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This item is a miscellaneous item
It belongs to categories: Orthodox chess, 
It was last modified on: 2011-01-08
 Author: Fergus  Duniho. On Designing Good Chess Variants. Design goals and design principles for creating Chess variants.[All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Fergus Duniho wrote on 2005-12-10 UTC
I did think of decisiveness, but I included it under design principles contributing to enjoyment rather than as a top-level quality.

Derek Nalls wrote on 2005-12-10 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
I respect the need to be diplomatic with a publication by an editor of the CV Pages. Overall, this is a fine, well-structured article covering the basics of chess variant design which fills a need using accessible language and clear examples. The only fault I find within it is that it does not, in sharp contrast to my own essay on the subject, contain a minimum of necessary value judgments. I cringed only at the parts where you advise newcomers to use the three classic games as models for good design and to intentionally create an east-west asymmetry within their armies. Even though you personally hold those preferences, I doubt the necessity of sending any-all trusting souls down those dead-end roads.

Nasmichael Farris wrote on 2005-12-10 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
Fergus, thanks for writing this treatise. I work with young chess players, and for the other coaches who may initially not see the value of variants as a teaching tool, or something to change the normal tension of the game (which allows transition from some of their tournament games to something that continues the training, but in a fresh way), this article might allow them to see variants in a different, perhaps more positive, light.

Fergus Duniho wrote on 2005-12-10 UTC

Derek Nalls wrote:

The only fault I find within it is that it does not, in sharp contrast to my own essay on the subject, contain a minimum of necessary value judgments.

Would you please clarify what this means? Are you saying (a) it's not judgmental enough, or (b) it doesn't agree with you enough?

I cringed only at the parts where you advise newcomers to use the three classic games as models for good design and to intentionally create an east-west asymmetry within their armies. Even though you personally hold those preferences, I doubt the necessity of sending any-all trusting souls down those dead-end roads.

I don't agree that these are dead-end roads. As far as symmetry goes, I consider it important for its contribution to balance, which contributes to fairness, but I don't know of any importance it has beyond this contribution. I believe that slight asymmetry adds to interest without detracting from fairness. In particular, I have seen no evidence that Chess and Shogi are appreciably imbalanced by having slight left/right asymmetry. Chess has full mirror symmetry with partial rotational symmetry, and Shogi has full rotational symmetry with partial mirror symmetry. As far as I can tell, this much symmetry is sufficient for balancing the forces, and perfect symmetry wouldn't make the forces any more balanced. Given that you value perfect symmetry, is it because (a) symmetry is important beyond its contribution to fairness, or (b) perfect symmetry is essential to fairness, or both?


Derek Nalls wrote on 2005-12-10 UTC
Please forgive my unclear writing.

I meant that our respective essays have very distinct purposes.

Mine is mainly documentation for a specific game, justifying its features in terms of likes and dislikes (based upon reason) with a maximum of value judgments.

Yours is an educational article of general purpose which should contain a minimum of value judgments (although quality itself unavoidably entails value judgments). Hopefully, many people will benefit from reading it over the years.


Derek Nalls wrote on 2005-12-10 UTC
I do not wish to argue (further) about either of the two topics you mentioned within your essay. I only wish to point-out that both topics are controversial and opinionated. As such, I ask you to seriously consider whether or not they have a proper place within an article covering the essentials (but not the abstracts) of sound chess variant design.

Fergus Duniho wrote on 2005-12-11 UTC
If I thought that controversial topics should be avoided, I would be against teaching evolution in science classes. But the controversy between evolution and creationism doesn't diminish the fact that one side is right (evolution) and the other is wrong (creationism). Likewise, I don't consider your disagreement with some of my opinions, however strong that disagreement might be, sufficient reason to avoid stating what I regard as true. I was aware of our differences of opinion before I wrote this article, and I stand by the points on which we disagree. If you don't wish to argue, I will respect that. But if you don't wish to explain your reasons for your opinions, I cannot give them much credence.

Derek Nalls wrote on 2005-12-11 UTC
All of these comments are as readily available to the reader as your main article. They serve as sufficient warning to the reader that a couple of your hopefully-or-allegedly, best recommendations are controversial. For newcomers to learn to think critically and decide for themselves about every foundational, value judgment is in their best interests, anyway.

