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This page is written by the game's inventor, Gary Gifford.


This game was created as an entry to the tenth anniversary “10” contest.  The element of “10” required by the contest rules is contained in the 10 x 10 board.

To create the game I used an approach similar to that used by Carl Jung when he philosophized about the I Ching and the concept of synchronicity.  Jung would obtain a certain I Ching reading at random and apply it to reality… a synchronistic event.  Could I do the same thing with Runes to create a game?  Would the game make sense?  I explained the rune experiment to my wife.  “What if it doesn’t work?” she asked.  Indeed…  it was a strange idea.

I quickly decided to use a 10 x 10 board, 10 pawns, to be determined by a random rune drawing and 10 pieces per side (2 of each piece type), also to be determined by a random drawing of runes.

To put myself in the right frame of mind for creating the rune game I first concentrated on Odin and Chess.  In Nordic mythology Odin is a wise god who brought the runes to mankind, something akin to Prometheus bringing fire to men.  I then thoroughly shuffled and mixed a set of rune cards and randomly selected six.  1 of the six would be for runic Pawns, the other 5 would be doubled for the pieces.

I was surprised by the results.  Ethel was drawn for the pawns.  And I instantly realized that they would move as described by their vector image.  And as for the pieces, I was amazed to see an obvious Rook and Bishop among them.  But as for the other three pieces, what where they and how would they move?

I wanted pieces that were truly inspired by rune images and meanings so I consulted two works, both listed in the bibliography.

A Practical Guide to the Runes, by Lisa Peschel, and

Rune Magic, Complete Instructions for the use of Cards and Dice, by Donald Tyson

While thinking about a runic chess game and reading about the meanings of the randomly drawn runes, i.e., the meanings as provided by Peschel and Tyson, I was quickly able to make sense of the new chess variant.

Note:    For the actual Odin’s Rune Chess a traditional non-checkered board would be used, as in Shogi, Go, and Xianqi.  The board would be made of stone with lines carved into it to create the squares.  However, for those of us in the Western world such stone boards are difficult to make.  Colorized boards make things much easier when it comes to seeing diagonals and understanding piece movement, not to mention acquiring or making the boards.  Thus a Western style board is being used in these instructions.


Capture both of your opponent’s Kings to win.  Draws are possible; stalemates are not.





How it moves and captures:



Like a Rook in Western Chess.   But there is no castling.

Forest Ox



Moves like a Knight in Western Chess. Captures as a Knight in Western Chess, plus can optionally remove any one piece one space away orthogonally or diagonally [while staying on the square it just moved to].  Thus the Forest Ox can capture 2 pieces in one turn: 
(a) capturing a King, piece, or pawn on the destination square, and then (b) optionally removing a second King, piece, or pawn on a square adjacent to the destination square.  In this case the long horns of the Forest Ox briefly extend into the adjacent space (the Forest Ox, however does not move for this “removal capture).  If it captures both Kings you win.




In the diagram the Forest Ox could move from position 1 to position 2.  It would capture whatever enemy piece was at position 2.  On the same turn you could remove a King, piece, or pawn from any one square adjacent to position 2.  The Forest Ox would stay at position 2 during the removal of the adjacent item.  When moving to position 2, the Forest Ox, of course, will no longer be seen at position 1.  The Forest Ox can only make its “optional removal capture” if it has first made its knight movement.



Like a Bishop in Western Chess.



These Pawns do not promote and there is no Pawn en Passant.  The Pawns are quite powerful and need to be, especially considering the deadly Forest Ox that can kill twice in a single move.  The pawns move as shown on their runic vector image [they would start at the center of the “X”].  They can move and capture diagonally forward or backward.  If they have at least one free forward diagonal they can move to and/or capture on the same color square 2 spaces forward from their starting square.  When a pawn makes a capture on a forward diagonal it cannot then proceed to the fifth point.  The next two figures illustrate movement and capture.




The Pawns Move as Depicted by their Runic Image
(The following figure explains captures)







In the above figure the following Pawn moves are possible:

(a)     The B2 Pawn could move to A1, C1, A3 or B4.

(b)     The D2 Pawn could move to C1 or E1.

