What is a Chess Variant?
With the exception of Chess itself, a Chess variant is a game that resembles Chess closely enough but differs from it in some way. All Chess variants, including Chess, are variations on a certain type of game, or variations from it. I’ll say more on this later. Some of the main categories that Chess variants fall into are historical antecedents of Chess, regional Chess variants, and games inspired by or otherwise based on Chess. A little further on, we will be looking at each of these categories, and we will also be looking at what makes a game similar enough to Chess. But first, let’s take a look at some of the other terms that have historically been used to describe Chess variants, since this will give us a context for better understanding more precisely what a Chess variant is.
The earliest term I've found for what we now call a Chess variant is
variety of Chess, or in the plural
varieties of Chess. This term was in use during the late 19th century, and it remained current until the late 20th century. The following books, published at various dates from 1860 to 1977, all make use of this term:
- Forbes, Duncan. The History of Chess (1860)
- Verney, George Hope. Chess Eccentricities (1885)
- Falkener, Edward. Games ancient and oriental and how to play them (1892)
- Murray, H. J. R. The History of Chess (1913)
- Murray, H. J. R. A Short History of Chess. (1917)
- Dickins, Anthony. A Guide to Fairy Chess (1973, 3rd Edition)
- Golombeck, Harry. Golombek’s Encyclopedia of Chess (1977)
Murray made it clear in The History of Chess that what he meant by Chess was not simply the particular game speakers of English called Chess. He claimed to use the word in a wider sense, writing of Chess,
I include under it all the games which I traced back to the Indian chaturanga, and all the freak modifications that have been attempted from time to time. (Kindle Loc 649) So, in Murray’s sense, Chess is not one particular game with one particular set of equipment and rules. Instead, it could be understood as a family or class of games, and this family or class could come in different varieties. Like there are different varieties of ice cream, there would be different varieties of Chess. And like there isn't one variety of ice cream that is the true ice cream, there isn't one variety of Chess that is the one true form of Chess.
Murray doesn't make it clear whether he has in mind a family of games or a class of games. These are two different ideas. The idea of a class is more straightforward. This is the idea that Chess is a certain type of game, defined by a set of essential characteristics, and any game with all of these characteristics counts as a variety of Chess, but any game lacking any of them does not. For example, the notion of a board game is a class. Something counts as a board game by being a game that is played on a board, which is understood here to be a representation of a terrain upon which pieces may move from one location to another. Since board games can be played on computers, it doesn't have to be a literal board. Also, playing a game on top of a literal board is not enough. The board has to be an integral part of the game, not merely a convenient surface to place game elements like cards and dice. Anyway, board games could exist on other planets without having any family connection to board games on earth. It is not the origin of a game that makes it a board game. It is the nature of the game. In contrast to this, a family of games would be united by origin rather than nature. For example, he might consider Chess to include Chaturanga and all the descendants of that game, no matter how much they differ from the original game. Since he maintained that all the games he reported on had their origins in Chaturanga, and since they are all the same type of game, it is hard to tell exactly which he had in mind.
Each idea is useful, and there is a lot of overlap in the games each picks out, but there are some differences. With Chess understood as a class, each variety has to have all the features that make something Chess. So, if it is closely based on Chess but in a way that violates the essence of Chess, such as making the loser the winner in Losing Chess, it would not count as a variety of Chess. But if Chess is understood as a family, then Losing Chess would count as a variety of Chess. One problem here is that something very loosely based on Chess or something descended from Chess through a long series of changes that have transformed it into something different would still count as Chess. For example, a Chess-themed card game that doesn't use a board or Chess pieces might count as a variety of Chess if Chess is understood as a family of games. Another problem is that a very similar game would not count as a variety of Chess if it were independently invented. For example, there could be no Chess variants on other planets, not even if people on those planets were playing very similar games.
