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A book review

Meta-Chess: Adventures beyond the bounds of chess is a book, written by John William Brown, from Lewisville, AR, USA. This book, so far printed by Brown himself in a small quantity, counts around 300 pages, is spiralbound, printed on goodlooking paper, with several pages in color.

I received from Brown the first version of his book: a second version is made, with some modifications based on readers suggestions, and is available from John Brown (addresses shown in the end of this review).

The book consists of three parts; the first, longest, and for me most interesting part gives an introduction in `the Meta-Chess system' and gives the rules of several chess variants. The second part describes how one can make equipment for playing these games oneself; and the third part shows the `theory' behind the system.

The main idea behind `Meta-Chess' is that this is not a chess variant, but a way to make chess variants, and to have the materials to play the variants directly by hand. Brown plays chess variants with his friends; and they often play new variants made by themselves. This book gives clear guidelines how to do this.

A problem when playing chess variants is usually to get good pieces to play the games with. For this, John Brown has invented a method to make counters which have a graphical display showing in an abstract way the movement of the piece. The cover of the book (which I will scan and show here) shows some of these counters.

Brown has also solutions for the different boards needed for the variants, and even a quick way to find the pieces needed for a particular variant.

Perhaps the main message of the book are a number of guidelines to invent ones own chess variants.

Then, after that, he describes several chess variants with his own terminology and shows the respective counters. These are a few historic chess variants (which you all can find on the Chess Variant pages), and a few new ones, invented (or `composed') by himself and by Thomas Havel: Prince chess (players have two princes that both must be mated - an old idea in a somewhat new form); Hand Shogi (a shogi variant that goes very quick because players start with many pieces in hand); Centennial Chess (a chess variant on a 10 by 10 board); Savant Chess (a large variant with many new pieces on a 12 by 12 board); Jester Chess (on a 10 by 10 board, named after the Jester, who imitates the last piece moved by the opponent); Grand Prince Chess (on a 9 by 10 board, with two princes that both must be mated and several new pieces), and Asian Shogi (a shogi variant with new pieces, on a Korean chess board: pieces may only be dropped while the king is in his `citadel').

The second part of the book describes how one can make markers and boards to play the game. Brown uses flat markers who display in a graphical way the moves of the piece represented by the marker (thus, modifying the Shogi style of pieces by using move-representations instead of characters/names; this helps to remember the moves of pieces). He explains how markers can be made from Card stock, Poster board, Bristol board, and Plastic based materials, and gives detailed descriptions. He also discusses how to make boards, a storage system for the markers, and a patented way to quickly get the types of pieces one needs for a particular variant.

The third part of the book describes moves of more chess pieces, names them in a systematic way, and gives a way to calculate the value of the pieces.

The book is well written, and Brown has an excellent way of expressing himself in English, although, especially in the latter parts, he is at times a little too formal. The book has many figures, which are clear and well made; a few are in color. Also, it comes with four colored sheets of thick paper with pieces inprinted on them - readers can use these for playing the games described in the book themselves.

Overall, it is a book which I liked, and would recommend for Chess Variant enthusiasts.

This review was based on the first edition of the book; a second edition is available from the author. John Brown wrote the following about this second edition:

Improvements were made to the 2nd edition of Meta-Chess based on feedback from readers who participated in the market testing of the 1st edition. Thanks to their vigilance, most of the errors have now been corrected. Moreover, a number of changes were made in order to improve compatability with current CV practices. Several readers requested more actual variants, so an appendix was added that includes new games by Thomas E. Havel. The appendix entitled "The Logical Basis of CPA" was eliminated altogether, as readers expressed little interest in it. (Although it is still available by special request).

John William Brown can be reached at the following address:

John William Brown
Kronschild Publishing
2030 Spruce Street
Lewisville AR 71845
Email: (email removed contact us for address)

The price of the book is: $24.95 plus $4.95 for shipping and handling.

See also:

Review written by: Hans Bodlaender.
WWW page created: April 15, 1997. Last modified: March 6, 1999.