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Ludus Equitum (The Knight's Game)

By Signore Giovanni Fontananera

Introduction

Ludus Equitum is a chess variation, based on early 13th century European practices. It is played by two players. A modern chess set (board and pieces) can be used, together with two ordinary six-sided dice. Only 24 of the 32 modern pieces will be used; the laurus is symbolized by a bishop, and the pelicanus by a rook.

Setup

The board is comprised of 64 squares, eight columns by eight rows. Each player's pieces are started on opposite board edges, as in the diagram.

Starting position for Ludus Equitum

White: miles on b2, c2, d2, e2, f2, g2; pelicanus on b1; laurus on c1; regina on d1; rex on e1; eques on f1, g1.

Black: miles on b7, c7, d7, e7, f7, g7; eques on b8, c8; rex on d8; regina on e8; laurus on f8; pelicanus on g8.

Diagram created with Chess Medieval TrueType font of Armando Hernandez Marroquin.

Pieces

Each player has 12 pieces (one set white or light-colored, one set black or dark-colored) distributed as follows:

1 Rex [King] (symbol R): May move one square in any direction, horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. Unlike modern chess, the rex may be moved into danger or left there.

1 Regina [Queen] (symbol Q): May move one square diagonally (forward or back).

1 Laurus [Laurel] (symbol L): May move one square diagonally (forward or back).

1 Pelicanus [Pelican] (symbol P): May move one square horizontally or vertically.

2 Eques [Knight] (symbol E): May move exactly two squares, one horizontally or vertically followed by one diagonally, always continuing away from the square of origin. The eques leaps over any intervening piece.

6 Miles [Fighter] (symbol M): May move one square straight forward toward the opponent's side of the board, if that square is empty. May capture an opposing piece by moving one square diagonally forward only.

A miles that reaches the farthest row of squares (the opponent's back row) is immediately promoted to the station of Armiger [Squire] (symbol A). An armiger moves and captures like a rex (one square in any direction), but uses the die rolls of an eques.

Rules

In addition to the above:

Players roll dice to see who goes first. At each turn, the player who is to move rolls two dice. The player may then move zero, one, or two pieces corresponding to the dice rolled:

  • 1 or 2: Move a Royal (rex, regina).
  • 3: Move a Peer (laurus, pelicanus).
  • 4: Move a Fighter (miles).
  • 5 or 6: Move Chivalry (eques, armiger).

Each die may be used to move only one piece. A player may move the same piece twice on a turn if both dice allow moving that piece. The opponent will then roll and move; play will continue to alternate.

A piece moving onto a square occupied by an opposing piece captures its enemy and removes it from the board. Players may not move onto squares occupied by their own pieces.

The game is won by capturing the opponent's rex, or by capturing all of the opponent's other pieces leaving the rex alone on the board.

Notes

The designer first became active in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) in mid-1992. The SCA is a group specializing in re-creation of selective aspects of pre-17th century Western culture. Best known for their full-contact fighting activities with real armor and wooden replica weapons, members of the Society practice a wide range of arts, sciences, and cultural activities, including gaming.

One of the most satisfying challenges to a practitioner of the science of gaming in the SCA is researching the way games were played in a given place and time, and then designing original games based on period practices for use within the Society. This is one of those designs.

About the Setup

This game was originally called Known World Chess, because its pieces and their relative impact were drawn from the battlefields of the SCA's fictional Known World...the knights, the fighters, the peers, the royalty.

Just as early chess was stylized war for its place and time, so too is Known World Chess stylized war for its place and time. The fighters are in the front line, with the other figures in a second rank. The knights are both found on the right side, from time immemorial the place of honor in a battle line. (In lines of men fighting with sword and shield, the right flank was the only place where a man did not have shields on both sides--his own on his left arm, and his colleague's to his right.) The king, a formidable warrior who won his throne by martial prowess, is next to his knights. His queen is at his side, and the other great peers complete the row, with the Laurel next to the queen so they cover between them diagonals of both colors.

About the Moves

The moves of the pieces are all historical. The King, Queen, Knight, and Fighter (pawn) all bear their common medieval moves; most match modern practice as well.

The Laurel's move, identical to the Queen's, complements both Queen (by covering the other diagonal) and Pelican (with the opposite move, orthogonal instead of diagonal).

The Pelican's move, selected to complement the Laurel's, is the move of the Jester or Fool from the Germanic game of courier chess (12th-13th century).

The Squire's (promoted fighter) move is the move of the Dabbabah in one form of Islamic great chess, or the Man in courier chess. Fighters promote to Squire instead of the more customary Queen to provide a more powerful piece and reduce the number of tedious endgames.

About the Dice

The use of dice to limit which pieces may move on a turn goes back to the earliest ancestors of chess, such as four-handed chaturanga from India. European forms of dice chess are still attested in literature at least as late as 1200 AD, although the dice would eventually disappear.

Old manuscripts suggest that two long dice were used in chaturanga, and that specific die rolls allowed the move of specific pieces. Cubical dice seem to have been used in later games; an Islamic find dated to the 11th century has both a long die and a cubical die among its piece fragments. Using one die per piece moved echoes period practice in tables games and nard, ancestral to modern backgammon. But while we know that two dice were used at times, and that dice numbers equated to specific pieces, we do not know if two dice were used to move two pieces on one turn in period chess games.

About Check

Most sources for later forms of dice chess subscribe to modern rules about check. The king may not be moved into danger, and may not be left vulnerable to immediate capture. But many early forms of chess, which used dice, did not recognize check. In some games, the King (Raja) could even be sacrificed!

When using dice, it makes sense to disregard later concepts of check and mate, since a king at hazard is not automatically dead on the opponent's next move.

