The Chess Variant Pages




Captain Spalding Chess

By Ralph Betza

In Captain Spalding Chess, the board is strangely empty at the beginning of the game; each player has, in fact, just three pieces, so what a simple game it must be!

Each player has a Box, a Pajama, and a Great Pajama.

   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
8  | j |:::|   |:x:|   |:::|   |:p:|
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7  |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |
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6  |   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
5  |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
4  |   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
3  |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
2  |   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
1  |:P:|   |:::|   |:X:|   |:::| J |
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
     a   b   c   d   e   f   g   h
White
Box (X): e1
Pajamas: (P) a1
Great Pajamas: (J) h1
Black
Box (x): d8
Pajamas: (p) h8
Great Pajamas: (j) a8

The Box

The Box is actually a box of animal crackers. It moves like a King, one square in any direction, but cannot capture. The Box is also royal, and therefore capturing the opposing Box wins the game.

The White Box starts the game on e1 and the Black Box starts on d8.

Whenever the Box moves, after it moves a friendly piece is shaken from the Box and placed on any square adjacent to the Box, the square being chosen by the player who has moved. This is not optional. It is not legal to move your Box unless you also shake a new piece from it.

For example, if White moves Box from e1 to d2, a new piece will appear (see below for details), and White may choose to place it on c1, c2, c3, d1, d3, e1, e2, or e3.

Four kinds of piece may be found in the Box: the Rhino, the Headless Rhino, the Bat, and the Crumb.

The Rhino

The Rhino moves or captures one square Rookwise, and then if that square was empty it may continue with a single step diagonal move or capture.

You get one Rhino per game. This means that not only can you not have two Rhinos in play at once, but also if your Rhino is captured you cannot find another one in your Box.

The Headless Rhino

The Headless Rhino may not make a capturing diagonal move on its second step. It moves or captures one square Rookwise and then if the square it landed on is empty it may continue with a diagonal non-capturing move.

It would have been a Rhino, but it was damaged when you shook the Box.

You get one Headless Rhino per game.

The Bat

The Bat moves or captures one square straight forward. If it reaches its last rank, it gets promoted to a Booh.

You can find an infinite number of Bats in your Box, but you may not have two Bats on the board on the same file.

The Booh

The Booh is the promoted Bat, and moves, as the popular American expression would have it, "like a bat out of Hades".

It can capture like a Wazir, one square Rookwise in any direction, or it can make a non-capturing move like a Rook, but only forwards or backwards.

The Crumb

The Crumb is a piece that belongs to you but has no powers of movement or capture. Your opponent can eat your Crumbs, but they just get in your way.

You can shake an infinite number of Crumbs from your Box.

When placing a Crumb, you can choose to place it on the same square as an already-existing Crumb of your own color; this creates a Cookie Monster.

The Cookie Monster

The Cookie Monster cannot move. However, if any other piece of either color moves onto a square adjacent to it, the Cookie Monster instantly leaps on it, gobbles it up, and disappears. This is instant and automatic, there is no choice and it does not count as a move for either player.

When a Cookie Monster is created, pieces that are already on adjacent squares are not in danger. Only by making a move that ends on a square next to a Cookie Monster do you wake it up.

You cannot capture your own Cookie Monster, but you can capture an enemy one. In balance, the Cookie Monster whose value is less than zero, but there are tactical situations when it pays to create one.

The Pajama

The White Pajama starts the game on a1 and the Black Pajama starts the game on h8.

The Pajama moves one square diagonally, or one square straight forward. It can make no captures. After you move your Pajama, you look in it and find a piece, which is then placed on an adjacent square of your choice.

It is not legal to move your Pajama unless you also create a new piece.

Two kinds of piece can be found in your Pajama: the Elephant and the Lint.

The Elephant

The Elephant moves or captures either one square diagonally or one square straight forward.

You can have only one Elephant in play at any given time, but if your Elephant is captured you can find a replacement in your Pajama.

The Lint

The Lint is a neutral piece which cannot move nor capture.

You may create any number of Lints.

When you place a new Lint, you may place it on a square that already contains a Lint; this creates a Dust Bunny.

The Dust Bunny

The Dust Bunny is a neutral piece that can neither capture nor be captured, but which moves like an Elephant. ("Forward" depends on who makes the move.)

Strategy note: if you want to get rid of a Cookie Monster, feed it a Dust Bunny.

The Great Pajama

The Great Pajama is a bright yellow Pajama of a size suitable for a person weighing one seventh of a ton.

White's Great Pajama begins the game on h1 and Black's begins on a8.

It moves as FAfWfD (that is, one step forward or diagonally, or a leap of two squares (possibly passing over an occupied square) forward or diagonally), but may not capture; and when it moves it must create a new piece on an adjacent square of the mover's choice.

The Great Pajama may create either a Great Elephant or a Dust Bunny; and, by placing a new Dust Bunny on a square which already contains one it can indirectly create a Dust Demon.

The Great Elephant

The Great Elephant moves or captures as FAfWfD (that is, one step forward or diagonally, or a leap of two squares (possibly passing over an occupied square) forward or diagonally). You get only one per game.

The Dust Demon

The Dust Demon is a neutral piece that moves like a Great Elephant and captures like an Elephant.

Forward is defined by who moves the piece, but you may not capture your own pieces with a Dust Demon.

