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Chess on a Larger Board with not so few Pieces Dropped

By Antoine Fourrière


In my view, the most enjoyable variants are those which keep all the Orthochess types, but mix them with other pieces, like Jean-Louis Cazaux's Shako or Fergus Duniho's Eurasian Chess (although I do not agree with the lack of a diagonal Cannon or the presence of four Cannon-type pieces), Robert Montay-Marsais's Stratomic, John Brown's Centennial Chess and Millenial Chess, or the Peter Aronson series Chess with Ultima, Rococo and Supremo Pieces. Those games do not add only leapers, like Omega Chess or Wildebeest Chess, or a Marshall and a Cardinal. like Capablanca Chess and its spin-offs. (I find the Marshall and the Cardinal interesting only when creation or mutation is involved.) But my favourite variant is probably David Howe's Chess on a Longer Board with a few Pieces Added. It lumps together four exciting features: an alternator, an adaptator - in the same piece, the Changeling -, a baroque piece, the Withdrawers, and a multi-positional piece, the Wall. Clearly, if the Changeling is weaker than the Knight, or if the Withdrawer or the Wall is stronger than the Rook, it is not by much, and Chess on a Longer Board offers a lot more asymmetrical exchange opportunities than Orthochess.

Unfortunately, a piece density of 0.5 seems the limit, not to mention the fact that a third line of pieces cramps the board (the Knights in Chess on a Longer Board cannot move immediately without some extra rule) and prevents a quick attack on the King. (Admittedly, there could be a first line of Pawns, a second line of Orthochess pieces and a third line lurking behind the Orthochess pieces.) This brings us to some hard choices.

Rooks or Bishops are clearly legitimate, but when it comes to divergent pieces, there are more possibilities, and only the Orthochess Pawn and the Xiangqi Cannons have yet stood the test of time on Earth, although I'm persuaded that on some faraway planet, some kind of Murray Lion cavorts with the Knight around the Rook and the Bishop. It becomes even less obvious with baroque types. It seems just as legitimate to borrow one or two of them, but the choice of that (those) type(s) is not straightforward. Indeed, when you play Withdrawer Chess or Coordinator Chess, you already long for the other Ultima types, just as you crave for Queens and Bishops when you play Xiangqi or for Cannons and their oblique equivalents when you play Orthochess.

I guess David Howe doesn't have that problem, because he wanted only one divergent piece and one baroque piece. The Pawn was already divergent. As for the baroque piece, the Withdrawer is the most interesting Ultima piece, and the other candidates were too strong - or too contrived, like the Coordinator. So, it was the right choice in context but I would prefer to use weaker baroque types and get more leeway.

Some types need much downsizing before they can fit with Orthochess.

V.R. Parton's Chimaera, which is an uncapturable Swapping Queen type, is downright unplayable. The Immobilizer is also too powerful, and the lack of Chameleons in Immobilizer Chess implies that the side which loses his Immobilizers alone usually loses the game. (The Witches in my Jacks and Witches 84, though less mobile, present the same characteristic.)

Stratomic features the Nucleas, which teleport on any square and explode with all their non-royal neighbors. The idea of the Nuclea is great, but I don't believe the Nuclea should explode early. It is the possibility of the explosion which makes it valuable.
(In Invasion, which doesn't use Orthochess types, Jean-Louis Cazaux has Flags which turn on a Bomb when they reach one of two special squares. This is much more satisfactory, but, here again, often that condition becomes a win in itself. I prefer a condition which ensures that if one player strikes, his opponent will get a return shot.)

None of the aforementioned games features rifle capture, which is an enticing idea which seldom turns into an enticing game. Rifle Chess loses much from the inability for pieces of the same type to attack each other (except by discovery check), and a Rifle Queen would be far too potent. I also wanted baroque types myself when I invented Bilateral Chess. Since I was unwilling to waive immobilization, displacement or baroque capture, I came up with two piece types at the expense of four Pawns. The Pawn deficit was already a flaw, but another flaw was the use of a Wizard which had eight non-capturing moves and eight rifle capture moves. (It had also five rifle immobilization moves.)

Indeed, I should have begun with whatever pieces I found fully legitimate, and dropped the others at a later time, when the position had opened up.

Board and Setup

Chess on a Larger Board with not so few Pieces Dropped is an adaptation of Bilateral Chess, in the style of Chess on a Longer Board with a few pieces added, that is, with the drop of several pieces introduced or inspired by other variants.

It is played on a 12 x 8 board.


