The Chess Variant Pages



Check out Marseillais Chess, our featured variant for February, 2024.

This page is written by the game's inventor, Bob Greenwade. This game is a favorite of its inventor.

Dealer's Chess

This was inspired somewhat by Hans Bodlaender's Pick-the-Team Chess, where several disparate pieces are brought together and the two players take turns choosing one to add to their team.

I thought, "What if the teams weren't chosen, but distributed randomly? How would that work?"

When some of my online shopping took me to a product on Amazon called Faerie Chess, which included reference cards for how each piece moved, I had my answer: each piece would have its own reference card with a picture and diagram, and the armies would be chosen that way.

Setup

This game (at least, if it's going to be played in person with physical pieces) requires some extra at-home creation before anything can start.

Advance Preparation

For each available piece, there should be a white version, a black version, and a reference card.

It stands to reason that the pieces themselves will have to be available, and you may use whatever means you prefer for making them. Some people prefer modifying existing pieces; others like to buy from specialty shops; others prefer to 3D-print theirs. Fairy chess fans have been doing this for years.

Printing out your own cards, on the other hand, is probably a new experience for most. Perforated cardstock is available from Amazon and most office-supply stores. I recommend using those that divide into 2 x 4 cards, measuring 2¾ x 4¼ inches (from Imperial 8½x11" letter-sized paper); this is the assumption on the sample PDFs I provide below.

The Game Proper

The cards come in three groups: Royal cards, Piece cards, and Pawn cards.

To keep the Royals interesting, there should be at least three different Royal pieces available (the sample cards below number six). Each player takes one card at random, and the corresponding piece is placed in the center of the back row, on the opposing color.

There must be a minimum of 16 Piece cards; the sample cards number 40, so the players may either agree on 16 to choose from, use the entire selection, or anything in between. Then each player is dealt eleven of the cards, and chooses seven to be the pieces that fill out the back row. The remaining four are kept "in hand" (see Captures and Promotions below).

By probability, the two armies should be reasonably close in combined strength. However, if either player feels that one side is unreasonably more powerful than the other, then the cards may be returned to the deck, which is then reshuffled and seven cards dealt out again.

Each player then takes the pieces corresponding to the cards given, at least for the opening setup if not the "in hand" pieces as well.

Generally speaking, the back-row pieces may be put into whatever order the player wishes, though a few guidelines are recommended:

The players should also take, and set aside, the dopplegangers of their opponents' Pieces (but only the regular pieces, not Pawns or Royals).

Then two more cards are taken from the Pieces stack, and each player takes both of those pieces to keep in hand (see Captures and Promotions below).

Finally, the Pawn cards are dealt out, eight per player, and each player takes the eight corresponding Pawns and arranges them on the second row in any order desired.

Alternate: Simplified

This is a version that can be played with conventional pieces; only the cards are needed.

The Royal piece is chosen as above. Each player draws seven Piece cards, as above; the one that seems most powerful becomes the Queen, and the player chooses three others to be the Bishop, Knight, and Rook, discarding the rest. Then three Pawn piece is drawn by each player, and each selects one of the three; all of the player's Pawns will move like that one.

Promotions are done as in standard Chess (ignore the special rule below).

Alternate: 10 x 10

This could also be played on a 10x10 board, with each player getting 9 back-row Pieces (out of 14 cards dealt) and 10 Pawns.

Optionally, a third row could be made up of 10 more pieces (with a total of 25 cards), or 10 Spears (see below).

Alternate: 12 x 12

And of course it can be played on a 12x12 board, using all of the available Pawns, plus 23 back-row Pieces (from 28 cards) on each side set into two back rows.

Again, while the players may arrange their pieces however they like, there's one additional recommendation: sliders and long leapers should go in the back, and shorter, limited movers in front of them.

Since this would require more pieces than available in the "starter kit," at least one Expansion Set will be needed. This includes the possibility of using Spears for the middle row, in which case only 16 cards needs to be dealt from the regular deck.

Pieces

The players may use any selection of pieces that suits them, as long as it's mutually agreed on. To get things started, I'm providing a set of PDF files for several (relatively) simple pieces, including the standard Chess pieces.

