The Chess Variant Pages

PASGL 312 Chess

By Ralph Betza

Even a born and bred American must, if familiar with the developed countries of Europe or Japan, be amazed by the vast amounts of undeveloped space in the USA, even in those states which have been settled the longest.

It seems hard to believe that any of the oldest states could have more woodlands than Pennsylvania, where the hilliness makes the land less suited for modern agriculture and where a vigorous wildlands conservation program has been in effect for a long, long time.

The interior of the state is covered with state parks and state game lands -- "game lands" being wild forest with no facilities, where one may hike or ride, but where the most prominent use is hunting.

For example, there is Pennsylvania State Game Lands 312, which nearly touches Gouldsboro State Park and Tobyhanna STate Park.

Although I do not hunt, I have spent a lot of time in and around PA SGL 312, because our summer palace (a decrepit old mobile home on a mere acre of woods) is right on the edge of it.

Wildlife in PA SGL 312

There are lots of critters roaming around the woods, some large, some small. The following critters are also in the game.

Bear

The bear is the King of the forest.

Although the black bear found in this region is timid and shy and usually harmless, it is also huge and powerful, and could do you in by accident.

Do not feed the bears. Avoid walking too quietly in the woods -- you want the bears to hear you coming, so that you don't meet one too closely by surprise.

Deer

The deer is a walking appetite, but how gracefully it bounds through the woods when it finally notices you and runs away.

Fox

I have never seen a live fox there, but one time oncoming traffic forced me to run over some road kill, and the next day a fox tooth was extracted from my flat tire; so I know that they are present.

Woodchuck

The groundhog, or woodchuck, is usually seen lazing on lawns; but also can be found in the forest.

Skunk

What a beautiful creature the skunk is, and how unafraid!

The first time we ever saw one, the whole family was sitting around the campfire at night, and a skunk came walking through, in the light, close enough to touch -- but it's not a wise idea to bother a skunk!

Turkey

A few years ago, the wild turkey was a mere rumor; now they are more common than deer.

Chipmunk

Yes, the cute little chipmunk lives in these woods.

Shrew

The short-tailed shrew is the world's smallest mammal. An adult specimen is approximately the size of your thumb.

Imagine that, a complete creature, so small! Brain, heart, lungs, eyes, nose, limbs, digestive system, reproductive system, and fur; all in miniature so that the whole creature is barely the size of your thumb! Surely there is nothing in the world more marvelous!

Others

My apologies to all the frogs and lizards and newts and birds and owls and snakes and raccoons and other critters who are not part of the game of PS SGL 312 Chess.

You will note that road kill is not in the game, but that critters can get run over by the Train.

Features of the Landscape near PA SGL 312

There are trees and swamps and trees and mountains and trees and valleys and trees and roads and trees, but they are not part of the game.

The Fireplace

The fireplace is the center of all activity. In the game, you score points by being near it.

The Train

In real life, the train is a bit outside SGL 312, running along one side of Gouldsboro State Park; but in the game, it runs right through the center of the board.

The train is a freight train of the historic Erie Lackawanna Railroad, running from the Steamtown Train Musuem to the Tobyhanna Army Depot. They don't use steam trains on these runs, but they do use vintage collectible diesel locomotives.

Pennsylvania State Game Lands 312 Chess

At last, I begin to describe the game!

First the board and then lunch and then the critters...

The PASGL312 Board

The board itself is an 8x8 chessboard to which 4 squares are added; the extra squares are train terminals.

On the board there are two special features, the Train and the Campfire.

       +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
8      | t |:s:| f |:h:| b |:d:| w |:t:|
       +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
7      |:p:| p |:p:| p |:p:| p |:p:| p |
       +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
6      |   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|
   +===+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+===+
5  | > |:>:| > |:>:| > |:>:| > |:>:| > |:X:|
   +===+---+---+---+---*---+---+---+---+===+
4  |:^:| < |:<:| < |:<:| < |:<:| < |:<:| X |
   +===+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+===+
3      |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |
       +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
2      | P |:P:| P |:P:| P |:P:| P |:P:|
       +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
1      |:T:| S |:F:| H |:B:| D |:W:| T |
       +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
     z   a   b   c   d   e   f   g   h   x
The campfire is indicated by the "*", the "<, >, ^" indicate the path of the railroad, and "===" delimits the terminals. See Notation below for what letters stand for what animals.

