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Magna Carta Chess

By Charles Gilman


This is a different-armies variant based on a theme in English history. It could be seen as a "micro-regional" variant like PASGL 312 Chess, as it is set in the specific locality of Runnymede, on the Thames where it forms the northern edge of my native county of Surrey in England. However the events of that place in 1215 had implications far beyond, the most immediate effect being downstream at Westminster. (Editor's note: Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem about these events.)


The array and rules are very close to FIDE Chess. Black, representing the defenders of the status quo, has the FIDE army (complete with castling) but must retain both King and Queen and can promote Pawns to spares of both. The King is England's then ruler John Plantagenet. He also had two French dukedoms, Normandy and Aquitaine, but this has no bearing on the game as it is 2 dimensional and my preferred use of Duke is for an orthogonal+triagonal compound. John himself had been a kind of spare King in his brother and predecessor Richard's absence.

The White army, representing the instigators of change, differs in having unorthodox pieces in place of the King and Queen (although the standard physical figures may be used). Prominent figures in holding John to account included William the Marshal, whose title means a compound of Rook and Knight, and Stephen Langton, whose titles of Cardinal and Archbishop are alternatives for a compound of Bishop and Knight. A Marshal occupies d1 and a Cardinal e1. White must also retain both, and may promote Pawns to spares of both, though not to Queen. White cannot castle.

8  | r |:n:| b |:q:| k |:b:| n |:r:|
7  |:p:| p |:p:| p |:p:| p |:p:| p |
6  |   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|
5  |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |
4  |   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|
3  |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |
2  | P |:P:| P |:P:| P |:P:| P |:P:|
1  |:R:| N |:B:| M |:C:| B |:N:| R |
     a   b   c   d   e   f   g   h


Despite the riparian setting the board is NOT divided by a Xiang Qi River. This is because Runnymede is specifically on the south bank. Indeed the nearest bridge to the site of the Magna Carta was built in the 20th Century.

My first proposal for this game was that White wins by the usual means and Black by reaching a stage where White cannot retain at least one of each compound piece. This could be either a direct "checkmate" of a single remaining Marshal or Cardinal (although there might be several of the other through promotion) or a "royal fork" of both where only one of each remains. It was pointed out that this seriously skewed the game in favour of Black, and suggestions made for modifying the pieces, but I am reluctant to change the White compounds because of the symbolism of their names. Therefore Black must also retain at least one Queen, so that White can "checkmate" (ferzmate?) a last remaining Queen or win by royal fork. If this skews the game too far in White's favour I will consider enhancing the newly vulnerable Queen to equalise.

In developing this game it occurred to me that Magna Carta Chess could be just one in a Chess with Different Armies family, each army identical to the FIDE one except for a weaker (by move OR by dual royalty) central pair. Three with the standard non-renewable King and a capturable, renewable reduced Queen are the Mongol Horde (Mongolian Chess army), the Band of Gold (with Goldrider=Rook+forward Bishop), and the Vice Squad (with Vicemarshal=Rook+front 2 Knight moves). Four where both must be retained but are renewable are the Runnymede Rebels (White in MC Chess), the Renewable Royals (Black in MC Chess), the Dragon Duo (ditto with diagonal moves swapped to form the Shogi promoted linepieces), and the Precious Metallists (Goldrider for Queen, Silverider for King).

Written by Charles Gilman.
WWW page created: September 15th, 2003.