A few quick notes on notation and terminology used here (for those who may not be familiar):

Royals

The sample Royal pieces are:

  1. Chef - Moves one or two spaces sideways, or one space diagonally.
  2. King - Moves one space in any direction.
  3. Pharaoh - Moves without capture to any adjacent space, or leaps (1,3) only to capture.
  4. Pope - Moves one space orthogonally, or two spaces (non-leaping) diagonally.
  5. President - Moves one or two spaces orthogonally.
  6. Rex - Makes a (1,2) non-leaping move.
  7. Shogun - Moves one space orthogonally, or captures with a (1,2) leap.

That's seven, which should be plenty even though the sheet generates eight cards. The eighth can be left blank, in case you want to create something yourself by hand.

All of these pieces carry the same Royal abilities and restrictions: capable of castling, must stay out of check, etc.

A PDF of the Royal cards, along with STF files for all seven pieces, can be found here.

Pieces

Sample card (Alfil)The sample list of regular Pieces are (listed alphabetically):

  1. Alfil - Leaps two squares diagonally.
  2. Alibaba - Leaps two spaces orthogonally or diagonally.
  3. Antelope - Leaps (3,4).
  4. Archbishop - Slides diagonally, or leaps (1,2).
  5. Aurochs - Leaps (1,2) or (1,4)
  6. Bishop - Slides diagonally.
  7. Bison - Leaps (1,3) or (2,3)
  8. Buffalo - Leaps (1,2), (1,3), or (2,3).
  9. Camel - Leaps (1,3).
  10. Cannon - Slides orthogonally, but must leap over another piece to capture.
  11. Chancellor - Slides orthogonally, or leaps (1,2).
  12. Cheetah - Leaps to any square three spaces away.
  13. Dabbaba - Leaps two spaces orthogonally.
  14. Ferz - Moves one space diagonally.
  15. Giraffe - Leaps (1,4).
  16. Gnu - Leaps (1,2) or (1,3).
  17. Gryffon - Moves one square diagonally; then may continue sliding outward orthogonally.
  18. Guard - Moves one space in any direction.
  19. Guardian - Moves without capture one space diagonally, or moves with required capture one space orthogonally.
  20. Impala - Leaps (1,2) or (3,4).
  21. Kirin - Moves one space diagonally, or leaps two spaces orthogonally.
  22. Knight - Leaps (1,2).
  23. Lion - Moves one space in any direction, or leaps to any square two spaces away.
  24. Mastodon - Moves one space in any direction, or leaps two spaces diagonally or orthogonally.
  25. Minister - Moves one space orthogonally, leaps two spaces orthogonally, or leaps (1,2)
  26. Nightrider - Makes repeated leaps of (1,2) in a straight line.
  27. Phoenix - Moves one space orthogonally, or leaps two spaces diagonally.
  28. Queen - Slides diagonally or orthogonally.
  29. Rhinoceros - Moves one square orthogonally; then may continue sliding outward diagonally.
  30. Rook - Slides orthogonally.
  31. Ship - Moves one space diagonally, then may continue sliding orthogonally forward or backward away from the starting point.
  32. Snake - Moves one space forward or backward, then may continue sliding outward diagonally.
  33. Squirrel - Leaps to any square two spaces away.
  34. Steward - Moves without capture one space orthogonally, or moves with required capture one space diagonally.
  35. Threeleaper - Leaps three spaces orthogonally.
  36. Turtle - Slides up to four spaces orthogonally or diagonally, or leaps two spaces in those same directions.
  37. Unicorn - Slides diagonally, or makes repeated leaps of (1,2) in a straight line.
  38. Vao - Slides diagonally, but must leap over another piece to capture.
  39. Wazir - Moves one space orthogonally.
  40. Zebra - Leaps (2,3).

A PDF of the Piece cards, along with STF files for all 40 pieces, can be found here.

The backs of the cards are in a separate file for two reasons: one, to save space, since printing them out merely means printing the one page five times; and two, for use with Expansion Sets.

Expansion Sets

I've begun the process of creating Expansion Sets for this game, in case anyone wants them (also because I find them quite fun to make!).

Expansion Set #1: Simple Variants features the Abbot, Admiral, Amazon, Camelrider, Castellan, Centauride, General, High Priestess, Hospitaller, Marquis, Missionary, Priest, Sorcerer, Templar, Wizard, and Zebrarider.

Expansion Set #2: Intermediate Variants features the Boxer, Centaur, Duchess, Indrik, Lady in Waiting, Left Knight, Muezzin, Nao, Narrow Knight, Okapi, Queen Mother, Right Knight, Simurgh, Thaumaturge, and Wide Knight.