The Terminals

There are two train terminals, one on the right, one on the left; each terminal has two squares. For notation, the two terminal squares on the left are called z4 and z5 -- they are to the left of a4 and a5 -- and the two terminal squares on the right are called x4 and x5 and are located to the right of h4 and h5.

Any critter that moves onto a terminal square is "boarding". It cannot make a move that leaves the terminal, but rather it will be picked up when the Train comes to the terminal, carried to the other terminal, and left there.

Critters deposited on a terminal square by the Train are "leaving": they cannot move from one terminal square to another, but rather must leave the terminal if they move. If they fail to move for a long time, the Train will come by again, but it ignores them.

Critters that are "boarding" can move from one terminal square to another, whether or not their normal movement power would allow it, but can do no harm to other critters while they are in the terminal.

Critters that are "leaving" can make their normal move to leave the terminal, and in so doing they may harm other critters, but as long as they stay in the terminal even critters that are "leaving" are safe from all harm.

Except for these two possibilities, critters that are either on a terminal square or on the train are safe from all harm and can do no harm and can make no moves and can earn no points.

Lunch is provided at the terminals. A critter that has lost its lunch gets a new one when it enters a terminal square.

The Train

The Train occupies two squares. It starts the game on the right, and moves clockwise like clockwork from one terminal to the other.

It starts the game occupying the added terminal squares x4 and x5; after each Black move, it advances one square, so that on the second move of the game it occupies h4 and x4, and on the third move it occupies g4 and h4.

When the Train is completely within a terminal, it drops off all the critters that were riding the train, and picks up all that were "boarding". A critter that is picked up on x4 will be dropped off on z5, and so on.

Any critter that finds itself on the same square as the Train gets squooshed flat and is no longer in the game, except of course that critters which are riding the train don't get squished and critters that are on terminal squares don't get squashed.

No critter may move onto a square that is occupied by the Train, although suicide can be accomplished by moving to where the train will be next move.

The Hunter cannot shoot through the Train. Deer cannot leap over it. It's too big.

The Campfire

The Campfire is located in the center of the board, on the point where the squares e4, e5, d4, and d5 all touch each other.

Critters earn points by being on these 4 squares that are next to the campfire; in order to earn any points, the critter must start a move on one of these 4 squares, it must not move or shoot or chuck or steal, and at the end of the turn it must not be stinky, and it must not have lost its lunch. (All of these things will be explained later.)

The number of points gained by each type of critter varies, but is roughly in proportion to the size of the critter; the exact number of points for each critter type will be given in that critter's description.

Lunch

The Hunter, the Bear, the Deer, the Fox, the Skunk, and the Woodchuck carry their lunches with them in a brown paper bag.

When a critter that normally carries its lunch does not have a lunch, whether because the lunch was stolen, lost, or dropped, the critter loses all power except the power of movement: a lunchless Hunter cannot shoot, a lunchless Bear cannot displace, a lunchless Fox or Deer cannot steal, a lunchless Fox cannot devour, a lunchless Skunk cannot stink unless it is attacked, and a lunchless Woodchuck cannot chuck wood.

These lunchless critters can still move, and can get a new lunch either by entering a terminal or by returning home to the square where the critter started the game.

Stealing Lunch

Some critters can steal the lunch from enemy critters.

They do this by moving onto the same square as the victim; and so we expect that there can be several critters on the same square. A critter can only steal the lunch of one other critter per turn, so when you move onto a crowded square you must specify which enemy critter gets its lunch stolen.

You can't steal lunch from a critter that's already on the same square as you.

When a skunk has its lunch stolen, it stinks up every enemy piece on the same square as itself and on all adjacent squares.