Roberto Lavieri wrote on 2005-12-11 UTCGood ★★★★
Interesting essay, with some author´s subjectivity in a few topics, but the 'artistic aspect' is left out without clear reasons. 'Beauty', 'plasticity' and other similar words are avoided, I know these are subjective aspects, but they are very important for many potential players, regardless they are suitable for being different from one player to another. Western Chess is a beutiful game, as Shogi, but the beauty is not only inherent to the rules, board size and pieces, but to the artistic quality of many games played or to be played, and this beauty is a mix of many aspects. Subjectively, any player can decide many times which game is more artistically valuable than other, independetly its opinion is not coincident with other. I can, by example, mention a lot of games 'artistically horrible', but it is my opinion, so I am not going to do that here.

Fergus Duniho wrote on 2005-12-11 UTC
Let me just mention that I have been revising this essay, and independently of Roberto's comment, which I didn't read until I finished the latest revisions and got back on line, I included a bit about beauty.

Roberto Lavieri wrote on 2005-12-12 UTC
Is Amazons ('El Juego de las Amazonas') a Chess variant?. The answer is not so easy.

Fergus Duniho wrote on 2005-12-12 UTC
I think we can draw an easy parallel between El Juego de las Amazonas and Jeu de Dames. One is Spanish for Game of the Amazons, and the other is French for Game of Dames, Game of Ladies, or Game of Queens, depending on whether you want a translation based on etymology, connotation, or context. Jeu de Dames is known to Americans as Checkers and to the British as Draughts. Its French name reveals its relation to Chess, for Dame is the French word used for the Queen in Chess, and it was previously used for the Ferz when that piece was included in the game. I believe Jeu de Dames is so called, because its pieces are modified versions of the old Chess Queens that moved one space diagonally. Likewise, the pieces in El Juego de las Amazonas are modified Chess Queens of the modern variety. They differ from Chess Queens by being archers, and if you know the significance of the word amazon, it is obvious why this name was chosen for these pieces. Jeu de Dames is the game I have given as a paradigm of what sort of strategy boardgame is not a Chess variant. Furthermore, El Juego de las Amazonas is even more different from Chess than Jeu de Dames is. The goal of elimination is related to the goal of checkmate, as both depend on the ability of pieces to capture. But the goal of El Juego de las Amazonas is territory, and it is more closely related to games like Go or Reversi. Since Jeu de Dames is related to Chess without being a Chess variant, and El Juego de las Amazonas has no more of a relation to Chess than Jeu de Dames has, perhaps even less, I conclude that El Juego de las Amazonas is not a Chess variant.

David Paulowich wrote on 2006-03-07 UTC
The Nightrider is the jackal of the chessboard: very efficient at gobbling up Pawns, but unable to mate a lone King. Note that you need King and Nightrider and Knight to force mate in the endgame. If you simply replace the Knights with Nightriders in standard chess, you will spend most of the game worrying about loose Pawns. And also the threat of a Nightrider capturing a Rook on its home square, getting trapped, and then trading itself for a Pawn. Rook plus Pawn is a very favorable trade, as I value the Nightrider at 90% of a Rook. Lions and Unicorn Chess gives each side a single Unicorn - my name for the [Bishop + Nightrider] piece, which I estimate to be equal in value to the Queen. Most of the Pawns have multiple defenders at the start - in this game the undefended Rooks on the i-files are more obvious targets for the Unicorns. But the high value of the Unicorn limits its choice of targets - it is worth more than a Rook plus a Knight, for example. Incidentally, the Lion in this game is also strong enough to mate a lone King.

If I had been smart enough to invent Duniho's Eurasian Chess, I would probably have followed my 'no jackals' policy and not used the Arrow (Vao) piece at all. I also consider Queens to be over-powered in a variant containing Chinese Cannons. One solution is to replace each Queen with a Leo [Pao + Vao]. The Leo, which I value at 90% of a pair of Cannons, starts the game as the most powerful piece on the board. As with the Unicorn, you need to think twice before grabbing an undefended piece with your Leo. Especially when you consider that the Leo captures one way and makes noncapturing moves in a different way. Well, that was my two cents worth. I am more comfortable discussing concrete examples than general theory.


Fergus Duniho wrote on 2006-03-07 UTC
In favor of the pieces you're calling jackals, they help to make a game more decisive. I use a Nightrider in Cavalier Chess, but that game has no Pawns. So whatever ability a Nightrider has to gobble up Pawns doesn't work so well in this game. There is the problem of Nightriders being able to take out Marshalls by forking a Marshall with an Eques Rex or Queen, though it is mainly a problem for inexperienced players who don't expect it or don't know how to avoid it. Grand Cavalier Chess reduces or eliminates this problem by placing an extra rank between most of the pieces and the Cavaliers. This allows the Cavaliers to block the Nightrider attacks on the other pieces. In playing Eurasian Chess, I have not noticed any ability of the Vao to gobble up Pawns. I find it to be an interesting and sometimes very effective piece.

