The Chess Variant Pages

Check out Metamachy, our featured variant for December, 2023.

This page is written by the game's inventor, Tony Quintanilla.


In designing Chameleon, my objective was to create a game in 41 squares that would make the best use of the available space, provide some new element that is interesting, yet not change the character of Chess so much that the Chess is not recognizable in it. I though of expanding the idea of Pawn promotion to apply throughout the board and to all pieces. In short, upon entering any square on the board, a piece changes depending on the color of the square, hence the name, Chameleon.

After inventing this variant, I checked the Chess Variants Pages and found "Lumberjack", which has a  similar concept, but in that game the changes are limited to columns rather than squares.

The Board

The playing surface is made of a 7x7 board with 8 non-board squares, colored blue. This makes a total of 41 squares, which is the number of squares required for this to be an entry in the 41 square contest.
| n | X | r | k | q | X | n |       
| X | p | b | p | b | p | X |           
|   |   |   |   |   |   |   |       
|   |   |   |   |   |   |   |          
|   |   |   |   |   |   |   |    
| X | P | B | P | B | P | X |      
| N | X | Q | K | R | X | N |


The Rules

The rules of FIDE chess apply except as noted below.

Upon entering a yellow square, any piece except a King changes into a Queen. Similarly, a violet square changes a piece into a Rook, a red square changes a piece into a Bishop, a light green square changes a piece into a Knight, and a dark green square changes a piece into a Pawn.

Pawns do not promote on the last rank, except in accordance with the above rule, and do not have an initial double-move. There is no castling.

Check and Checkmate as in orthodox chess.


This variant explores the idea of the board as a kind of terrain, where the power or potential of a piece changes with its position. This simple change both creates new possibilities and also creates significant limitations. Since the pieces are mutable, trades should be considered to always be between pieces of equal value. In other words, a material advantage is reflected simply by the number of pieces by which a player is superior, not their type. In fact, a King and one piece should win against a lone King.

The game has strong positional elements, in that pieces have to be placed properly to optimize their capabilities. However, the board also limits the extent of a positional advantage, so tactics become crucial. The primary strategy then is to create a local positional advantage that will result in material gain, and then maintain that material superiority. While possible, it would be difficult to win from a positional advantage, while inferior in material.

I find the game fun and playable. In fact, I have also created a number of sub-variants that explore different initial setups, Pawn capabilities, and board configurations. 

Zillions of Games Implementation

I have implemented this game using Zillions of Games. If you have Zillions, you may download the game ( and try it out!

The Zillions game has more notes on strategy and fully explains the sub-variants.

Written by Tony Quintanilla. He may be reached at (email removed contact us for address)
WWW page created: January 2, 2000.