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For those who are frightened by the complexity of Zanzibar in its -XL version, there is a moderate version named Zanzibar-S. Zanzibar-S is an intermediate between Metamachy and Zanzibar-XL. Here, there are only (!) 72 pieces of 17 different types, 36 for each player: 1 King, 1 Queen, 1 Eagle, 1 Lion, 1 Rhinoceros, 1 Buffalo, 2 Princes, 2 Bishops, 2 Knights, 2 Camels, 2 Rooks, 2 Cannons, 2 Elephants, 2 Giraffes, 2 Crocodiles, 2 Machines and 10 Pawns. In Zanzibar-S there is no Marshal and Cardinal. Pawns can only promote to Queen, Eagle, Lion, Rhinoceros or Buffalo when reaching the opposite side of the board.


Like for the -XL version, Black chooses the setup and White makes the first move. At the beginning Pawns, and all pieces which come as pairs (Elephants, Cannons, Rooks, Camels, Knights, Giraffes, Bishops, Crocodiles, Machines and Princes) are placed on the board.

Setup of fixed starting pieces at Zanzibar-S

Then, Black freely decides where to place his King, Queen, Eagle and Lion on squares f12, g12, f11 and g11. After this, Black decides where to place his Rhinoceros and Buffalo on squares e12 and h12.

Then, White places his pieces to mirror Black's (if Black King is on f12, White King goes on f1) and makes the first move.

This agreement balances the advantage of White starting to play with Black choosing the setup.

As pieces are placed in mirror symmetry, positions of Kings on f squares are exactly equivalent of positions of King on g squares. Then, it can be demonstrated that there are 24 different starting positions:

  • The King can be on f1 or f2: 2 choices.
  • Then, the Queen has a choice of 3 positions: beside the King, beneath the King or diagonal to the King.
  • Then, the Eagle has a choice of 2 remaining positions.
  • Then, the left place is for the Lion.
  • Then, the Rhinoceros has a choice of 2 remaining positions.
  • Then, the left place is for the Buffalo. 2x3x2x2 = 24.

1 of the 24 possible starting positions for Zanzibar-S

Diagrams made with the fantastic Chess Board Painting Tools provided by Musketeer Chess


King: moves 1 step in every (8) directions on a not attacked square. The King is in check if it is attacked by one or several enemy pieces. It is forbidden to play a move letting his King in check.

There is no castling in Zanzibar. At his first move, the King may jump to a free square at two squares' distance. For instance, from f2, it can jump to d1, d2, d3, d4, e4, f4, g4, h4, h3, h2 or h1). It does not matter if the square jumped over is occupied or not; however, the jump is forbidden if that intermediate square is threatened by an enemy piece. When jumping like a Knight, at least one of the two intermediate squares must be free of threat (e.g., if jumping from f2 to h3, either g2 or g3 must not be under attack). The King's jump is not permitted if the King is in check. This rule, which was once prevalent in medieval European chess, replaces castling. Identical to Metamachy.

Queen: slides to any square along the file, the rank or a diagonal on which it stands. Identical to standard chess.

Eagle: moves one square diagonally and then, slides away of an indefinite number of squares vertically or horizontally. It is authorized to go only one square diagonal. It can not jump and the unobstructed path must start with the diagonal movement. This piece is almost as powerful as the Queen and is inspired by the Giraffe from Tamerlane's Chess and the Aanca (a mythical giant bird preying elephants, mistaken for a gryphon) from Alfonso X's Grande Acedrex. Identical to Metamachy.

Move of the Eagle

Rhinoceros: moves one square vertically or horizontally and then, slides away of an indefinite number of squares diagonally. It is authorized to go only one square in line or column. It can not jump and the unobstructed path must start with the orthogonal movement. This piece is inspired by the Unicorn of mediaeval Grande Acedrex. It is a counterpart of the Eagle.

Moves of the Rhinoceros

Lion: moves as a King (a single step move in any direction as Wazir or Ferz), or may jump to a position two squares away, jumping in any orthogonal (Dabbaba) or diagonal (Alfil) directions, or jumping as a Knight. (Inspired by Chu Shogi, the most popular variant of the Japanese Chess, where the Lion has the same range but is more dreadful as it can move twice in a turn). Identical to Metamachy.