One way to resolve this is to refer to the definition of variety. The relevant definition from Merriam-Webster is 3a, which says
something differing from others of the same general kind. In the Oxford Dictionary, the relevant definition is 1.2, which says,
[count noun] A thing which differs in some way from others of the same general class or sort; a type. A general kind is the same thing I was calling a class, and the word class is even used in the Oxford definition. So the use of the word variety suggests that Duncan and Murray each thought of Chess as a class of games, and they regarded individual sets of rules and equipment as varieties of Chess. So, FIDE Chess would be one variety of Chess, the Japanese game Shogi another, and if similar-enough games had been invented on other planets, they too would count as varieties of Chess. But if some game were related to Chess without being the same general kind of game, it would not count as a variety of Chess. For example, Checkers might be based on Chess, but even if this were proven, I would not count it as a Chess variant.
Another term used to describe Chess variants in the early 20th century was Fairy Chess. In 1918, T. R. Dawson, following a suggestion from Mr. Henry Tate of Melbourne, took up this term. The idea behind Fairy Chess was mainly in constructing Chess problems that included novel pieces or followed different rules than orthodox Chess. Unlike the varieties of Chess written about by the Chess historians, Fairy Chess took orthodox Chess as a starting point and made modifications to it. Heterodox Chess was an alternate term for Fairy Chess, and it may have gotten more use in reference to actual games people played. For example, this term was used in the name of the postal-correspondence group AISE: Associazione Italiana Scacchi Eterodossi. Translated into English, its name is the Italian Association for Heterodox Chess.
One advantage of the idea behind Fairy Chess or Heterodox Chess over that of varieties of Chess is that it allowed deviation from the type of game that Chess is. For example, Chess might be understood as a two-player, turn-based, abstract strategy board game in which each player moves one piece per turn with the object of checkmating (or at least capturing) a specific piece belonging to the opponent. This description fits most Chess variants, but it also rules out some, such as Anti-King Chess, in which the object is to stop checking your opponent’s Anti-King with any of your pieces, Marseillais Chess, in which each player gets to make two moves per turn, or Knightmare Chess, in which players use cards to change various things during the course of the game.
But there were also problems with these terms. One is that they clearly excluded Chess. In particular, heterodox is the antonym of orthodox, and if you call something Heterodox Chess, this implies that it doesn't include Orthodox Chess. Likewise, the name Fairy Chess implied something different from the usual Chess. So, Fairy Chess was effectively a synonym of Heterodox Chess. Another problem was that these terms diminished the significance of the games that fit under them by placing them squarely within the shadow of Orthodox Chess. This made them inappropriate for describing the regional and historic varieties of Chess that the Chess historians had written about. And this also made these terms undesirable for game inventors who considered their creations on a par with Chess itself, not merely as novel deviations from Chess for the amusement of people who like to solve Chess problems.
Perhaps it was for the reasons I just mentioned that prolific game inventor Vernon Reynolds Parton started to use the expressions
variant of Chess and
Chess variant. He used the former in 1961’s Curiouser & Curiouser, in which he wrote,
To use a botanical metaphor, I consider that most variants of Chess are really different His earliest known use of the latter occurs in Enduring spirits of Dasapada, probably written in 1973, in which he writes,
species in the same
This idea of an advanced pawn row is found in several chess variants, e.g. Japanese Chess, Shogi..
Use of the term did not catch on right away, and in the meantime, John Gollon introduced the term
Chess variation in his 1968 book Chess Variations: Ancient, Regional, and Modern. Although the published Gollon may have been more read than the unpublished Parton, this term never caught on, perhaps because Chess players already use the term variation in a different sense, to refer to a variation in an opening move, such as the Dragon variation of the Open Sicilian, for example.
Judging by the use of the term
Chess variant on the NOST website, this American-based postal-correspondence group was using the term
Chess variant to describe one of the categories of games they played. But NOST started its website late in its existence, and never having been a member, I have no NOST literature from the earlier part of NOST’s existence to confirm they were using this term back then.
