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Game Reviews by Michael Nelson

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Pandemonium (Surajang修羅場). Capablanca chess + Crazyhouse.[All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Michael Nelson wrote on 2021-07-24 UTCExcellent ★★★★★

A very well thought and pleasing out blend of a Capablanca's Chess and Shogi. I am curious about the rule against having identical promoted pieces other than promoted Pawns. I consider it a small wart on a otherwise perfect design.

Backlash. Play on two boards, but capturing on one board leads to a backlash on the other! (8x8x2, Cells: 132) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Michael Nelson wrote on 2016-05-01 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
A pleasing blend of several variant ideas into a unified game, it should play very well.

Upgrade chess. Upgrade initially weak pieces by capturing. (8x8, Cells: 64) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Michael Nelson wrote on 2014-08-24 UTCGood ★★★★
RPG themed chess has been around at least since Betza's Way of the Knight from 1995. ( Like your idea for earning upgrades, which need to be more liberal than those in Betza's game, since his upgrade ranks increase power more with each upgrade. I can't rate this game "excellent" without playtesting it, but a solid "good"
for your idea.

Not-so colorbound cylindrical chess. Game only with pieces, that would be colorbound on normal board. (7x8, Cells: 56) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Michael Nelson wrote on 2014-02-25 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
Excellent thematic variant! I've not seen the idea of imposing colorboundness on all pieces but removing it by the odd number of files on a cylindrical board, thought I recognize component ideas.

A small quibble about promotion:

Promotion to a Knight is needed in FIDE Chess, as its moves are not a subset of the Queen's move. In some positions, the Knight can checkmate when the Queen can't even check. This factor does not apply to this game; but there is one case where underpromotion to Rook or Bishop in needed (rather than merely allowed) in FIDE--when promoting to Queen would result in immediate stalemate, but the lesser promotion could force checkmate on a subsequent move. With three combination pieces to choose from, it is much less likely in this variant,  but analysis is needed to determine if it is possible: if so, underpromotion must be allowed (if and only if stalemate is a draw).

Knavish Chess. Variant using square-board analogues to 6-way hex-board Dabbabas. (10x10, Cells: 100) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Michael Nelson wrote on 2011-07-06 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
For the new pieces. The Knave and Debtor have useful moves and a never before used (on a square board) set of bindings. Most original.

King's Guard Chess. Pawns move like kings and only Pawns may capture. (8x8, Cells: 64) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Michael Nelson wrote on 2008-06-13 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
I really like this concept--it's not precisely like anything I've seen, fundamentally simple, yet makes for a very unorthodox game.

So far as I know, Graeme isn't channeling me--perhaps I should channel him and get my creative juices flowing again.

Atlantean Barroom Shatranj. Atlantean Barroom Shatranj Rules. (10x10, Cells: 100) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Michael Nelson wrote on 2006-05-16 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
An excellent concept game and I think it will be quite playable. Joe's
whole series of Shatranj variants are fascinating. The varying power
levels of short and medium range pieces with few or no long range pieces
make for something quite different. 

This particular variant with its direction changing moves reminds me of

Neutral Subject Chess. Most pieces start neutral, and players compete to recruit them. (8x8, Cells: 64) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Michael Nelson wrote on 2006-04-09 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
Let me try restating the rule and Charles can either affirm I am correct,
or he might think of yet another way to express the rule if I am wrong.

1. For the purpose of applying the recruitment rules, we pretend that a
neutral piece can capture a non-neutral piece.
2. After moving a piece, the player who just moved may recruit any piece
which is attacking a piece owned by either White or Black. 
3. If rule two applies to multiple pieces, they can all be recruited.
4. Recruitment is applied recursively, so if a neutral piece which is not
attacking a White or Black piece is doing so after a recruitment, that
piece can be recruited also.

Charles, is recruitment mandatory or is it legal for a player not to make
a recruitment he is entitled to, either by intent or oversight?

By the way, I think this is a fine game concept that deserves more
exploration--I expect there are many ways to apply it in different game

Transmitter Chess. Drone pieces have no movement until activated by one of three friendly Transmitters. (9x9, Cells: 81) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Michael Nelson wrote on 2005-11-28 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
A very worthy effort. The game concept seems to allow a great strategic and tactical depth. Threats to transmitters on offense and defense will be key.

