advantage. final cost x 8

Piece may rotate 90 degrees before moving. add 3 to base cost

Piece may rotate 180 degrees before moving. add 2 to base cost

Piece may rotate any multiple of 90 degrees before moving. add 4 to base cost

Piece may rotate any multiple of 45 degrees before moving. add 8 to base cost

Extends the othogonal move by one square. Applied to an Orthan, it would then move two squares forward, and one square diagonally forward. add 2 to base cost

Extends diagonal move by one square. Applied to an Orthan, it would then move one square forward, and two squares diagonally forward. add 2 to base cost

Prevents any adjacent, enemy piece from moving or capturing. However, this does not prevent a 'thief' move. add 8 to base cost multiplier

Prevents any adjacent, enemy piece from capturing. The enemy piece may still make a non-capturing move, or use a 'thief' move. add 6 to base cost multiplier

May cause one token to be removed from any adjacent, enemy piece. This action does NOT count as a "capture" (ie. niether immobilize nor disarm prevents this action). add 4 to base cost multiplier

After capturing a piece, any existing tokens (except royalty or chameleon) on the piece may be replaced by any of the tokens from the captured piece. Any tokens from the captured piece may also be placed in any open slots on the capturing piece. add 4 to base cost multiplier

Makes the piece one that your opponent must capture in order to win the game. It is illegal to combine this with uncapturable. If effect the winning condition of the game is to cause your opponent to have no 'royal' pieces. final cost x 8


Limitations are restrictive components that decrease the ability (and hence the cost) of a piece.
no-capture cannot capture another piece ???
capture-only must capture on its move ???
must-leap must leap over exactly one piece on its move ???
must-leap-capture must leap over exactly one piece to capture ???


Piece cost = (b + a) * m * f

b = base cost
a = base cost adjustment
m = base cost multiplier
f = final cost multiplier
Bishop Diag[repeat,orth-rotate] = D[e,or] (3 + 4) x (8) = 56
Knight Orthan[leap1,orth-rotate] = G[l1,or] (5 + 4) x (4) = 36
Rook Orth[repeat,orth-rotate] = O[e,or] (4 + 4) x (8) = 64

Prime[repeat,rotate] = P[e,r] (5 + 8) x (8) = 104
King Prime[royalty,rotate] = P[y,r] (5 + 8) x (8) = 104
Royal Queen Prime[royalty,repeat,rotate] (5 + 8) x (8) x (8) = 832!!!

Game Sequence

Phase 1: Players buy land and pieces.

Each player starts out with a cash balance of X. Players take turns buying either a piece or a block of land. If one player runs out of money before the other, then the other player makes the rest of their purchases all at once.

Phase 2: Players place land and pieces.

First land is placed, then players place their pieces on their land, each player in turn placing one piece. Royal pieces must be placed first. Players must place at least half of their pieces. The remaining pieces (if any) are held in reserve and may be dropped during the third phase.

Phase 3: Players move and drop pieces.

In this phase, players alternate turns, either moving a piece already on the board, or dropping a piece that is in their reserve onto their land.

The object of the game is to capture all of the opponent's royal pieces.


Land must be purchased in 4 square x 4 square lots. Each player starts out with one 4x4 lot, and may buy more.

At the start of phase two, one player places their block of land. The other player then places one of their blocks of land adjacent to the previously placed block of land. The placed block of land must have at least two squares that are orthogonally adjacent to the previously placed block of land.

|   |   |   | 2 |
|   |   |   |   |
+---+---+---+---+     The squares marked A and B
|   |   |   |   |     are orthogonally adjacent,
+---+---+---+---+     as are C and D.
|   |   | A | C |
        | B | D |   |   |
        +---+---+---+---+  The squares marked 1 and 2
        |   |   |   |   |  must be dark colored to insure
        +---+---+---+---+  that the square colors alternate
        |   |   |   |   |  properly across sections.
        | 1 |   |   |   |

To ensure proper square alignment, each player should make sure that a black square is in the lower left corner of each section of land they place.

Players alternate placing land until all the land is placed. If one player runs out of land to place before the other, then the other player places their land such that each block has two squares orthogonally adjacent to at least one of the other player's blocks of land.

Land must be placed so that the dark and light squares alternate.


A player's turf must always be rectangular, so buying three 4x4 lots would force the player's turf to be either 4 rows by 12 columns, or 12 rows by 4 columns.

At the start of the game, the each player's turf is placed adjacent to the opponents, center aligned.

        |   |###|   |###|
        |###|   |###|   |
        +---+---+---+---+  Black player's turf
        |   |###|   |###|
        |###|   |###|   |
|   |###|   |###|   |###|   |###|
|###|   |###|   |###|   |###|   |
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+ White player's turf
|   |###|   |###|   |###|   |###|
|###|   |###|   |###|   |###|   |

Written by David Howe.
WWW page created: March 26, 1999.