Apart from my speculation that NOST continued the use of the term, the earliest documented use I have found of the term
Chess variant since the writings of Parton is from 1990. In that year, the first issue of the magazine Variant Chess, edited by George Jellis, came out. Besides having a title that echoed the term Chess variant, it described itself as a
magazine devoted to all kinds of Chess Variants. After this, the term Chess variant continued to grow in prominence during the decade. In 1992, R. Wayne Schmittberger, editor of Games magazine, used this term in his book New Rules for Classic Games. In 1994, this term appeared in the title of D. B. Pritchard’s book The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants. In 1995, Hans Boadlander started a website called The Chess Variant Pages, this site being the continuation of his original site. In 1997, the British Chess Variants Society formed and took over the publication of Variant Chess. Finally, in 1999, David Howe, who was helping Hans with his site, registered the domain chessvariants.com. By this time, Chess variant had become the common term for games that had previously been classified as Fairy Chess, Heterodox Chess, Chess variations, or varieties of Chess.
But what difference did using this term make? Recall that Parton described most Chess variants as belonging to the same genus. Belonging to the same genus is the same idea as belonging to the same class. But by using the word
most, he was allowing that Chess variants could also deviate from this class. To better understand how a variant of Chess would differ from a variety of Chess, let’s look up its definition. According to the Oxford Dictionary, variant means
A form or version of something that differs in some respect from other forms of the same thing or from a standard. This definition is almost like the one for variety, but it gives two different things a variant might differ from. One is other forms of the same thing. This is like a variety, differing from other instances of the same kind of thing. The other option is to differ from a standard. This standard could be Orthodox Chess, or it could be the general class of games that Chess belongs to. So, while varieties of Chess could vary only within a class, a variant of Chess could either differ within the class or differ from the class. This combines the games covered by varieties of Chess with the games covered by Heterodox Chess without automatically casting any of them as less significant than some particular orthodox game. Understanding Chess to be a class of games, we could understand a Chess variant to be any game that falls within this class, or any game that deviates from this class while still remaining similar enough to it.
At the beginning, I mentioned some broad categories that Chess variants fall into. In his Encyclopedia, Pritchard had these same categories in mind when he defined a Chess variant, which he defined
as any game that is related to, derived from or inspired by chess (vii). Both historic and regional variants are games related to Chess, and any games derived from or inspired by Chess are based on it. The problem with Pritchard’s definition is that it defines Chess variants purely in terms of family relations to Chess. Following family relationships between games is indeed a fruitful way to explore Chess variants, but I don't think that an accurate definition of Chess variant needs to include it. I would be more inclined to define a Chess variant solely in terms of similarity, saying that a Chess variant is either a game that clearly belongs to the same class of games as Chess, i.e. a variety of Chess, or one that deviates from this class while remaining similar enough to some variety of Chess. This definition include Chess, all the historic and regional variants covered by the Chess historians, and any remaining Heterodox Chess variant that is not strictly speaking the same type of game as Chess. It also excludes such abstract strategy board games as Checkers and Go, even if either of them have some tangential relation to Chess, which is appropriate, because neither of them should count as Chess variants.
In the sections that follow, I will examine some of the broad categories Chess variants fall into, and then I will examine the question of how similar a game must be to Chess to count as a Chess variant.
Ancestors and Cousins of Chess
Chess as we know it today was not the original game. The game we today call Chess has been standardized by an international federation, and thanks to global communication through published books and other media, people around the world are presently taught to play Chess by the same rules. But it was not always like this. Chess has been traced to an Indian game called Chaturanga, invented around 1500 years ago. Like Chess, Chaturanga was played on an 8x8 board with its pieces starting in the same positions, and it differed from Chess mainly in that some of its pieces moved differently. In that time, there was no global communication like there is today, and the people who played Chess would often play by their own house rules. As knowledge of Chess spread east and west, different versions of Chess developed. This led to the creation of many historic variants and many oriental variants.