King (K): e1
Queen (Q): d1
Lions (L): y1 j1
Can(n)ons (C): z1 i1
Rooks (R): a1 h1
Knights (N): b1 g1
Bishops (B): c1 f1
Halflings (H): a pair in hand
Wizards (W): a pair in hand
Elephants (E): a pair in hand
Assassin (A): one in hand
Thunder (T): one in hand
Pawns: y2 z2 a2 b2 c2 d2 e2 f2 g2 h2 i2 j2
King (K): e8
Queen (Q): d8
Lions (L): y8 j8
Can(n)ons (C): z8 i8
Rooks (R): a8 h8
Knights (N): b8 g8
Bishops (B): c8 f8
Halflings (H): a pair in hand
Wizards (W): a pair in hand
Elephants (E): a pair in hand
Assassin (A): one in hand
Thunder (T): one in hand
Pawns: y7 z7 a7 b7 c7 d7 e7 f7 g7 h7 i7 j7

The Pieces

Only eight piece types are on the starting array.

The King, Queen, Rooks, Bishops, Knights and Pawns move as they do in International Chess, except when they are orthogonally adjacent to a Wizard.

The Lion and the Can(n)on are not new.

  • The Lion is a weaker Murray Lion. It leaps neutrally two squares, orthogonally or diagonally, but captures like the King.

  • The Can(n)on is a flip piece. At the end of its move, it becomes - or stays - a Xiangqi Cannon, aka Pao, or its diagonal equivalent, aka Canon, Vao, Arrow or Crossbow. It may also flip without moving.

    Before its first flip, the Can(n)on is set to move Rook-wise.

The other pieces may be dropped only after both Kings have moved, and before any King has reached the eighth row.

  • Originally, Halflings have been invented by Ralph Betza and are not related to baroque capture. They can move only to half the distance - rounded up - to the edge of the board. Thus a Halfling Rook has access to four squares horizontally and four vertically on an Orthochess board, as opposed to seven for the Rook. A Halfling Queen is quite as strong as a Rook. (See here for more details.) So, there is much difference between a Halfling Leaper and a Long-Leaper. However, there is quite less difference between a Halfling Withdrawer and a Withdrawer.

    In the present game, there are four types of Halflings, which all move like a Halfling Queen (there is a slight difference for the Leaper) and have baroque capture.

    • The Leaper captures as a Draught's King, but on a straight line. Its capturing move is a bit stronger than the move of a Halfling Queen. The Leaper may go one extra square to jump an enemy whose distance is exactly half the distance to the edge of the board, that is, a Leaper on d6 may go to d8 to capture on d7, but a Leaper on d5 cannot go to d8, even to capture on d7, because d7 is already nearer to d8 than it is to d5.

    • The Pincer captures custodially. (It moves orthogonally and diagonally, whether it captures or not, but the captures are themselves orthogonal, as in Tafl or Ultima.)

    • The Advancer captures by approach.

    • The Withdrawer captures by withdrawal.

    Once both Kings have moved, a player may drop as a move a pair of Halflings on a pair of empty symmetric squares on its first rank. He may drop the Leapers on b1 and g1, or b8 and g8, the Pincers on a1 and h1, or a8 and h8, the Advancers on z1 and i1, or z8 and i8, the Withdrawers on y1 and j1, or y8 and j8. His opponent will have to drop the same pair of Halflings on the corresponding squares, which often means he will have to free those squares. It may take him some time or disorganize his forces.
    Meanwhile, he will play with an inferior army.

  • The Wizards are dropped, also as a pair, on two symmetrical squares on the second rank: y2 and j2, or z2 and i2, or a2 and h2, or b2 and g2 for White, and y7 and j7, or z7 and i7, or a7 and h7, or b7 and g7 for Black. Those squares must be empty. (The second player need not drop his Wizards on the same files as the first player.)

    To the Wizard, the Kingside and the Queenside are bent against each other. The Wizard moves as a Ferz, one square diagonally, or as a mirror Wazir , that is, it first reaches the symmetrical square on the same rank, which need not be empty, and then moves as a Wazir. Thus it is usually colorbound.

    The Wizard may swap with enemy pieces, to the exception of Elephants and Golems. It also alters their mobility. An enemy piece which is orthogonally adjacent to a Wizard is only permitted a non-capturing Wazir's move, one square orthogonally. Thus a Bishop or a Wizard which is getting away of a Wizard has to change color square.
    (That neutral Wazir move affects neither the Elephants nor the Golems, which are immune to wizardry, nor the Pawns nor the Assassins, which cannot move or capture when they are orthogonally adjacent to a Wizard.)