The bare king rule, where a king all alone loses, is also quite common in period games as an antidote to draws and dull endgames.

Final Words

Ludus Equitum captures the flavor of a different place and time. Pieces usually close for battle more slowly; only one piece has a range of greater than one square. Dice return the element of chance to a game of war, and the history of war testifies eloquently to the importance of chance.

From a gaming stance, Ludus Equitum works well in a more casual environment. Memorizing openings and calculating combinations, common in modern chess, are not helpful here. The dice limit options, and provide twice as many moves per turn. These factors all speed play, and reduce the gap between experienced players and novices.

A couple of years after designing the game, I looked up the Latin terms for the pieces and changed the name to give the game a more period feel. A few games will probably convince you, as it did me, that Ludus Equitum is quite apropos...it really is a Knight's game.

Computer Play

A Zillions of Games implementation is being developed.

Sample Game

This game was played in 1995 between two anonymous SCA members. It does not represent best play, but does illustrate some strategic and tactical ideas. White rolled 9 to a 6 for Black, and played first.

Lord Tyger (White) v Lady Dragon (Black), Pentamere, A.S. XXX (Michigan, 1995)

1W. (2,3) Pelicanus b1-a1
1B. (1,1) pass
Opening rolls which allow no move occur once in every nine games.

2W. (4,4) Miles c2-c3, Miles d2-d3
2B. (1,4) Fighter d7-d6, Regina e8-d7
White frees the regina and laurus. Moving the left-side miles early to make room for short-range pieces to advance is common.

3W. (4,4) Miles e2-e3, Miles e3-e4
3B. (3,6) Pelicanus g8-h8, Eques b8-c6
White makes an early claim to the center.

4W. (2,5) Regina d1-e2, Eques f1-e3
4B. (1,6) Eques c6-e5, Regina d7-c6
The double-move and its threat are recurring motifs. Here the eques on e5 threatens to win the game next move should Black roll 5-5, 5-6, or 6-6.

5W. (2,5) Eques g1-f3, Rex e1-f1
5B. (1,6) Eques e5xf3, Rex d8-d7
The minor threat to the White rex is removed. Black is willing to possibly swap knights on f3, because she will get away cleanly if White's rolls do not permit a recapture. Risky captures are more common in this game because the dice won't always let you be hit back.

6W. (3,3) Pelicanus a1-a2, Pelicanus a2-a3
6B. (2,4) Miles e7-e6, Regina c6-d5
The dice don't cooperate. Note the aggression of the Black regina. Her move may be limited, but it can be twice as frequent as a miles. And she's not really in much danger, as White's roll of four would surely be used to capture the eques on f3 instead.

7W. (4,6) Miles g2xf3, Eques e3-g4
7B. (5,6) Eques c8-e7, Eques e7-g6
Finally, a recapture on f3. White's eques on g4 threatens to win on a double-move. Black doesn't get to move the rex, thanks to the dice, but does charge across the board with her remaining eques.

8W. (3,6) Laurus c1-d2, Eques g4-e3
8B. (1,3) Regina d5xe4, Laurus f8-e7
White's removal to secure quarters is too conservative, removing pressure from Black. Black's regina gets out of eques-range by capturing forward; if she lives she can wreak havoc.

9W. (4,6) Miles f3xe4, Eques e3-c4
9B. (3,4) Pelicanus h8-h7, Miles b7-b6
The White eques threatens a double-move win or a single-move to a5 pressuring the miles on b7.

10W. (1,5) Rex f1-e1, Eques c4xb6!?
10B. (1,2) Rex d7-c6, Rex c6xb6!
If White's eques lives it has a 56% chance to kill the Black rex and win. But disaster strikes, as the double-move by the rex kills the eques. (This is normally an 11% shot for a rex to kill an eques threatening it by single-move.) Without an eques, one-third of White's rolls are now useless (unless he later promotes a miles).

11W. (1,5) Regina e2-f3
11B. (1,6) Rex b6-c6, Eques g6-h4
A promising turn for Black, drawing her rex to safety and using her eques to threaten a win of material (single-move) or of the game (double-move).

12W. (2,6) Regina f3-g4?
12B. (1,3) Rex c6-d7, Pelicanus h7-h6
Better for White is Rex e1-e2, removing the victory threat and guarding the attacked regina.

13W. (1,3) Pelicanus a3-b3, Rex e1-e2
13B. (1,4) Miles d6-d5, Rex d7-d6?
Advancing the pelicanus toward the Black rex is a good idea. Black's aggression leads to unnecessary risk, as a 4-4 by White leads to an avoidable loss.

14W. (3,4) Pelicanus b3-b4, Miles e4xd5!?
14B. (2,3) Rex d6xd5, Laurus e7-d6
If White is to make a rash miles advance, perhaps gambling for the win with Miles e4-e5 is superior. Black seems blind to the threat against her rex.

15W. (2,5) pass?
15B. (3,4) Miles c7-c6, Laurus d6-c5
White's decision is legal but dubious. Moving Regina g4-f3 presses the Black rex.

16W. (2,6) Regina g4-f3
16B. (2,4) Rex d5-d6, Miles f7-f6
Both players wake up. The White regina presses and the Black rex scurries away.

17W. (3,5) Pelicanus b4-c4
17B. (5,6) Eques h4xf3, Eques f3-g1!
Black uses a perfect roll to advantage, winning the regina, leaping to safety, and threatening the rex all at once.

18W. (3,4) Pelicanus c4xc5, Miles d3-d4
18B. (4,5) Eques g1xe2 [0:1]

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Copyright © 1995-2002 by Glenn E. Overby II. All rights reserved. Used by permission.


Written by Glenn Overby.
WWW page created: August 12, 2002.