A few of these became very popular, such as Shatranj in the Muslim world, Xiangqi in China, Janggi in Korea, and Shogi in Japan. Shatranj eventually made its way to Europe, and the game evolved there into its present form. Since Shatranj was slow, Europeans sped it up by replacing some of the weaker pieces with more powerful pieces. Bishops replaced Elephants, and the Queen replaced the Ferz. Still, different communities in Europe continued to play Chess by their own sets of rules. It was likely thanks to increases in the speed of travel and communication that international competition became more popular, leading to the standardization of the rules. But prior to this standardization, Chess took on many forms around the world. Sources on these include the following:Forbes, Duncan. The History of Chess. (1860)
Murray, H.J.R. The History of Chess (1913)
Davidson, Henry A. A Short History of Chess (1949)
Gollon, John. Chess Variations: Ancient, Regional, and Modern (1968)
Games Based on Chess
Ever since Chess became established as the predominant game of its form, it has served as a springboard for the creation of new games. There are five main ways of modifying Chess to create a Chess variant. These are to modify the rules, to change the pieces, to change the terrain, to introduce new elements, or to increase the number of players.
Modifying the Rules
This is a popular way of creating a new Chess variant, because a variant that only modifies the rules can be played with a regular Chess set. Many variants that just tweak the rules slightly have been classed as Modest Variants. Chess variants can modify rules in the following ways:
- Changing how pieces move
- Allowing players to move their opponent’s pieces
- Allowing players to move more than once per turn
- Changing rules about how the board works
- Changing the object of the game
- Changing the initial setup
- Changing how captures happen or what happens when a capture happens
Changing the pieces
Besides the pieces normally used in Chess, there are many others that can be used in Chess variants. These other pieces usually have different powers of movement or capture. Some of the most popular examples include the Chancellor, Archbishop, and Cannon. Several different pieces are described in the Piececlopedia, a scholarly reference on the use and history of Chess variant pieces. You will also find that Charles Gilman has created a plethora of new pieces, which he has described in various Piece articles. Some variant pieces are available for sale commercially, sometimes separately and sometimes as part of commercial Chess variants. See the Chess Variant Construction Set page for details on some pieces you can buy commercially. Most variant pieces, however, exist only in the abstract. Thanks to computer graphics, though, many have their own images on this site.
Changing the terrain
The simplest way to change the terrain is to change the number of ranks and files on the board, making either small variants or large variants. Another way is to change the number of dimensions, creating three-dimensional variants or four-dimensional variants. Yet another way is to change the shape of the spaces, such as playing on a board with hexagonal spaces or on a round board. It’s also possible to use various other unusually shaped boards. Instead of physically modifying the board, it is also possible to conceive of the board as a different kind of shape, such as a cylinder or a torus.
Adding new elements
Some variants add new elements to Chess, such as cards or dice. Heraldic Chess uses cards or dice to determine which pieces can move. Knightmare Chess adds cards which change the rules or modify the conditions of the game.
Increasing the number of players
While Chess is normally a two-player game, various multi-player Chess variants have been created.
Combinations of methods
Besides employing any of the methods mentioned above individually, more than one may be used together. For example, it is common to both increase the size of the board and to add extra pieces. Various other combinations are also possible. This leads to the question, How much may a game depart from Chess and still be considered a Chess variant? That is the subject for the next section.
Games Similar Enough to Chess
Even if a game is not related to or based on Chess, it may still be considered a Chess variant if it is similar enough. For example, if Jetan were actually a Martian game with no relation to any terrestrial game, it would still be considered a Chess variant due to its similarity to Chess. As it is, it is a creation of Edgar Rice Burroughs, who did base it on Chess, though he also departed further from Chess than most Chess variant inventors usually do. So let’s consider the characteristics of Chess that we might expect to find in Chess variants.
A game is an artificial rule-bound activity that people may engage in for fun, gambling, or displaying skill. Chess variants are always games, not other things people may turn to for amusement, such as puzzles, books, or toys. Of course, puzzles may be based on Chess variants, books may be written about them, and toys may be used as equipment for playing them, but the essence of what a Chess variant is starts with being a game. If it’s not a game, it’s not a Chess variant.
Chess is a board game.