(c)     The H3 Pawn could move to G2 or I4.  It could make a capture at I2, G4, or H5.

(d)     The I2 Pawn could move to J1, H1, J3, or capture at H3.



Like a Queen in Western Chess.  A Valkyrie can capture enemy Kings, Pawns, and pieces, that are then removed from the board .… But Valkyries can also capture a friendly King, piece or pawn by
(a) moving to that piece’s location, then  (b) immediately placing that friendly King, piece, or pawn on any one square that the Valkyrie just traveled through.  (See following diagram). 



Valkyries can move and capture just like Western Queens do.  In the diagram, the Valkyrie on A3 could also capture its own King on D3 and that King would then be placed on A3, B3, or C3 (the Valkyrie’s points of travel or its starting point).  The Valkyrie on F1 could capture its King on D3 and move it to F1 or E2.  But the best move here would be for the F1 Valkyrie to capture the Forest Ox on F7.  Both dark Kings would then be immobilized (see the following King Movement Section).




A King can only move when it has at least one friendly non-King piece (or pawn) adjacent to it; or if a Valkyrie can move it as explained previously.  If a Pawn, Valkyrie, and Forest Ox were next to a King, the King could move and capture as would any one of those pieces [just as if he were that piece].  The King could even perform the Valkyrie piece movement move or the Forest Ox double kill; providing that it had those pieces adjacent to it.




There are two Kings per side.  If both are captured you lose the game.  There is no castling.  It is legal to move into check, and there are times when this is fine.  For example, if you have two Kings but your opponent is down to one, moving one of your Kings into check could threaten the capture of your opponent’s last remaining King.  He therefore would lose by capturing either of your Kings.   Note:  A Forest Ox could possibly capture both Kings on a single turn, as could a King that was adjacent to a friendly Forest Ox.  A King that is in check does not have to move out of it.
In Odin’s Rune Chess players are not obligated to call “Check.” This is because capturing a King is legal and moving into check is legal.  Players can call “Check” if they want to… but to keep the “Check” quiet and hope to capture a King on the next move is wiser in this game.

Isolated Kings (with no adjacent Pawns or Pieces) cannot move unless a friendly Valkyrie can move them.  Immobile Kings are quite vulnerable and should generally be avoided (unless part of a brilliant plan).  Two Kings next to each other, but otherwise isolated, are both immobile (unless their Valkyrie(s) can assist).





This diagram was presented earlier for a discussion of Valkyrie movement; but here we will look at the four Kings.  In this diagram the King on D3 can move like a Forest Ox, Bishop, or Pawn as these friendly pieces are adjacent to it.  It could also be relocated by Valkyrie movement as explained in the Valkyrie section.  The King on I3 is stranded at the moment.  It cannot move even though the other King can.  The dark Kings (at E6 and G7) can presently move like a Forest Ox.


About the Runes used in Odin’s Chess
I blindly and randomly drew 6 runes from a set of 24 Germanic futhark Rune cards (using a Donald Tyson rune deck).  Of the 6 rune cards drawn [values still unknown to me at the time] one was randomly selected to specifically represent the Pawns.  From a Carl Jung philosophical synchronicity prospective, the results were quite amazing.  The odds of getting three images, i.e., for Rooks, Bishops, and a “Knight-like N” image were quite slim.  At the time I did not even know about the “R” and “B” images… so drawing those was a real surprise.  





RAIDHO, RAD: The Nordics associated this rune with travel, such as by wagon.   Because of the letter “R” association I have it traveling as a Rook.  Interesting is that the Chinese Chariot in Xianqi (somewhat like a wagon) has the Western Rook movement.


URUZ, UR: This rune represented a wild beast known as the Urus.  It was a large long-horned wild ox that once roamed German forests.  The creature is now extinct.  Both Peschel and Tyson erroneously refer to the Urus as the Aurochs, which was a later and smaller animal, though it is most likely a close relative. The rune is similar to a lowercase “n” which instantly reminded me of a western Knight represented by “N” in English Descriptive chess notation.  The rune’s meaning conjured up images of
Mr. R. Wayne Schmittberger’s piece, the Wildebeest. However, while liking the Wildebeest piece, I created a new one in the spirit of the contest; thus this new Forest Ox piece, which moves as described above.  The idea of the long horns extending into adjacent squares determined the movement.