George Duke wrote on 2008-09-16 UTCGood ★★★★
Artist Duniho's CVs are one to-do since they are receiving few Comments lately. Duniho understands the aesthetic connection in this article explanatory of the pastime: ''Some people like to listen to many kinds of music, read many kinds of books, eat many kinds of food etc.'' ''Avoid kludgy rules when you can. Chess is not without kludgy rules. A kludgy rule is when... '' Well you have to read it.

Fergus Duniho wrote on 2008-10-15 UTC

Yesterday, I read two parts of a three-part interview with David H. Li, the author of several books on Xiang Qi: part 1 part 2 part 3. In this interview, he maintained that Xiang Qi was a superior game to Queen-Qi, his term for what we normally just call Chess. This name refers to his criticism that Chess pays too much attention to the Queen. He added that since Pawns can promote to Queens, it also pays too much attention to the Pawns. He also complained that Chess was more drawish than Xiang Qi and also more congested. He maintained that Xiang Qi was a better model of actual warfare than Chess, which tied into his claim that the earliest form of these games was originally invented by an associate of Sun Tzu to teach principles in the Art of War. One example he gave of this was that the Horse in Xiang Qi is more realistic for not being able to leap. He maintained that 'Draws are a function of spatial manoeuvrability.' Since Xiang Qi gives its pieces more space to move around in by having a larger board and by having more gaps between pieces in the opening position, it gives pieces greater spatial maneuverability and is, according to Li, less drawish.

First of all, his complaints about Chess, whatever their merits, echo some of the points I made in this article. A game should be decisive rather than drawish, and a very powerful piece can throw off the balance of the game. I complained about pieces more powerful than the Queen, such as the Amazon and the Cavalry Chess Knight. Nevertheless, he might be onto something. Last night, I ran a game of Univers Chess between SMIRF and ChessV. This is a 10x8 Capablanca-based variant with the Rook/Knight and Bishop/Knight pieces in addition to the usual pieces in Chess. For a while, the game was very congested. Towards the end, each side had a Queen, a Knight, and some Pawns. I eventually gave up on the game when the SMIRF Queen kept checking the ChessV King without getting any closer to checkmate. I don't remember a game of Xiang Qi ever ending like this. In my experience, Xiang Qi is normally won or lost, whereas I have frequently drawn in Chess. Another criticism of his amounted to this. I may be paraphrasing. Chess is largely a game of attrition, focused on material difference. Between two equally skillful players, the difference of a Pawn can decide the outcome. In Xiang Qi, material count is less important, and it is more about being able to attack your opponent better than he can attack you.


M Winther wrote on 2008-10-15 UTC
Chinese Chess (XiangQi) is immensely fun. By the way, my Zillions implementation plays a much stronger game than the standard implementation: http://hem.passagen.se/melki9/chinesechess.htm But it's hard to compare apples and pears. To compare with warfare lacks relevance, I think. Chinese Chess is very technical, and that's probably why the Chinese have devised the simpler Jungle game (Shou Dou Qi). It is a stepping stone in teaching XiangQi: http://www.chessvariants.com/other.dir/animal.html Comparatively, a less technically skilled player can survive much longer in Fide-chess, whereas the XiangQi game would soon end in catastrophe. I have played much Fide-chess and I did acquire an Elo rating, too. But I always experienced it as frustrating, due to the lack of action and creativity. Hour upon hour of wood-chopping, moving pieces around, planning and waiting. XiangQi is very different, it's action from the first move, and then it's threat upon counter-threat, and little ingenious traps, followed by mate, usually before the fortieth move. Chess, on the other hand, is more manysided. Sometimes play is slow and strategical. Sometimes it's brutal and tactical. And sometimes endgame criteria take over. But it is a little tedious, and now it suffers routinization due to theory development and computer power. So it is not the perfect game, contrary to what many people think. /Mats