A board game is a turn-based competition between two or more players in which play takes place on an artificial terrain upon which players move or place pieces. Historically, this artificial terrain has been represented on a physical board, though it could also be drawn in sand, printed on paper, or displayed on a computer screen. The physical medium used for the artificial terrain is not essential to whether something counts as a board game, and it should not affect play of the game. Any Chess variant must be a board game, not some other kind of game.
Board games are not card games
While it’s true that some board games include cards, such as Risk, Monopoly, or Knightmare Chess, many games are played entirely with cards, and these do not count as board games unless the cards are somehow used to simulate the movement of pieces on a board. This might be doable, but most card games do not work like this, and a board game normally requires a distinction between a board and the pieces that move on it.
Board games are not sports
A sport is a game played in a physical environment, whose outcome depends upon physical abilities of the players, such as strength, stamina, agility, dexterity, speed, or aim. Although the environment of a sport may be artificially constrained, such as a basketball court, a baseball diamond, or a pool table, it still has to be one in which the actions of the players have real-world physical effects that depend on their physical abilities. In team sports, the environment is usually one people can move around in, and in table sports, such as pool, air hockey, or foosball, the environment is at least one the players can physically move things in. Physical abilties matter in a sport, because the movement of the players and any game equipment is governed by physics, and the outcome depends upon actual physical outcomes. Apart from enabling people to play them, physics has no role in governing the movement of pieces in a board game. Although some activities in a sport may be turn-based, sports frequently involve all players being active at once instead of taking turns.
Board games are not video games
While it is possible to play a board game against a computer, this is not sufficient for making something a video game. Video games take place in simulated physical environments controlled by a computer program, they normally make use of controls that direct movement and trigger actions, and the timing of movement and actions can be crucial to the outcome of the game. In Galaga, for example, you move a spaceship left and right while shooting at alien spaceships that are shooting and diving at your spaceship while moving around in front of you. Or in Pacman, you move around a maze eating dots and fruit while avoiding ghosts chasing after you. Like sports, video games rely on the timing of physical movement by the players, but unlike sports, the environment of a video game is entirely artificial, and it is controlled by a computer program rather than the laws of physics. Apart from time controls, which are put in place to limit the duration of a board game, speed of movement doesn't matter in a board game, and other physical abilities do not matter in determining the outcome of a board game. Once you decide where to move a piece in a board game, or once some random element determines this for you, that is all that matters. Physical ability to move a piece from one space to another does not matter in a board game. If one player is too feeble to move his pieces, his opponent could even do it for him without affecting game play. But in a video game, game play depends upon physical ability. Also, video games tend not to be turn-based. When you play a video game, you are normally playing the whole time. If you happen to press pause, that just puts the whole game on hold.
Board games are not role playing games
Although people playing role playing games might move figurines on a representation of some terrain, such as a dungeon, this is a convenience for playing the game rather than the substance of the game. In a role playing game, such as Dungeons & Dragons, each player plays a particular character who is given certain abilities, and the characters go through an environment trying to accomplish various goals. But there is no winning in a role playing game anymore than there is in life. A player’s character may accomplish a particular goal, but that is not the same as winning the game. Generally, players of role playing games try to make their characters more powerful by gaining experience, various items, and money. Although combat in an RPG may be conducted in a turn-based fashion, RPG’s are not inherently turn-based.
Chess is a strategy board game.
If I made a game in which people moved Chess pieces around the board according to rolls of dice with the goal of reaching a certain spot, as in Snakes and Ladders, this would not be a Chess variant. Although some Chess variants do include elements of randomness, strategy remains an important part of any Chess variant. Make the game entirely random, like Candyland, and it is not a Chess variant. If you played a game by the rules of Chess but with completely random selection of piece movement from a list of all legal moves, it would just be a random way of playing Chess, not a separate Chess variant that counts as a distinct game. While you are free to select your moves in Chess randomly, you are more likely to win if you do not.
Chess is an abstract, strategy board game.