BEORC: This is actually a fertility rune.  But I interpreted the “B” image as a Bishop for Odin’s Rune Chess.   Because it moves like a Bishop and has the “B” which is easy to recognize as a Bishop, I have decide to retain the Bishop piece name.


OTHEL, ETHEL:  This is a rune of possessions.  According to Donald Tyson the symbol originally pertained to homeland.  Interestingly enough Tyson states that the homeland meaning expanded in definition from a single home, to a clan territory, tribal land, and eventually a nation.  When I blindly chose 6 runes for creating Odin’s Rune Chess, this one was randomly chosen to specifically represent the pawns.  The idea of pawns moving forward to gain territory seems fitting.  In addition, using the rune image to represent how the Pawn moves is convenient.   I have no doubt that this is the best possible pawn image for Odin’s Rune Chess.  Should these pawns band together and destroy the Forest Ox, then let us remember that in reality the ancient wild Forest Ox was driven to extinction by men.


PERDHRO, PEORD:  This is considered a mystery rune by many and there is disagreement among rune experts as to its true meaning.  It has been referred to as representing a dice cup, a musical tune, a cornucopia on its side, and even a chessman.  As a “Chessman” interpretation I am calling it a Valykrie since I have given it a feminine (Queen movement) aspect and since it and can carry off the friendly forces to other locations, in a manner of speaking.   Tyson pointed out that the cornucopia image is one on its side, thus displacing the contents.  This concept of “Displacement,” while in the Odin Chess mental state, gave me the idea of Valkyries moving Vikings to Valhalla, and thus moving friendly pieces in Odin’s Rune Chess.


ANSUZ, OS:  Here I am using the rune twice for the piece image.  Lisa Peschel states that when reversed this rune means trickery.  I first show it reversed (upside down “F” image).  Peschel states when the rune is upright it can mean taking advice and acquiring knowledge.  So, it seemed that the tricky King that could only move how it was advised to move.  But whose advice would it take on a given turn?  It needed one or more adjacent pieces to advise it… no one around and the King can’t decide where to go.  Of course, don’t forget the Valkyrie displacement factor.


Here are a few problems to test your understanding of Odin’s Rune Chess.  Answers appear after problem 6.  In each case partial boards are used.  Thus, assume that the only pieces on the entire 10 x 10 board are those visible on the partial board.  For example, in Diagram 1 black has only 1 King on the entire 10 x 10 board.


1.       In Diagram 1: White to move.  What is best?

2.       In Diagram 1: If it were black’s move, what should he do?

 Diagram 1

3.    In Diagram 2: White has one King left.  It is sitting at J1 and is attacked by the G4 Bishop.  Can White prevent the immediate capture of his King?  How?

 Diagram 2

4.    In Diagram 3: White to move.  What is the best move?

 Diagram 3

5.    In Diagram 4: Black to move.  What is the best move?

 Diagram 4

6.    In Diagram 5: White to move.  What is the best move?

 Diagram 5


Answers to problems:

  1. In Diagram 1: White to move.  What is best? White King on C2 x C4.  (The King moved like the Pawn next to it and captured the Forest Ox.)  Now if black plays Pawn B5 x C4 (capturing the King) White plays Rook A5 x King C5 and wins the game.  If instead of capturing B5 x C4 black moves his King (as it can now move like a Pawn) White would capture the Pawn on B5 with the Rook.  At this point the dark King could no longer move and would be terminated in two moves.

  2. Still using Diagram 1: If it were Black’s move, what should he do?  Forest Ox on C4 takes King on D2, Removes King on C2 (the optional second capture).  End of Game.

 Diagram 1

3.    In Diagram 2: White has one King left.  It is sitting at J1 and is attacked by the G4 Bishop.  Can White prevent the immediate capture of his King?  How?
Yes.  White moves the Valkyrie to J1, then relocates the King to F1, G1, H1, or I1 (One of the Valkyries points of travel or its starting point.)

