The Chess Variant Pages

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, most immediately downstream at Westminster. (Editor's note: Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem about these events.)


The array and rules are very close to FIDE Chess. They are identical for Black, representing the defenders of the status quo. 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.

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 at all times have at least one Marshal and Cardinal, to compensate for their greater power. White may however promote Pawns to either piece, though not to Queen.

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.

An alternative with more closely-matched array armies might be called Parva Carta Chess. There never was such a treaty as the Parva Carta (unless a reader knows better!), but parva is Latin for small, corresponding to magna (cognate with the Greek mega and North Indian maha) for great, reflecting a lesser deviation from FIDE Chess. The simplest form swaps over the diagonal moves to give the promoted linepieces of Shogi. Another uses a Rook and Bishop enhanced by each other's forward moves - long-range versions of the Shogi Generals. In all cases the enhanced Rook, being the stronger of the two, starts on d1 facing Black's Queen, and White Pawns can be promoted to either.

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