There is some strategy to playing a board game like Monopoly or Risk, but these are not abstract strategy board games. Both of these games depend upon the rolls of dice and the drawing of cards. In an abstract, strategy board game, the whole game can be represented mathematically, and each move of the game provides a player with a logical or mathematical puzzle to solve. This is why Chess problems have become such a big thing with Chess. Each Chess problem, which is a possible position in a Chess game, is itself a puzzle someone can work on solving without actually playing a game of Chess. There are no Monopoly or Risk problems, because they aren't that kind of game.
Some Chess variants do introduce elements of randomness. Heraldic Chess uses cards or dice to determine which pieces can move. Knightmare Chess uses cards to change the rules or to introduce new conditions into the game. These still count as Chess variants, because the randomness they introduce merely modifies the play of Chess, and apart from this randomness, each position could still be treated as an abstract puzzle. Overall, though, most Chess variants are fully abstract, strategy board games, and no game that is fully divorced from being an abstract, strategy board game could seriously be called a Chess variant.
Being abstract, an abstract strategy board game is usually unthemed or is only tangentially related to its theme. Chess has its roots in a war game called Chaturanga (whose name literally meant
the four arms of the military, referring to Chariots, Cavalry, Elephants, and Infantry). But this theme is not essential to Chess, and in the English-speaking world, the game came to take on more of a royal court theme, though that too is inessential to the game. In its essence, Chess is a game of mathematical relationships between mathematical objects, and it is this, not its theme as a war game or a royal court game, that gives it its character. Chess variants may have a variety of themes. It is not a game’s theme that makes it a Chess variant. It is how much the nature of the game resembles the nature of Chess.
See Also: Defining the Abstract by Mark Thompson
Chess is a two-player game.
While there are multi-player Chess variants, the more players you add to the game, the more it becomes a game of diplomacy and luck instead of a game of skill. In a two-player game, differences in skill are usually the deciding factor in determining who will win. In multi-player games, groups of weaker players can temporarily form alliances to gang up on a stronger player. This is the problem of petty diplomacy. Although multi-player games that are like Chess in other respects do generally count as Chess variants, there might be limits on how many players you can add before it ceases to have the same appeal and character of Chess. Multi-player variants work best with three players or with players playing in teams.
See Also: The Three-Player Problem by Lewis Pulsipher
Chess is played with pieces that move across the board.
This distinguishes Chess from Go, a game in which pieces are simply placed on the board. Go is sometimes described as the oriental Chess. There are book titles like East meets West: The Oriental Game of Chess... Go!!, The Original Secrets of Chess from China and Japan: GO, and GO: Enter the Hidden World of Chinese Chess!. Go is an abstract, strategy board game that may hold the place of honor in the east that Chess holds in the west, but it is not a Chess variant, and it is not the oriental equivalent of Chess. The orient actually has its own Chess variants, mentioned earlier on this page.
In Chess, the board is a fixed, unchanging terrain.
In most Chess variants, players just move pieces across a fixed, unchanging terrain whose spaces never disappear, move, or change in any way. In Chess variants such as Chesire Cat Chess and Wormhole Chess, spaces of the board disappear during the course of the game, changing the terrain as the game is played. In Voidrider Chess, spaces on the board can be moved around, as though the spaces were movable tiles.
Chess is played with a variety of pieces that each have their own powers of movement or capture.
This is one of the things distinguishing Chess from Checkers. One of the names for Checkers, jeu de dames, suggests a relation to Chess. In French, the Queen is called a Dame. English has adopted the same word from French, it being a word meaning woman or lady. Prior to gaining the ability to move any number of spaces in any direction, the piece preceding the modern Queen moved one space diagonally, as checkers do in Checkers. Checkers is also played on the same board as Chess, and both are abstract strategy board games, but I would claim that Checkers is not a Chess variant, because it is too dissimilar to Chess. Because all the pieces are the same in Checkers, the game has a very different character than Chess has, and, at least to me, it lacks the same appeal.
A piece in Chess captures by displacement.
