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The Fellowship of the Ring

"The Enemy still lacks one thing to give him strength and knowledge to beat down all resistance, break the last defences, and cover all the lands in a second darkness. He lacks the One Ring." -- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

The idea for this variant took shape as I was viewing the Fellowship of the Ring film. I imagined Frodo Baggins as a goodly white pawn, bearing an artifact across the board -- an artifact originally hidden, but which wants to be found by evil, and which will be located by the evil army through torture. Frodo needs the protection of his fellow chessmen as he bears the ring to the fires of the eighth rank. So seductive is the power of this artifact that it may corrupt those who wear it, and no one will part with it willingly.

I wanted the game to be asymmetrical. One of White's goals is to escort the Ring across the board to its destruction, while Black can gain an advantage by intercepting it. Although gameplay is asymmetrical, the starting armies are identical.

The Rules

The starting position is as in FIDE Chess, and the rules of FIDE Chess apply, with the following additions:

  • There is an object called the One Ring that can be worn by any piece. Initially, it is not on the board. When the first White piece is captured, White chooses one of his pawns to wear the ring. This assignment does not use up a move.
  • A White piece wearing the Ring may step one space directly or diagonally forward. A Black piece wearing the Ring may move as a Queen.
  • When a piece wearing the Ring is captured, its captor puts on the Ring. If the captured piece was a White piece other than a Pawn, it trades places with its captor and becomes Black.
  • A White piece wearing the Ring on the far rank may, as its move, destroy the Ring. If the Ring is destroyed, White wins the game.
  • Stalemate is a win for the last player to move.

The Asymmetry

Advantages for White include:
  • Is the first to move
  • Can win by escorting the Ring across the board
  • Is the first to control the Ring
Advantages for Black include:
  • Can gain the power of a Queen by capturing the Ring.
  • Can convert enemy pieces by giving up and recapturing the Ring.
  • Has a good chance of capturing the Ring, as a white pawn bearing the Ring is considerably less mobile than a King.
White may have to spread its resources a little thin or break off an otherwise flawless attack to prevent the Ring from reaching the hands of the enemy. In a playtesting session, Zillions (3-5 seconds per move, on machines ranging from a PentiumIII/450 to an Athlon/1200) played sixty games against itself. Of these, White won 25, Black won 33, and there were 2 draws by repetition (both after fewer than ten moves). This suggests that Black may have the upper hand, but just barely.


See the power of the Ring at work in these puzzles, generated and analyzed with the help of Zillions.

Play on Zillions!

Inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien
Invented by Robert Price

Written by Robert Price.
WWW page created: February 17, 2002. ´╗┐