The Chess Variant Pages

Check out Hectochess, our featured variant for November, 2023.

This page is written by the game's inventor, Charles Gilman.


by Charles Gilman

Xiang Qi (XQ) originally had armies of only 14 pieces, all but the Rooks rather weak. The Cannon was a late introduction, influenced by the Chinese invention of gunpowder, and was certainly one way of strengthening the armies overall. It was not however the only way that they MIGHT have been strengthened. Had gunpowder not been invented, or not inspired the idea of adding a new piece, or even had the Chinese wished to add strength earlier, what other approaches MIGHT have been made to strengthen the existing pieces? Such speculation has inspired a closely-related group of variants. I name them all as Xiang Qi with some prefix, on the basis that they still retain the Fortress and River of Xiang Qi and the extras are unlikely to be added to the 16-piece game as they would add less to it than to the 14-piece one.

Some basic strengthening is common to all of them. As in my own Anglis Qi and its offshoots promotion is to Wazirs, which can retreat to their own side of the River without demotion. This can be represented by starting with the fourth rank face down and flipping to mark promotion. The Knight's leaping power and King's diagonal move are restored (or copied if you believe that Xiang Qi came first!) from Chaturanga. The Elephants are Multiple Displacer (MD) ones, blocked by allies but able to capture enemies on intervening as well as destination cells. All this however leaves the Ferzes bound to the same set of 5 cells and the Elephants to the same set of 7. Therefore I have considered various ways of overcoming this. By pure chance they are all similarly placed within the alphabet, and broadly the later they are alphabetically the more complex they are.

ELEPORT XQ simply allows the Elephants to treat the board as a cylinder. This adds moves from e.g. i3 to b1 or b5, giving access to the whole of their first, third, and fifth ranks.

ELLIARDS XQ allows the Elephants to bounce off the edges as in the middle option of Billiards Chess. This adds the moves Wazir-followed-by-Ferz (MD Mao) from file a to file b, file i to file h, and rank 1 to rank 2; Ferz-followed-by-Wazir (MD Moa) in the reverse directions; and Ferzwise between a1 and b2 and between i1 and h2. This gives access to every cell their side of the River.

EVEN GRANDER XQ, alone among these variants, departs from the standard XQ board but only by duplicating the middle file, making the back rank RNEFKKFENR and the fourth P-P-PP-P-P.

The prefix reflects the fact that, while the 90-cell standard XQ board is large by FIDE standards, the 100-cell EGXQ one is yet larger; it is also a nice pun on an even number of files! The full XQ set is required, with the figures usually representing Cannons as Kings. It places the Ferzes on different colours covering between them an enlarged Fortress. Likewise the Elephants cover 14 cells between them. A downside is that Ferz cannot defend Ferz, nor Elephant Elephant. EGXQ has three subvariants depending whether victory is by: (1) checkmating one King; (2) capturing one King and checkmating the second; (3) ditto but retaining both one's own Kings, in which losing a King each is a draw. I would be interested in any analysis of which gives the best play.

FERRY XQ adds a Ferry (Y), which is not a piece in the normal sense. It can share a cell with a normal piece, can be moved only by a player whose piece shares its cell, and cannot capture or be captured. The Ferries start on cells e5 and e6. The following moves involving Ferries are allowed: (1) moving a piece normally onto or off a Ferry; (2) sending the Ferry away from under one's piece to any other cell on the middle two ranks EXCEPT the one where the other Ferry is; (3) moving the piece and Ferry together Kingwise within the middle two ranks, to a cell not occupied by either an ally or the other Ferry. If an enemy occupies the destination cell it is captured as if by a normal move. The effect of Ferries is pretty marginal for most pieces, but gives Elephants access to the whole of ranks 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, and 10!

FUSION XQ is of course inspired by Fergus Duniho's Fusion Chess. Any two capturable symmetric pieces, except Rook and Wazir, can combine into a single stronger piece, although this opens up the risk of capture of both components at once. A compound is formed by a piece making its standard move to a cell occupied by an ally, and can then be moved using the move of either of its components or split back up by moving just one component by a standard move of that (but not the other) component. Elephant compounds cannot cross the River, but the non-Elephant component can cross leaving the Elephant behind, and by combining and splitting Elephants can reach every cell their side of the River. Ferz compounds can move outside the Fortress, as the other component is considered protection enough. When combining, the Ferz must start in the Fortress but the other component need not, nor need the compound end there. Conversely when splitting, the Ferz must end in the Fortress but the other component need not, nor need the compound start there.

In the following list of combined pieces, Elephant compounds differ from their usual forms in being MD as regards their Elephant moves. Many of the names are in my piece article The Heavy Brigade. (1) Rook+Knight=MARSHAL; (2) Rook+Ferz=CHATELAINE, generic for the lady of a stately home; (3) Rook+Elephant=INFANTA, the Spanish princess from whose title derives the English pub name Elephant and Castle; (4) Knight+Wazir=MARSHLANDER, a short-range version of the aforementioned Marshal; (5) Knight+Ferz=CARDILANDER, a short-range version of the Cardinal; (6) Knight+Elephant=KANGAROO, see Timothy Newton's Outback Chess; (7) Wazir+Ferz=PRINCE, a capturable version of the King; (8) Wazir+Elephant = WAFFLE; (9) Ferz+Elephant=FEARFUL.

Is there any scope for using more than one of these further Elephant strengthenings? Possibly, but I suspect that the whole will be less than the sum of its parts, at the price of being excessively complicated. On the other hand Fusion Ferry XQ would allow Elephants to reach the whole board, although Elephant compounds should perhaps be judged too heavy to go on a Ferry!