This is another thing distinguishing Chess from Checkers. A piece captures another by displacement by moving to its space. In Checkers, a piece captures a piece by jumping over it. Some Chess variants adopt the method of capturing used in Checkers. For example, Checker Capture Chess or Cheskers. Some other Chess variants allow for other methods of capture. For example, the pieces in the game Ultima are distinguished mainly by their methods of capture instead of their powers of movement. Several pieces in this game move as a Chess Queen but have different powers of capture, such as withdrawing from a piece, leaping over a piece, coordinating with another piece, or capturing a piece in the manner in which it captures pieces.
Each piece makes no more than one move per turn.
In Chess, a piece moves from one space to another, and once there, it cannot move any further on that turn. In contrast to this, a checker may move multiple times so long as each move is a capture. Some Chess variants, such as Marseillais Chess, allow the same piece to move twice in the same turn. This makes a single piece much more powerful and is avoided in most Chess variants.
Only one piece moves each turn.
This is one of the things distinguishing Chess from wargames. In wargames, players generally move as many of their forces as they wish each turn, since the purpose of a wargame is to simulate war, and that is how war actually works. Wargames are also usually distinguished from Chess by using dice to simulate combat. Both factors together distinguish wargames from Chess variants. But there are Chess variants with multiple moves, and one of my first Chess variants (Lifeforce Chess, created in High School) used D&D dice to simulate combat. Most multi-move Chess variants limit the number of moves per turn. Marseillais Chess, Double Move Chess, and Extra Move Chess all limit moves to two per turn. Some Chess-like games push the number of moves to the extreme, such as the commercial game Feudal, which allows each player to move all of his pieces each turn. Although this game is listed on this site, it is debatable whether it should be considered a Chess variant.
The object of Chess is to capture or checkmate a particular piece.
The English word Chess is derived from the Persian word Shaw, meaning the King, not from a corruption of Chaturanga, which coincidentally begins with the same letters. The word check, meaning to attack the King, also comes from Shaw. Despite drawing its name from the same root, Checkers is an elimination game, while Chess is a hunting game. In an elimination game, a player must capture all of the opponent’s pieces to win, while in a hunting game, the target is more limited, usually being a single piece, as in Chess. According to Henry Davidson, the original goal of Chaturanga was to capture the King, and the Persians modified the game to make it illegal to move one’s King into check, so a game could be won only by forcing the opponent’s King into an inescapable position, and not through one’s opponent inadvertently moving his King into check. This theory has some plausibility to it, but it has not been established by early Indian documents on the game.
In Extinction Chess, the object is to eliminate all of a particular kind of piece. This is still a hunting game rather than an elimination game, because the game ends before all pieces are eliminated from the game. It differs from Chess mainly in that the target is not a specific piece, leaving players more free to choose which targets they go after. In Losing Chess, the object is to lose all your pieces or get stalemated.
What is most essential to making a game a Chess variant is not that it is a particular type of game (such as a strategy board game) or has a particular goal (such as checkmate), but that it has enough features in common with Chess. Knightmare Chess is not an abstract, strategy board game, but its goal is checkmate, and it is played with Chess pieces on a Chess board, making it similar enough to Chess. Extinction Chess does not have the goal of checkmate, but it is still otherwise played like Chess with the same equipment. So it counts too. Feudal might count as a Chess variant. It is an abstract, strategy board game in which players move pieces with different powers of movement, and in which the object is to occupy a certain position (which is equivalent to capturing an immobile piece). It differs from Chess mainly in having a very different terrain and allowing movement of all pieces each turn. But abstract, strategy board games like Checkers and Go are too dissimilar from Chess to count as variants. These games do not have differently moving pieces, and the objects of these games are too dissimilar from the object of Chess.
Most Chess variants have all the characteristics listed above. They are non-random, abstract, strategy board games played with pieces that have different powers of movement, played by two players, each moving one piece per turn, with the goal of capturing or checkmating a particular piece on the other side. Any game fitting this description may be called a Chess variant, and it does fit such relatives of Chess as Shatranj, Xiangqi, Shogi, and Janggi. Also, many games fitting nearly all of this description may also be called Chess variants, though the more a game departs from this description, the less likely it is to count as one.
WWW page created: April 20, 2016.