Losing Lunch

A critter that gets stunk by a skunk loses its lunch.

Remember, skunks direct their spray to avoid friendly critters, and are immune to being skunked by enemy skunks.

Any critter that gets skunked not only loses its lunch (if it was carrying one), but also becomes stinky. If you have any stinky critters, and if none of your medium to small critters are threatened by an enemy Fox, and if none of your medium to large critters are threatened by the enemy Hunter, and if none of your critters are on the non-terminal square the Train will move to next, you must move a stinky critter. The good news is that once you move it, it isn't stinky any more.

Dropping Lunch

When a woodchuck chucks wood at a lunch-carrying critter, it drops its lunch.

How much wood can a woodchuck chuck? Just one per turn. If there are multiple enemy critters on the same square, the Woodchuck must choose one.

The Critters

Bear

The Bear is a large critter and carries its lunch.

The Bear is the King of the forest, and so if you lose your Bear the game is over and your opponent gets 20 points. (Yes, you could lose your Bear and still win the game.)

The Bears start the game at e1 and e8, move like the King except that each Bear must stay in its own half of the board, and score 5 points for being near the campfire.

When a Bear moves onto the same square as other critters, it squashes Shrews and displaces all the others: displacement means that the critters get moved to some adjacent square.

The owner of the Bear gets to choose which adjacent square each displaced critter goes to, but it must be a square; the Bear cannot push them off the edge of the board. However, the Bear can push them into a Terminal, which forces them to wait for the Train and then ride it; and the Bear can push critters onto a square occupied by the Train, in which case they perish beneath its wheels.

Being displaced does not cause critters to lose their lunches.

The Bear can displace friends as well as enemies; and it squishes friendly Shrews just like enemy ones.

A lunchless Bear cannot move onto an occupied square.

A Bear cannot steal any other critter's lunch.

Other critters can move onto the same square as the Bear, but when the Bear moves onto an occupied square it winds up being the sole occupant of the square.

Because the Bear must stay on its own side of the board, it is not allowed to ride the Train; and therefore it is not allowed to go into a Terminal.

Hunter

The Hunter is a large critter, and carries a lunch.

Each player has one Hunter, starting on d1 or d8. The Hunter moves one square Rookwise and shoots as far as 3 squares Rookwise.

For example, if the White Hunter is on e2 and the Black Bear is on e5, and if there are no critters on e3 or e4, the Hunter can shoot the Bear.

The Hunter cannot shoot tiny critters because his aim is not that good, but tiny critters block the Hunter's range -- he cannot shoot past them.

A piece that is shot is removed from the game.

The Hunter cannot shoot friendly critters.

A lunchless Hunter cannot shoot.

The Hunter gains no points for shooting enemy critters; but of course shooting the enemy Bear has the side effect of gaining twenty points.

The Hunter earns 4 points for being near the Campfire.

The Hunter cannot move onto an occupied square, and so of course it cannot steal any other critter's lunch.

Deer

The Deer is a large critter, and carries lunch.

Each player has one Deer, starting on f1 or f8. The Deer moves like a Knightrider, and it uses its great mobility to steal the lunches from other critters; as described above, it does this by moving onto the same square as its victim.

The Deer can leap over any obstacle except the Train, which is too big.

Entering an occupied square stops the Deer's move.

When the Deer enters a square occupied by one or more Shrews, all the Shrews (friend or foe) get squashed and removed from the game.

A lunchless Deer cannot move onto an occupied square.

A Deer earns 3 points for being by the Campfire.

Fox

The Fox is a medium-sized critter, and carries lunch.

Each player has one Fox, which starts the game on c1 or c8 and moves as bWzF3, that is, one square Rookwise to the rear or like a Crooked Bishop but no more than 3 squares.

The Fox steals lunches, just like the Deer, but it can also devour medium or small lunchless critters: when it moves onto the same square as a medium or small enemy critter, and if that critter has no lunch for the Fox to steal, the Fox eats that critter!