Expansion Set #3: By Any Other Name (pieces whose names describe their moves) features the B4ND, Bede, Double Cross, Fibnif, Fiveleaper, Forfer, Fourleaper, Foursquare, Gerfod, Heart, N2R4, NARF, Root-N25 Leaper, Round, Sniff, and Zero.

Pawns

The Pawns in the "starter kit" are:

  1. Arrow Pawn - Moves one or two spaces orthogonally without capturing; or one space diagonally, only to capture.
  2. Berolina Pawn - Moves one space forward diagonally (two for the opening move) without capturing, or one space directly forward to capture.
  3. Chicken Pawn - Moves one space directly forward (two for the opening move) without capturing, or one space diagonally forward to capture; if under attack slides backward directly or diagonally.
  4. Enhanced Pawn - Moves one space directly forward (two for the opening move) without capturing, or one space diagonally or sideways to capture.
  5. Fish Pawn - Moves one space directly forward (two for the opening move) or backward without capturing, or one space diagonally forward to capture.
  6. Gold Pawn - Moves one space orthogonally, or forward diagonally.
  7. Horse Pawn - Leaps (1,2) directly forward (that is, two spaces forward, and one to the side). No en passant.
  8. Iron Pawn - Moves one space directly or diagonally forward.
  9. Japanese Pawn - Moves one space forward diagonally (two directly forward, without capturing, for the opening move).
  10. Korean Pawn - Moves one space orthogonally forward or sideways.
  11. Lance Pawn - Leaps (1,2) directly forward (that is, two spaces forward, and one to the side), or without capturing sideways and forward (one space forward, and two to the side). No en passant.
  12. Left End Pawn - Moves without capturing one space directly forward (two for opening), or one space diagonally forward and to the right and then orthogonally forward or to the right; or forward diagonally, only to capture.
  13. Linebacker Pawn - Moves one space directly or diagonally forward (two for the opening move). Cannot capture, but pushes an enemy piece to the empty square just beyond.
  14. Mecklenbeck Pawn - Moves one space directly forward (two for the opening move) without capturing, or one space diagonally forward to capture. Promotes at the opponent's Pawn Row.
  15. Mongolian Pawn - Moves one space directly forward (three for the opening move) without capturing, or one space diagonally forward to capture.
  16. Patient Pawn - Moves one space directly forward without capturing, or one space diagonally forward to capture; opening move may be two spaces directly forward, or one directly forward and a second diagonally forward, to capture.
  17. Piglet Pawn - Moves one space diagonally forward (leaping two spaces for the opening move), or one space directly or diagonally backward without capturing.
  18. Right End Pawn - Moves without capturing one space directly forward (two for opening), or one space diagonally forward and to the left and then orthogonally forward or to the left; or forward diagonally, only to capture.
  19. Scorpion Pawn - Moves one space directly forward (two for the opening move) or leaps (1,2) sideways and forward (one space forward, and two to the side) without capturing, or one space diagonally forward to capture.
  20. Silver Pawn - Moves one space diagonally, or directly forward.
  21. Standard Pawn - Moves one space directly forward (two for the opening move) without capturing, or one space diagonally forward to capture.
  22. Torpedo Pawn - Moves one or two spaces directly forward without capturing, or one space diagonally forward to capture.
  23. Zabel Pawn - Moves one space directly forward (two for the final move to promotion) without capturing, or one space diagonally forward to capture.
  24. Zombie Pawn - Moves one space directly or diagonally forward, or without capture directly backward; a piece capturing it becomes a Zombie Pawn (but does not change color).

Except where noted otherwise, all Pawns can capture or be captured en passant, and promote upon reaching the farthest row.

A PDF of the Pawn cards, along with STF files for all 24 pawns, can be found here.

As with the Piece cards, the card backs are in a separate file, and for the same reasons.

Expansion Sets

There also are Expansion Sets for the Pawns.

Pawn Expansion Set #1: Mecklenbeck Pawns contains Mecklenbeck versions of the Berolina, Enhanced, Fish, Gold, Linebacker, Mongolian, Silver, and Zombie Pawns. They move the same as the non-Mecklenbeck versions, but promote on the opponent's Pawn Row. There wasn't room to include this information on the cards; it should be taken as given from the name "Mecklenbeck."