    A Pawn which captures a Wizard suffers a serious change of metabolism. It becomes a Golem. A Golem is a two-square diagonal piece appearing on the late Wizard's square and on the Pawn's starting square. The two parts of the Golem, which must remain connected, move each as a mirror Firz, that is, first to the symmetric square on the same rank, which need not be empty, and then one square diagonally. (Thus the Golem's path is color-changing.) The Golem captures by replacement. Like the Wall, the Golem may capture two pieces at once, but is captured when either of its parts is captured, by replacement or otherwise.

  • The Elephants are dropped, still as a pair, to the immediate left and the immediate right of their King, provided those squares are empty.

    Like the Wizard, the Elephant is a not-too-straight right-to-lifer. It rotates around its King, clockwise or contra-clockwise, on an eight-square pattern which is intended to generalize the pattern of the Windmill in Alexandre Muniz's The Royal Standard. That pattern contains the squares which are distant of an eighth of the square orbit revolving around the King.
    (If an Elephant in c3 is adjacent to its King in c4, the pattern is c3, d3, d4, d5, c5, b5, b4, b3, c3 - clockwise -, or c3, b3, b4, b5, c5, d5, d4, d3, c3 - contra-clockwise. If the Elephant is in b2, a Knight's move from the King in c4, there are sixteen squares which are at a two-square distance from the King: b2, a2, a3, a4, a5, a6, b6, c6, d6, e6, e5, e4, e3, e2, d2, c2, b2, and the pattern is b2, a3, a5, b6, d6, e5, e3, d2, b2 - or the other way round : all the squares which are a Knight's leap distant to the King, The remaining squares, which are an Alfil or a Dabbabah's leap distant to the King, constitute the other Elephant pattern of, say, size 2. Similarly, there are three eight-square patterns of size 3. One reunites the squares which are three squares orthogonally or diagonally away from the King, the two others mix squares which are a Camel's leap distant to the King with squares which are a Zebra's leap distant to the King. There are four patterns of size 4, and so on. Of course, those bigger patterns are incomplete, and the Elephant cannot cross the limits of the board to reappear on the other side. Only the King's move will change the orbits of its Elephants.)

    The Elephant doesn't capture, so if the two immediate squares, clockwise and contra-clockwise, are not free, it simply cannot move. But only an enemy King, Pawn or Thunder may take it. An enemy Wizard cannot alter its move or swap with it. An enemy Can(n)on may not hop over it.

  • The Assassin doesn't move (unless it is swapped by a Wizard), but it uses rifle capture on adjacent pieces. It is dropped on any empty square where it puts the enemy King in check, that is, on a square adjacent to the King, or, less often, between the King and a friendly Can(n)on. The Assassin may also shoot en passant a Queen, Rook, Bishop, Can(n)on or Halfling (or Pawn) which travels on an adjacent square, but if that Queen, Rook, Bishop, Can(n)on or Halfling has made a capture, the capture still stands.
    (Yes, it is a Zillions-induced rule. I do not want to get bogged into a lot of attributes to retrieve captured piece types.)

    Besides, a player who captures an Assassin now owns it, and is free to drop it later, like in Shogi or Chessgi, as long as no King has reached the eighth row.

  • The Thunder is the Bomb. It may be dropped on any square, destroying the non-royal pieces on that square and on all the adjacent squares, but a player may strike only when both Kings as usual have moved (and none has reached the eighth row), but also see each other. Thus the other player will be in position to do just the same at his next turn.

Other rules

The game is conducted by the rules of International Chess, except where noted otherwise. Castling is unchanged. Stalemate or perpetual check is a draw.

A Pawn which has been swapped to its starting line is permitted a two-square advance. A Pawn which has been swapped to its first line is permitted a two or three square advance (or a one-square advance followed by a two-square advance). Extended en passant applies.

A Pawn reaching the eighth row promotes to any non-royal officer, including all four Halfling types, to the exception of a Golem. However, there are restrictions for Assassins and Thunders.

A Pawn may promote to an Assassin only if there is one empty square where it can put the King in check, in which case the move is completed by the teleportation of the new Assassin to such a square. (If the Pawn move has created a discovery check, the new Assassin must still put the King in check by contact, or by covering a Can(n)on.) A Pawn may promote to a Thunder only if both Kings see each other once the Pawn is on the eighth row, in which case the move is also completed by the explosion of the new Thunder anywhere on the board. Anyway, since the Pawn is already on the board, it is not a drop situation, and it doesn't matter whether both Kings have moved or either has reached the eighth row.

If a Pawn reaches its promotion zone by swapping, the owner of the Wizard decides how to promote it, but isn't allowed to promote it to an Assassin or a Thunder.

If a Pawn advances to the eighth row and becomes orthogonally adjacent to a Wizard, it promotes before getting bewitched - unless it promotes to an Elephant, of course -, but may not promote to an Assassin or a Thunder.