Extra Move Chess. Double-move variant based on limitations of Zillions of Games. (8x8, Cells: 64) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Michael Nelson wrote on 2005-08-30 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
Sometimes the limitations of our tools are helpful--here by designing to the limitations of Zillions, Fegus has produced a superb double-move game: quite possiblly the best of the genre. Highly playable and the effective power of the armies is meaningfully higher than orthochess but significantly lower than other double move variants. A sharper, bloodier and more tactical game than orthochess--but still has room for strategic play.

Carnival of the Animals. A nearly-FIDE variant with Eurofighter Pawns (first implementation on an 8x8 board) dice (two aside for preference) which mutate. (8x8, Cells: 64) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Michael Nelson wrote on 2005-06-21 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
A fine design. The strong Pawns and the random variablity of the Knights
will produced a a slashing, highly tactical game. Piece values will be
skewed--it will virtually always pay to trade Bishop for Knight, not
infrequently Rook for Knight will work.

A variant worth looking at would be to treat a 5 as 0--this eliminates
some of the longest leapers and brings the Wazir and Dababbah-type leapers
into the game.

A note on dice probabilites: The chance of rolling exactly one 6 on a pair
of dice is 10/36 or 5/18, not the 1/18 chance cited on the page.

Dave's Silly Example Game. This is Dave Howe's example of a user-posted game. (2x2, Cells: 4) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Michael Nelson wrote on 2005-05-01 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
The system works quite well. I was able to recreate a page for Decima with
my revisions in about 45 minutes.

When it is approved, would it be possible for an editor to append the
original Decima comments to it and then remove the original Decima page?

The Bermuda Chess Angle. Pieces can vanish in a central grid (The Bermuda Chess Angle) depending on dice-determined coordinates. (10x10, Cells: 100) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Michael Nelson wrote on 2005-05-01 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
I really like this game concept: randomness at a managable level. The
Bermuda Triangle imagery is rather enjoyable as well.

Some rules clarifications: 

1. If a Knight leaps another piece on c3 and c3 is the BCAF, then both the
Knight and the piece leaped over disappear?

2. If a piece captures another piece on d5 and d5 is the BCAF, the catured
piece does not reappear?

The rules as a whole seem to me to indicate that the answer is 'yes' to
both questions--I'd like to hear the designer's intent.

Odin's Rune Chess. A game inspired by Carl Jung's concept of synchronicity, runes, and Nordic Mythology. (10x10, Cells: 100) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Michael Nelson wrote on 2005-03-12 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
Here is the 'Excellent' I thought I would be giving this fine game.
Having seen it in action while coding the ZRF, I am quite convinced of the
game's quality. 

The piece set is quite interesting and works well together. The Pawns are
unusual but easy to learn to use. The Pawns are quite strong: I'd guess
about halfway between a Ferz and a Knight (slightly closer to Ferz). 

The Forest Ox is the big gun of the board on both offense and defense. 

The Valkyrie is not quite as strong as the Forest Ox, but is much more
powerful than a Queen: the swap move allows if easier developement (can
swap with a Pawn in the opening setup) and more ways of escaping trouble,
while still having all of a Queen's move and capture power. 

Rook and Bishop are minor pieces, with the Rook the stronger but with less
gap between them than in FIDE Chess, since a Valkyrie swap can get the
Bishop to the opposite color.

The idea of the King's movement depending on the friendly pieces adjacent
to it works quite well here and I'd love to see it used in other

Overall, a highly playable and enjoyable game.

Whale Shogi. Shogi variant. (6x6, Cells: 36) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Michael Nelson wrote on 2004-09-29 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
A fine small Shogi variant. I would love to see the rules for the 11x11 variant.

Cascudo. On 44-square hexagonal board with turns consisting of cascade of moves. (Cells: 44) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Michael Nelson wrote on 2004-05-20 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
An intriguing idea indeed. The powerful King as the focal point is most interesting--especially the idea of one King checking the other. I suspect that this would play OK on a square board as well. Perhaps a Capablanca variant to bring in some stronger pieces.

Aviary. New pieces with shogi elements and a bird theme. (8x8, Cells: 64) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Michael Nelson wrote on 2004-05-19 UTCGood ★★★★
I like this game concept. I thinks that the two Kings will be playable and
it isn't necesary to change the win conditon--a player threatend with the
capture of one of his Kings has a move option not present in FIDE
Chess--the counter-check. You check one of my Kings and I defend by
checking back. You capture my King I capture yours. 