Unless it's an enemy Fox, of course; that would be cannibalism.

Devouring the enemy Skunk results in mutual annihilation, because the Fox gets skunked and then some; and of course at the same time the Skunk in its dying throes stinks up all your pieces on the same or adjacent squares.

A lunchless Fox can neither steal nor devour nor move onto an occupied square.

The Fox earns 3 points for being by the Campfire.

Woodchuck

The Woodchuck is a medium-sized critter, and carries lunch.

Each player has one Woodchuck, at g1 or g8, which moves as WD or chucks wood either 2 or 3 squares diagonally. (Intervening pieces do not block the chucked wood because it takes a high arc.)

The Woodchuck can never enter an occupied square.

A lunchless Woodchuck cannot chuck.

The Woodchuck earns 3 points for being by the campfire.

Skunk

The Skunk is a medium-sized critter, and carries lunch.

Each player has one Skunk, at b1 or b8, which moves like a Rook.

The Skunk's stinky power has been described above, under the heading "Losing Lunch".

The Skunk uses its chemical warfare only in self-defense. If it is devoured, if it is shot, if it is run over by the Train, if its lunch is stolen, or if it is hit by a chunk of wood, it skunks all enemy pieces on the same square as itself and on all adjacent squares; but if you don't bother the Skunk it won't bother you.

Displacement does not trigger the Skunk's defenses.

The Skunk can move onto an occupied square; this stops its move, but the Skunk can't steal anybody's lunch.

The Skunk earns 2 points for being near the Campfire.

Turkey

The Turkey is a medium-sized critter that does not carry lunch.

Each player has two Turkeys, at a1/h1 or a8/h8, which move as R3.

The Turkey has no attack at all, but it can earn 2 points by being near the Campfire.

Shrew

The Shrew is a tiny critter, and carries no lunch.

Each player starts with 8 Shrews, arrayed along the second rank where Pawns might normally be; they move diagonaly forwards one square (fF).

The Shrew is so small that it earns zero points for being near the campfire.

The Shrew can move onto an occupied square, but cannot steal a lunch; in fact, it has no attacking power at all.

The Shrew is so small that the Hunter cannot shoot it (although it can block a Hunter's range of fire), and it is too small for the Fox to devour (barely a mouthful). A Skunked Shrew must move, but has no lunch to lose.

A Bear or a Deer can step on a Shrew and squish it. The Train can run over a Shrew, squoosh! However, because a lunchless Bear cannot enter an occupied square, the Shrew can get in the way.

Upon reaching the last rank, the Shrew is promoted to a Chipmunk; in real life, Shrews don't grow up to be chipmunks, but a little poetic license was taken for the sake of the game.

Chipmunk

The Chipmunk is a tiny critter, with no lunch.

There are no Chipmunks in the game at the start; they are created by promotion of Shrews.

The Chipmunk moves one square diagonally, can enter occupied squares, but has no attacking power.

However, it can earn 1 point by being near the campfire, and it can get in the way of Hunters or lunchless pieces.

The Chipmunk is so darn cute that nothing wants to harm it, too small for the Hunter to shoot, too cute for the kindly Fox to devour; however, it can be run over by the Train, or it can be pushed by a Bear beneath the wheels of the Train. A Skunked Chipmunk must move, but has no lunch to lose.

General Rules

If you have no legal move, you pass. If both players pass, you just keep passing until the Train has made one complete circuit and then the game is over if it is still stalemate.

Whoever has more points at the end of the game has won the game. In a series of games, the cumulative point score determines who has won the series.

If one player is 30 or more points ahead, the game is over instantly; score is calculated after each player's move.

If either Bear perishes, the game is over instantly; and remember that a dead Bear gives the other side a 20 point bonus.

Strategy and Tactics

A lunchless Bear cannot enter occupied squares, and cannot earn points; thus, if you steal the Bear's lunch and occupy its home square with a Chipmunk, you've done a really nasty thing to your opponent.

The Hunter generally wants to stay near home so he can get a new lunch if necessary.