Winning the Game

Capturing the enemy Box wins instantly.

A player who is stalemated has lost the game.

It is forbidden to repeat a previous position. This rule can cause you to be stalemated and therefore to lose the game.

Because it is forbidden to repeat a previous position, there is no need for a rule that forbids you from moving a neutral piece in a way which simply undoes the opponent's previous move.

Clarifications

There are a few things in the rules that perhaps were not written clearly enough, and could possibly be misunderstood.

  • Although a Dust Bunny cannot be captured by a normal move, if you move it next to a Cookie Monster, it does get gobbled up.
  • Creating a new piece on a square next to a Cookie Monster does not wake up the monster.
  • When you shake a new piece from your Box, you can choose any available piece. The same is true when you look in your Pajama or Great Pajama.
  • "Forward" for a neutral piece is whatever direction would be forward for the player making the move. For example, a Dust Bunny on e4 can move to d3, d5, f5, or f3 no matter who plays the move; but it can go from e4 to e5 only when White makes the move, and it can go from e4 to e3 only when Black does it.

Notation

In order to play by email or to write down analysis of the game, it is convenient to have a single-letter notation for the pieces.

Here is my suggestion:

X   Box
P   Pajama
J   Great Pajama
R   Rhino
H   Headless Rhino
V   Bat
W   Booh
C   Crumb
M   Cookie Monster
L   Elephant
N   Lint
B   Dust Bunny
E   Great Elephant
D   Dust Demon
And here are some of the reasons for choosing these letters: V looks a bit like the wings of a flying bat or bird, and W is a pair of V; and doesn't "elephant" start with an "L"?

John Lawson points out that "Rhino" with its head cut off starts with "H". He must be good a cryptic crosswords. As for me, I had thought that R minus a few pixels was close to H; I must be an inveterate computer geek.

When a move has more than one part, use a slash to separate the parts.

Early Attacks

One way to try to spoil the game is by an early attack. If White can either win or force a draw, the rules need changing.

Here is some opening analysis that shows possible methods of defense.

Rhino Attack, Cookie Monster Defense

1. Xe1-e2/Rd3    Xd8-e7/Ce6
2. Rd3-d5+       Xe7-f7/Me6
The Cookie Monster defends the Box; but things are not so simple.

3. Rd5-d4        Xf7-g6/Rg5!
4. Jh1-g2/Eg3    Xg6-h5/Hg4 (Black has no choice?)
5. Eg3xg5?!      Hg4xg5
6. Rd4xe6        Ph8-g7/Lh6
7. Re6-f6+       Pg7-g6/Nf5
8. Rf6-f7        Pg6-h7/Ng7
This is a long variation and I may have missed some better moves.

Black is happy now; but what about

3. Rd5-c7        Ja8-c6/Ed5!
The threat is 4...Ed5-f3+ winning the Jh1; and Black should be in no danger.

Great Elephant Attack, Rhino Pack Defense

1. Jh1-f3/Ee4    Xd8-d7/Hd6
2. Ee4-e5        Xd7-c6/Rd5
The H and R defend each other; a pack of Rhinocerocerusses.

3. Ee5-g7?!      Ph8-g8/Lh7!
The Greater Elephant loses some of its mobility by advancing too far, and is now in danger of being hunted down and trapped.

All-Out Attack

A more dangerous idea might be to attack with more than one piece!

1. Jh1-f3/Ee4     Xd8-d7/Hd6
2. Xe1-d2/Rd3     Ja8-b8/Ec7
3. Rd3-d4         Ph8-g7/Lf6!?
4. Ee4-e6+?       Xd7-d8/Ve7!
     ===or===
4. Ee4-e6+?       Hd6xe6
5. Rd4xe6         Xd7-c8/Rd7!
     ===or===
4. Rd4-e6?        Hd6xe6
5. Ee4xe6         Xd7-d6/Re7!
If 3. Ee4-f5+, Xd7-e7/Re6 (Re6 to prevent Ef5-f6+ winning the Ph8), and White has no more scary moves.

Summary of Opening Attacks

It looks like blitz attacks fail because of the power of the short-range pieces that can be created in good defensive places.

The Elephant and the Headless Rhino are short-range pieces, so it's hard to get them to join in a blitz attack; but it's easy to get their help in defense.

Design Notes

Peter Aronson wrote about Elephants and Great Elephants in the chessvariants discussion pages, and the next day I found myself wanting to create a game where one could find an Elephant in one's Pajama.

An hour or so later, here it is, with no playtesting. (As can be seen from the above, it has since been playtested.) My experience as a game designer tells me that the game must work; the major danger would be if it were impossible to win, but I think that I avoided that with various details of the rules.

It's a Chess Variant, for certain; after all, there's a King which can be "checkmated" (captured, actually). However, my impression is that the experience of playing the game will not be very Chesslike at all.

A very logical variation of this game would be one in which Dust Bunnies could be used to taunt Elephants.

Credits

Peter Aronson inspired this game with his White Elephant Chess and with Mad Elephant Chess.

He also inspired the style of this page with his light-hearted and whimsical approach to chess variants, an approach which at first seems vaguely Partonian, but then as one becomes more used to it one realizes that it is Aronsonian -- an adjective that will be heard more in the future.

The style of this page proves that I am not too old to learn new tricks, and steal them.


Written by Ralph Betza.
WWW page created: June 14th, 2002.