H. G. Muller wrote on 2008-10-16 UTC
What do you mean by Xiangqi being 'technical'? Are you referring to the horrendously complicated rules to decide if repetitions are drawn or lost? I don't think Xiangqi is any less drawish by nature than Chess. It is true that a Queen is stronger than the Rooks, which are the strongest pieces in Xiangqi. But the royal piece of Xiangqi (a Wazir) is also a lot weaker than the King in Chess. And it is constrained to the Palace on top of that. This makes that a Knight is often enough to perform a perpetual. The fact that it never happens is only due to the rule that you lose when you do it. It would be easy enough to add a similar rule in Chess. I am not sure that it would help much, though: not many games end in a Queen ending. The usual draw occurs because there simply is not enough material difference left at the end to force a win. In fact I am surprised that this should not happen in Xiangqi, as most material is completely useless in an end-game. I read a complaint recently on the Talkchess forum that NeuChess, one of the best Xiangqi programs in existence, was not able to beat itself when playing with 20-py search against 18-ply search (which in Chess would cause a crushing defeat), because all games ended in 'draw due to insufficient mating material'. Btw, the draw percentage in Capablanca-type variants is usually only half of that in normal Chess (15% vs 30%). With Superchess, Dutch-Open rules (featuring an Amazon and Centaur in addition to the Capablanca pieces) it is even lower. The more strong pieces, the larger the probabilities for a quick mate, or devastating tactice.

M Winther wrote on 2008-10-16 UTC
I meant that XiangQi always revolves around threats and counter-threats, sacrifices and counter-sacrifices, tactical traps, mate-attacks. Strategical thinking is very scarce. Another game which is considerably slower, and puts greater demand on strategical thinking, is Korean Chess. Nevertheless, XiangQi is very fun. One can order very fine wooden piece sets, including a plastic mat board, very cheaply from a Chinese vendor at Ebay. But the information you relate is very interesting. One would want to know how complex it is compared with Fide-chess. /Mats

H. G. Muller wrote on 2008-10-16 UTC
OK, so you mean it is a more tactical game. I remember now the posting about NeuChess was actually on the Rybka forum. ( http://rybkaforum.net/cgi-bin/rybkaforum/topic_show.pl?pid=64961 ) The game tree of Xiangqi is supposed to be larger than that of Chess.

Larry Smith wrote on 2008-10-16 UTC
In the Mad Queen variant, the player is able to gain or recover pieces through promotion of the Pawn. In Shogi, not only do many of the pieces promote but the player also gains an opponent's material through capture. In XiangQi, except for the increase in power of the Soldier there are no promotions. What you see is what you get. Like most Westerns I was first introduced to the Mad Queen variant. During military service, I came into contact with and played Shogi and XiangQi. There was always other players of the Mad Queen but those of Shogi and XiangQi were rare. That was until common access to the internet(I actually played a text-based game of Mad Queen across the fledgling internet at a technology exposition in Houston when I was a Boy Scout). I enjoy all three games very much, and have real-world sets of each.

Shi Ji wrote on 2010-08-01 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
In fact Xiang Qi is too drawish. A Chinese professional player can easily force a draw playing Red (White). A few years ago The Chinese Xiang Qi Assosiation (I don't know what exactly the name is in English, just that kind of organization) even made a controversial rule that a draw equals to a win of Black. Xiang Qi has too many defending pieces and too much restrictions on offencing pieces, that's why too many draws. When I was a child, my grandpa told me that the purpose of Xiang Qi is to checkmate the opponent not maintain valued pieces. Sacrifices are very common in Xiang Qi for two reasons: a)Though the board is larger, it's hard to develop valued pieces in Xiang Qi. So sacrifices happen to exchange for partial advantages on one side (left or right) of the board. b)Players of Xiang Qi like to achieve winning of continuos mates (as VCFs in Renju). Sacrifices happen when a player can see clearly a win after many continuos mates.

M Winther wrote on 2010-08-01 UTC
This must be a misunderstanding(?). There are fewer draws in XiangQi than
in chess.

ChessBase has an interesting article about XiangQi here.
There is an interesting discussion about Chess versus XiangQi here.
/Mats

Shi Ji wrote on 2010-08-02 UTC
Mats, I don't know which is more drawish, chess or Xiang Qi. But Xiang Qi is really too drawish for professional players. For inexperienced players it often comes to a checkmate. The situation like Kasparov v.s. Anand 1995 PCA also occurs in Chinese Professional League of Xiang Qi. Professional players are making rules to punish negtive draws. I've read the article you mentioned. Too much imagination there.

M Winther wrote on 2010-08-04 UTC
Shi Ji, I question your judgment. Former women Fide-chess World Champion Xie Jun says that she prefers Xiang Qi before Fide-chess. It is more fun and not at all as tedious. /Mats

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