Letting your Skunk get run over is one way to use its stinky power offensively.

Design Notes

This game wins the prize for the longest description and most complicated rules for a humorously-themed game; but it also wins the prize for the most accurate depiction of real life in a themed game because with just two exceptions (I moved the Train into the game lands, and I made Shrews grow up to be Chipmunks), Everything in this game is exactly the way it is in real life.

Is it a Chsss Variant? The dead Bear rule is a little bit like checkmate, after all; and the reason I decided to make it possible to win even if you lose your Bear is that I wanted to stretch the boundaries of "Chess variant" a bit.

Not playtested yet. I was too impatient to wait!

Notation

A one-letter notation for the pieces, as a convenience:
Bear        B
Hunter      H
Deer        D
Fox         F
Woodchuck   W
Skunk       S
Turkey      T
Chipmunk    M
Shrew       P
Train       X
Other modifiers for moves:
Stinky             *   
Lunchless          -   
Run over by train  _
Stinky and Lunchless would be prefixes, ie: *T is a stinky Turkey, and -B is a lunchless Bear.

More Design Notes and Clarifications for PASGL312 Chess

This is an addendum to PASGL312 Chess which tells more about the structure and design of the game.

Number of Rules

Because of the way the description of the game is written, there seem to be more rules than there really are.

In fact, in addition to the usual rules for a chess variant, there are merely a few major rules; however, one major rule is usually enough for a chess variant, and so perhaps PASGL really does have an unusually large number of rules!

The major new rules are the rules about the object of the game, the rules about Lunch, and the rules about the Train; if you look at it from this perspective, the rules will seem simple and logical.

Object of the Game

My very first thought about the game was to score points by standing near the Campfire; the maximum winning score was a logical extension, to keep the game from going on forever.

The idea of having a sort of checkmate that might not score enough points to win the game soon followed.

Remember, the Game of Nemoroth started with the idea of having a chess variant whose main object was stalemate, and all the rest of the rules followed logically from that premise; in just the same way, PASGL312 started with the idea of scoring points, and all the rest of the rules followed as inevitable consequences.

Winning by standing on the central squares seemed a bit boring, and so I soon came up with the ideas of Lunch and of the Train.

Lunch

I can't explain how this idea came into my mind, but the moment I thought of the idea of Bears carrying their lunch in a brown paper bag, I knew I had to have it in the game.

It is directly related to the scoring system; instead of boring piece capture as in Chess, you can prevent pieces from scoring or attacking, and at the same time force them to waste time going home for a new Lunch. I think it's a perfect thing to have in a point-scoring game.

Many lines of the game description are devoted to explaining the Lunch rules, and this is because Lunch is a brand-new idea! There was no way to simply say that ""this game uses Lunch, and the rules are just like Lunch Chess except ...."".

Having your Lunch stolen is really the same thing as dropping your Lunch and is really the same thing as losing your Lunch. They are described separately and differently merely because of the theme of the game.

The Train

The Train is also a brand-new idea. The reason for putting it in the game is simply because its periodic passage forces pieces to run away from the squares where they can score points.

Then I thought, wouldn't it be nice if you could ride the Train? However, the Train is rather slow, and riding it puts a piece out of action for quite a while; and so I had to make up some minor rules that would make it worth while to ride the train in at least a few situations.

I thought of putting the Train in the game while I was waiting at the grade crossing in the town of Gouldsboro for a train to pass.

Minor Ingredients

Some of the minor ingredients were added to reinforce the theme of the game, and others were added because of their expected effects on play balance.

Stinky

Compulsion was a brand-new idea in Nemoroth. In Firefighter Chess, a gentler version was introduced. The gentle version of compulsion was borrowed by PASGL312 Chess because it seemed so perfect for the Skunk.

Shooting

Shooting is a type of capture used in the historical Rifle Chess as well as in my own Autorifle Chess (although since Autorifle was from the 1970s I suppose it is also historical by now -- which merely makes me feel like a superannuated fossil).