I would suggest a small rules change--whenever a player captures an enemy
King, he must drop it on his next turn. This keeps all four kings in paly
and allows the player with a single King some nice chances of
equalizing--he has three royal targets vs. his opponents one.

PiRaTeKnIcS. Pirates on ships fight each other in 44-squares chess variant. (6x8, Cells: 44) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Michael Nelson wrote on 2004-05-04 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
A most fascinating game concept. A world of interesting variants can be
developed from this idea. A large board variant with powerful but
short-range pieces comes to mind. Perhaps an 11x11 board with some empty
ships in the center.

Horus. Game with Royal Falcons where all pieces start off board and most captures return pieces to owner's hand. (7x7, Cells: 44) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Michael Nelson wrote on 2004-04-12 UTCGood ★★★★
A interesting, highly tactial game.

Falcon Chess. Game on an 8x10 board with a new piece: The Falcon. (10x8, Cells: 80) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Michael Nelson wrote on 2004-04-12 UTCPoor ★


1. The inventor's mistaken belief that this is the best chess variant ever invented.

2. Patenting a game whose distinguishing difference from Chess is a lame Bison with an improved movement--an innovation, to be sure, but a small one.

3. His desire to prevent anyone else from using the Falcon in any game (no matter how unlike Falcon Chess).

Michael Nelson wrote on 2004-04-12 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
For the game. Falcon Chess is quite playable and the Falcon piece has a charming move that makes for interesting tactics.

Nova Chess. Played on an 8x8 or 10x10 board with a wide range of pieces.[All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Michael Nelson wrote on 2004-02-01 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
A most interesting system. 

With regard to Mark's Mercenary Chess idea, how about Auction Chess?  A
list of avilable pieces could be generated. For example, lets imagine
orthodox King and Pawns and each player can buy seven unique pieces. A
list of say 21 pieces would be generated and shown to the players.  First
choice of deciding what piece to bid on is determined by coin toss;
thereafter the loser of one auction chooses the piece for the next. It
would be legal for a player to buy more than 7 pieces (to keep some pieces
away from the opponent). A player owning more than 7 chooses which 7 to

For pawn promotion, the CWDA rule would be used--pawns promote to any
piece which started on the board in either army.

Players alternate placing a piece on the back rank. The right to go second
(an advantage here) could be bid for, as could the first move. Perhaps the
right to choose the set of pawns would be auctioned. If unorthodox Kings
were allowed, this could also be auctioned.

No values need to be set, they will be determined by the player's own
sense of their relative values.

Switching Realms Chess. All noncapturing moves must change the board subset a piece occupies. (8x8, Cells: 64) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Michael Nelson wrote on 2003-09-06 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
Antother fine Separate Realms variant. This should be a very close match with the Separate Realms II army, with more raw power but poorer developement. If it's a little too strong, using a Slip Queen instead of the SwR Chancellor should even it up.

Ryu Shogi. Large modern shogi variant. (7x12, Cells: 84) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Michael Nelson wrote on 2003-07-28 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
I judged this game in my group during the preliminaries and have I higher opinion of the game than the author does. A refreshing change of pace for the Shogi player. I think the design as submitted is a good one--in fact I voted Ryu Shogi above the eventual winner. The only design decision I would change if it were up to me is to eliminate the rule that a promoted piece reverts to non-promoted if it returns to the first zone--it makes for a stronger defense if you have the option of anchoring your weak pieces with a strong piece. All in all, a fine design.

Maxima. Maxima is an interesting and exiting variant of Ultima, with new elements that make Maxima more clear and dynamic. (Cells: 76) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Michael Nelson wrote on 2003-07-25 UTCExcellent ★★★★★

Maxima is a very fine game. 

With respect to the value of pieces, I wouldn't even attempt to calculate
the values in an Ultima Variant--the multiplicity of capture types means
that this will be far harder than the value of Chess pieces.  But I
believe it is doable in principle.

The reason I'm interested in the value of Chess pieces is for game
design. I want theoretical values so I can have an idea what an unfamiliar
piece should be worth. I particularly have an interest in Chess With
Different Armies and most especially the 'build your own army' variants.
The ideal value won't and cannot be perfect, but it should be a decent
starting place--practical values will always be empirical, and will vary
by game context. For example, play a lot of Chess using Berolina Pawns--do
the Bishop and Rook have the same values relative to each other as in FIDE

Zillions values are about useless for pieces that are even slighty
unorthodox--even the Bishop is overvalued compared to the Knight. That's
why Zillions programmers have techniques to inflate piece values.

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