 Diagram 2

4.     In Diagram 3: White to move.  What is the best move?

King on D3 captures King on B4 (by moving the King like the Forest Ox), then as part of the same move make the optional capture by removing the King on A 5.  Black has lost both Kings.  Game Over.

 Diagram 3

5.    In Diagram 4: Black to move.  What is the best move?

Forest Ox on D5 takes King on C3, then, as part of the same move, makes the optional capture, removing the King at D2.  Game Over.

 Diagram 4

6.    In Diagram 5: White to move.  What is the best move?

King E1 takes King E5.  This is possible because the White King had a friendly Rook next to it.   End of Game.

 Diagram 5


Making your own Pieces for Odin’s Rune Chess

I recommend using Sculpy® which is an elastic polymer that can be easily molded by hand.  

The result will be stone-like Rune chess pieces.  There are other options, but I will only discuss this one.  Sculpy is available in many arts and crafts stores.


1.       Choose 2 different colors of Sculpy® (light and dark).  Best would be the Sculpy that looks like rock after it is baked.

2.       Make irregular shaped pieces approximately the same size and appropriate for your 10 x 10 board.

3.       Use a flathead screw driver to make the Rune images in your blank pieces.

4.       Bake the images in a ventilated area per the instructions that come with Sculpy.

5.       If desired paint the engraved Rune images to achieve contrast between the vectors and the surrounding Sculpy material.



A Practical Guide to the Runes
Lisa Peschel, 10th printing, ©2002
[first edition 1989]
Llewellyn Publications,
St. Paul, MN


Rune Magic Cards &
Rune Magic Complete Instructions for the Use of Cards and Dice
Donald Tyson, © 1989
Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN



Special Thanks To: for hosting and maintaining an excellent archive of playable chess variants and for encouraging the creation of new variants via contests such as this 2005 “10” contest.

Corel Corporation for the Corel Draw program which allowed for editing several clip-art graphics used within these instructions; and for permission to use the resulting graphics.

The late Carl Jung whose ideas on synchronicity and random events encouraged me to attempt creating Odin’s Rune Chess.

Lisa Peschel and Donald Tyson whose writings on the Runes were a real inspiration and proved to be invaluable in the creation of Odin’s Rune Chess.





Odin’s Rune Chess, © Feb. 2005 by Gary K. Gifford

Addendum to Odin's Rune Chess - March 15, 2005

First, a special thanks to Michael Nelson who has created a very nice ZRF application for Odin's Rune Chess. The program is quite strong even at the setting of 1 second per move.

During Michael's coding a few questions arose, so I believe the following should be pointed out. Note that Michael's ZRF does enforce the correct rules and points out legal moves when you click on a piece.

  1. A Valkyrie cannot do a "move/relocate" function with the other Valkyrie.
  2. A King cannot "take advice" from the other King. Thus for example, if King#1 is adjacent to King#2 and nothing else, and King#2 is adjacent to a Forest Ox; King#1 can't move like a Forest Ox. Because of this rule, of course, a King cannot do a "move/relocate" function with the other King.
  3. If you cannot make a move during your turn, you lose.
  4. The three-time repetition rule used in Fide Chess is not a draw, but rather a loss for the side making the third repetition (somewhat like in Chinese Chess). Note that three-time repetition will occur far less frequently in Odin's Rune Chess because when a King moves to avoid capture he often ends up stranded (and without a follow-up move) or ends up next to a different piece and therefore has a different type of follow-up move.

A Note about Computer Play

My play testing of Michael Nelson's ZRF prototype consisted of several quick games. From them I learned that:
a) The ZRF is very good at using the Forest Ox. The Ox will attack your Kings without mercy.
b) The ZRF is very good at using Valkyries to reposition pieces to better squares.
c) The ZRF makes good use of pawns, especially if you make it into a pawn-rich endgame.
d) Try to keep your Kings adjacent to a friendly pawn or piece, or in line with a Valkyrie. A King that cannot move can be hit swiftly.
e) By playing the computer you should be able to pick up a lot of useful tactics and strategies.
f) When playing against a human, the correct and moral thing to do is to rely on your own brainpower. Using the ZRF to help you proves nothing about your own playing abilities and it is certainly not fair to your opponents.

Best regards to all…

- Gary K. Gifford 3/15/05