My experience with this type of capture tells me that it is extremely powerful -- because the shooter does not occupy the square of its victim, it's very hard to arrange for a recapture.

For the sake of play balance, I gave the Hunter very little mobility, and gave the Deer extreme mobility; if in the game the Hunter still has an advantage, I don't mind, but if the Deer is actually better than the Hunter, I am content. Bambi's revenge.

For the sake of variety, and for the sake of the theme, I gave the Woodchuck a shooting power that is non-fatal, and of course the WD movement power was inevitable.

For the sake of the Hunter, I gave the Turkeys a movement power that makes it hard for them to run away. This corresponds with what I have seen of them in real life.

Crowds

Some time ago, I got angry at how feeble the previous explorations had been about the possibilities of having multiple pieces on the same square, and wrote a whole series of articles about the different possible rules for having multiple pieces on the same square (Crowd Chess 1, Crowd Chess 2, FIFO Chess and Multiple Occupancy Miscellany).

In PASGL312 Chess, I allow pieces to move freely (with exceptions) onto occupied squares, but in most cases a capture (or a lunch stealing) affects only one of the pieces on the crowded square. This seems to violate the guidleines I had set up in those articles.

In fact, I set a trap for the unwary player! Imagine if you put several pieces on e4, and all of them are scoring points; but now, horror of horrors, here comes the Train bearing down on them, and you can only save one of them per turn!!

Equality

Not until I was writing the game up did I realize that of course a lunchless lunch carrier cannot move onto an occupied square and of course this gives the lowly Shrew some much-needed power!

The lowly Shrew can block the powerful Hunter's shot, or it can block the movement of a lunchless Bear! If you have played Stratego, you will think of the Spy.

The idea of equality inspired several of the minor rules.

Immunity

A piece which cannot be captured is extremely powerful; and in PASGL312 Chess the Skunk and the Chipmunk and even the Shrew have partial immunity.

Complete immunity is an idea which has been explored before, but the partial immunity we see in PASGL312 is a different idea which could not have been used in the context of a less complicated game.

Immunity goes with equality. The Shrew can only be stomped on by a Bear or Deer, and so it may be difficult to stop it from advancing and promoting to an even more powerful Chipmunk; but of course this advance eats up quite a few moves, and therefore has a cost.

Likewise the Skunk has tremendous defensive power, but only if it is attacked; this is thematic! But what an interesting piece to have in the game!

Reality

Roadkill is a fact of life, and the Train takes care of that in the game.

Bears can move fast, but usually merely walk slowly. I know they can move fast, because one once ran across the road right in front of my car. A hit would have wrecked the car, as in fact deer hits do wreck many cars per year. Imagine how complex the game would have been if hitting a large critter caused a train wreck!

I watched a deer running away, leaping gracefully through the forest, and I decided that the deer absolutely had to have a leaping move.

I have never heard of anybody or any dog who was skunked unless they first bothered the skunk.

Woodchucks. Oh, well; it's legend, not reality, in this case.

The effort to fully develop the theme of the game by giving each critter the attributes appropriate to its real life counterpart did make the rules more complex than they would have been; but this is excusable in a themed game.

Effort

I thought about the game for a full week before I began to write. Usually, an hour or so is enough.

The reason it took so much effort is both because this is the first point-scoring chess variant I ever wrote and because I really wanted to do justice to the theme.

To do justice to the theme, I had to decide which critters to include in the game and which to exclude. If I hadn't spotted a woodchuck while driving from one place to another while thinking about the game, there wouldn't have been one in the game. There were so many critter types that I couldn't use the usual setup of 3 pairs of pieces and 2 unique pieces.

For the theme, I had to think of movement or capture powers that reflected in the game the real-life attributes of the critter in question; and for the game I had to consider the one-on-one confrontations between each type of piece.

After so much thinking about the interactions between each pair of piece types, I felt pretty safe in publishing the game without playtesting -- this is called "praytesting".


Written by Ralph Betza.
WWW page created: June 24th, 2002, Updated June 26th, 2002.