Pawn Expansion Set #2: Filling Out includes the Copper, Luna, and Luna-Berolina Pawns, along with Mecklenbeck versions of those three plus the Korean and Patient Pawns.

Spears

Though Spears are not used in the base game, they can play an important role in an expanded game, by way of Special Expansions. They shouldn't be used on an 8x8 board, but any larger board is fine.

At their core, Spears are basically "Pawnriders," sliding forward where a Pawn moves only one step. More broadly, any piece with a strong forward move, usually sliding or riding, but little to no backward move can be considered a Spear.

Because their movement are mainly if not exclusively forward, Spears promote just like Pawns upon reaching the farthest row.

When used, Spears go into the row behind the Pawns. They should be among the first placed on the board, lest the available spaces run out.

It's also possible, on a 10x10 or larger board, to dedicate the second row to being a row of Spears. The first expansion of Spears includes enough to do this on 10x10 or 12x12. In this case, the Spears are a separate deck, and the number of cards dealt to each player is equal to the number of columns.

Special Expansion Sets

Each set includes a special set of card backs specifically for Spears, but these are optional. Spears may be included with the main Pieces deck, or printed as a separate deck and dealt evenly to the players.

Special Expansion #1: Spears & Company includes the Arabian Spear, Berolina Spear, Bishight, Charging Bishop, Charging Knight, Charging Queen, Charging Rook, Chicken Spear, Copper Spear, Free Demon, Great Dream-Eater, Great Elephant, Korean Spear, Lance, Luna Spear, Luna-Berolina Spear, Major Annoyance, Minor Annoyance, Ram's-Head Soldier, Right Spear, Roight, South Wind, and Vivi.

Rules

Once play commences, the rules are whatever both players are used to when playing chess, subject to changes and exceptions for the individual pieces (most notably some of the Pawns), and the bit about Capturing and Promotions below.

Castling is used, since it's really dependent on the Royal piece; whatever pieces the player puts in the corner are the castling partners.

Both players are encouraged to keep the piece cards on hand for reference, and to allow their opponents to examine the information on the cards if needed.

Capturing and Promotions

A captured piece is taken by the capturing player, and its doppleganger placed "in hand" (along with the extras that were drawn at the beginning). The player whose piece was captured should also hand over that piece's reference card.

When any Pawn or Spear reaches the back row (or, in the case of Mecklenbeck Pawns, the opponent's Pawn Row), that piece can immediately promote to any piece in the player's hand. If the player chooses one of the pieces that was drawn at the beginning, the other player may not promote to that piece.

Big Deck Option: If there are several Piece Cards left over, the players may set aside the above rule, and use a Draw Stack and Disacard Pile instead.

The undealt Piece Cards are placed in a Draw Stack next to the board. When a piece is captured, it's set aside and its card is placed face-up in a Discard Pile. Then, when a Pawn promotes, the player draws three cards from the top of the Draw Stack, and chooses from those which the Pawn promotes to. The cards for the other two choices are put into the Discard Pile.

Should the Draw Stack get down to fewer than three cards, any remaining cards are put on the Discard Pile, the cards are shuffled, and they're placed face-down into a new Draw Stack.

Notes

The name, of course, is a vague pun on the phrase "dealer's choice," and refers to how the pieces are dealt to each player at random.

(Admittedly, the Gold Pawn and Silver Pawn, along with Pawns of other metals, are basically just the Gold, Silver, and other type of General from Shogi; a similar approach is taken with other pieces.)

Future Expansions

I probably will continue add themed 8-, 16-, and occasionally 24-card "expansion sets." Possible themes for future sets could include those with food names, those with animal names, those with weird special abilities, etc. I'm open to requests, suggestions, or even offers to make further sets.

There also will probably be more future expansions for the Pawns. These might include military ranks, Cazaux pawns (like his Troll, they have other moves that cannot be used to reach the promotion line), and more.

As they develop, these will be linked in the Piece and Pawn sections above.



This 'user submitted' page is a collaboration between the posting user and the Chess Variant Pages. Registered contributors to the Chess Variant Pages have the ability to post their own works, subject to review and editing by the Chess Variant Pages Editorial Staff.


By Bob Greenwade.

Last revised by Bob Greenwade.


Web page created: 2023-08-31. Web page last updated: 2023-08-31