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The Chess Variants Page

Recent evolutionary research suggests that there's more to playing games than just playing games. Playing games is one of the main ways we hominids display our fitness to potential mates. (Music is another.) But you don't care about that. You're just here because you want to fool around.

Most of us know how to play chess, but not everybody knows that there are many, many ways to play chess. If you're curious, check out The Chess Variant Pages. Some of the games in that vast archive are extraordinary. Some are merely silly. Some are both.

I've created a number of chess variants over the years. In the list below you'll find links to those that I feel are the most interesting and/or playable. "Interesting" and "playable" are not necessarily the same thing, by the way. Variants like Chesseract and CVector are interesting in a conceptual sense (to me, anyway), yet they're largely unplayable.

So what makes a good and playable chess variant? In musing about this (while playing a game by email or simply driving down the freeway with nothing more important to think about), I've begun to feel that the best variants are those that are most like classic chess. Changing the rules in one or two simple ways is enough to create an entirely new kind of game experience -- and it's an experience that ordinary people can savor. Conversely, a chess variant in which each player has 500 pieces, or in which the existing pieces are affected by dozens of special rules, would be merely tiresome.

I recently revisited the rules of Five Up, simplifying them so as to make the game more like classic chess (to the extent that's possible on a three-dimensional board). If you're looking for a place to start, that one would be my recommendation.

If your browser doesn't display the board diagrams in a monospace font, such as Courier, they will appear to be gibberish. In Internet Explorer, select the font for the diagrams in Tools -> Internet Options -> Fonts -> Plain Text Font. In Netscape, select the font in Edit -> Preferences -> Category: Fonts -> Fixed Width Font.

  • Five Up is a three-dimensional variant on a 5x5x5 board.
  • Stones & Relays can be played with a standard board and pieces. The topology of the board is not entirely linear, however.
  • Escher Staircase is also a variant that can be played with an ordinary board and pieces. The board itself moves, however. Or at least, you have to pretend it's moving.
  • CVector is a dangerously challenging variant. It's also playable with standard equipment.
  • Uncertainty can be played on many different boards. Each player begins with nothing but pawns, and the pieces appear during the course of the game.
  • Cycle is another variant that can be played on a standard board, though some extra pieces will be needed. The identities of some pieces mutate during the game.
  • In Clairvoyant Chess, you earn credits by guessing what your opponent will do next. Credits can then be spent on extra moves or extra pieces.
  • Chesseract is played on a four-dimensional board, a fact that makes it basically unplayable, at least by anyone born on this planet.
  • Deflection is not unlike Stones & Relays, though it requires a slightly larger board.
  • Tandem-84 is played on two 42-square boards at once.

If you'd like to try playing any of these games by email, drop me a line.


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