If a Pawn captures a Wizard on the eighth row, it becomes a Golem and is unable to promote.

An Assassin may shoot en passant a Pawn on the eighth row which has become an Assassin, and retrieve that Assassin if neither King has reached the eighth row.

An Assassin may shoot en passant a Pawn on the eighth row which has become a Thunder and has already explosed.

A Wizard on a central file may commute as a mirror Wazir to its current position.

An Elephant whose eight-square pattern is empty may rotate to its current position.

A swapped Wizard may swap back its swapper.

A bewitched Can(n)on may not flip, either without moving, or while completing its neutral Wazir move.

An Assassin may not shoot en passant a Can(n)on on a square when the Can(n)on is hopping over that square and wouldn't be allowed to land on it. However, an Assassin may always shoot en passant a Halfling as if it were a Halfling Queen.
(Yes, even when the Halfling is a Leaper and the only square of the Leaper's path within the Assassin's capture zone was occupied and jumped over by the Leaper.)

The play of the game

For about twenty moves, there are no drops. The game is a twelve-Pawn version of Bilateral Chess, with only two non-Orthochess, no-nonsense pieces. It could develop a body of ritualized openings. There are numerous Bishop and Can(n)on attacks on the enemy Can(n)on Pawn, which is often defended by the Lion, but seldom by the Knight.

The early middle game features the drop of a pair of Halflings whose entry squares force an already belated opponent to reorganize his position. (The other player may try to keep his King unmoved, but such a strategy is not without risks.) The Halflings - often the Leapers, whose entry squares on the b and g files have been long abandoned by the Knights - and the Assassins usually help the player who has already the upper hand. (An Assassin on the seventh rank prevents the Rooks from centralizing, and gives sometimes a shot to one Leaper on its entry square.)

The late middle game has some Xiangqi flavor. There are Can(n)ons, the Lions are rather lame, and one of the Kings may have to escape the vision of its opposite number. It also features only two or three riders, leapers or Halflings for each side against a pair of Elephants and a pair of Wizards, which are both defensive. The Elephants aren't easy to maneuver. As for the Wizards, they may be quite effective as a pair when it comes to catch or repel a Queen, a Rook or a Can(n)on, but a single Wizard - or a pair of same-color Wizards - is useful only against an Assassin or a Pawn. Golems are less protected than the Walls in Chess on a Longer Board.

Pawn promotion doesn't happen before the hundredth move, but it still happens more often than not, although the Halflings, the Wizards and the Elephants are quite skilled at slaughtering, swapping or blockading the Pawns.

Further - or Previous - Thoughts

I came up with Halfling Rifle Queens as one of the pairs of Halflings, with the idea that a Queen, Rook, Bishop or a Halfling Rifle Queen itself could sometimes threaten a Halfling Rifle Queen, but they were still too powerful.

I pitted two pairs of baroque riders, Halfling Advancers, Leapers or Rifle Queens with so-called Fools - in fact Slip Queens, which march an odd number of squares in any direction. Those Fools - Withdrawers, Coordinators or Pincers - didn't behave so badly, but the late middle game featured only one or two capture-by-replacement pieces other than the Kings and the Pawns.

I experimented with a pair of Drago(o)ns, Polypieces which were either Fergus Duniho's Dragon in British Chess or the Nightrider, but they kept forking King and Queen.

I forged five pairs of Wizards, only one of which would have been dropped. Those Wizards, which would have moved first to the symmetric square on the same rank, and then as a Queen, were Immobilizers - leading to easy captures of Zillions pieces -, Swappers - leading to indiscriminate Pawn promotions -, uncapturable and uncapturing Diplomats - leading to a lot of 200-move games -, Creators spawning a Pawn on their departure squares when those departure squares were on a file deprived of Pawns - leading to Pawn chases reminiscent of Chaplin's Modern Times, and Protectors letting friendly pieces advance forward through themselves like the Wall - which barely happened once a game.

I also gave each player two Assassins. They had a tendency to end the game before the other pieces were dropped.

Finally, I wanted to make the Golems more resilient, but then the owner of the Wizard couldn't allow their formation.

Diversity is the key characteristic, and perhaps later versions will steal from the strangest future variants, although the armies are probably big enough. Anyway, like in Chess on a Longer Board, there is a flip piece, a Halfling and baroque capture, but the Golem doesn't live long enough to be more than a cosmetic two-square piece.

There is a zrf file.
(Since Zillions doesn't take into consideration capture modes, I added bogus points. You can open the zrf and change the relative values of pieces with commands such as (1000-points) or (5000-points).)

Written by Antoine Fourrière.
WWW page created: May 8th, 2003.