Moves of the Lion

Rook: moves to any square along the file or the rank on which it stands. Identical to standard chess (except there is no castling)

Bishop: slides to any square along a diagonal on which it stands. Identical to standard chess

Knight: a (2,1) jumper, it jumps to the opposite square of a 2x3 rectangle. No matter what the intermediate square contains. Identical to standard chess

Camel: a (3,1) jumper, it jumps to the opposite square of a 2x4 rectangle, like an extended Knight. No matter what intermediate squares contain. Note that it always stays on the same color of square. A well known piece from medieval Muslim great Chess like Tamerlane's Chess

Moves of the Camel

Giraffe: a (3,2) jumper, it jumps to the opposite square of a 3x4 rectangle, like an extended Knight. No matter what intermediate squares contain. Note that it always changes the same color of its square. That piece is found in Alfonso X's Grant Acedrex (but its move has been rendered differently by 20th century historians). The same pattern, but with a non-jumping move, is found in Janggi, Korean Chess, for the Elephant. Under the name of Zebra, it is also a fairy piece used by problemists for compositions.

Moves of the Giraffe

Buffalo: combines the leaps of the Knight (2,1), the Camel (3,1) and the Giraffe (3,2).  

Moves of the Buffalo

Cannon: exactly as in Xiangqi. The Cannon moves without taking like a Rook, but it takes by going in a straight horizontal and vertical line and jumping over exactly one piece. When a Cannon takes a piece, there must be exactly one piece between the original and final square of the Cannon's move - this piece may be of either color. This is identical to the move of the Cannon in Shako and Metamachy.

Moves of the Cannon

Crocodile: it is the diagonal counterpart of the Xiangqi's Cannon. It moves like a Bishop (which was named Crocodile in Grant Acedrex) and needs an intermediate piece between itself and its victim to capture it. The Crocodile jumps the intermediate and takes the victim on its square. The intermediate is left unaffected. (Also known as Vao by problemists).

Moves of the Crocodile

Machine: it is an orthogonal counterpart of the Elephant as it moves 1 or 2 squares orthogonally, jumping over the first square if it is occupied. Then, it combines the moves of old Dabbaba and Wazir found in ancient Muslim Chess variants. The word Dabbaba designated a siege machine at war in Arabic, hence the name given for this piece.

Moves of the (War) Machine

Elephant: exactly as in Shako and Metamachy. It moves one or two squares diagonally. When an Elephant moves two squares, no matter what intermediate squares contain. Note that it always stays on the same color of square. The Elephant moves as the combined Alfil and Ferz from Shatranj, two pieces which were also present in mediaeval Chess and have disappeared with the birth of modern moves for the Bishop and the Queen.

Moves of the Elephant

Prince: a non-royal King who moves and captures one square in any direction, but without being hindered by check. It has been inspired by medieval games like the Courier chess , an old chess variant, played in Germany, where it is called "Man". Like the Pawn, he can also move without capturing to the second square straight ahead. 

Moves of the Prince

Pawn: can move straight forward one or two square from any position on the board, without capturing. It captures one square diagonally forward. Identical to Metamachy.



Pawn and Prince Promotion: A Pawn or a Prince reaching the last rank of the board is immediately replaced by a "chief" piece: Queen, Eagle, Lion, Rhinoceros or Buffalo. Promotion to any other type of piece is not allowed. It is permitted to promote a Pawn or Prince to a type of piece already present on the same side; however; it is considered "good etiquette" to avoid choosing a piece which is not captured yet, if possible. 

En Passant capture: Any time a Pawn or Prince takes a double step and passes through the capture square of an opposing Pawn, that Pawn may capture the Pawn or Prince as if it had only moved one square. This en passant capture must be made on the move immediately following the double step. Only a Pawn may capture en passant; the Prince does not have this option.

End Of Game: The end-of-game rules, checkmate, stalemate, etc., are identical to standard chess.


timurthelenktimurthelenktimurthelenktimurthelenkA photograph of a Zanzibar-S board and pieces

A photograph of a Zanzibar-S board and pieces

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By Jean-Louis Cazaux.
Web page created: 2020-06-07. Web page last updated: 2020-06-08