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Hitchhiker Chess

By W. D. Troyka


          Hitchhiker Chess provides yet another question to science fiction's most famous answer: Forty-two. The game is based on Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker Guide To The Galaxy series. It is played in a diamond-shaped galaxy consisting of forty-two squares, including a restaurant at either end. In the center of the galaxy is a black hole. The middle row of the board wraps around from one edge to the other. The object of the game is to move your Hitchhiker across the galaxy into your opponent's restaurant. You can also win by kidnapping the opponent Hitchhiker and dropping it into the black hole.

Board and Setup

          Hitchhiker Chess is played on a diamond-shaped board with a black hole in the center. No piece can occupy the black hole, and sliding pieces cannot move across it. The squares a6 and i6 are considered adjacent: you can move west from a6 to i6, and east from i6 to a6. Squares e1 and e11 are restaurants.

Hitchhiker Chess initial setup.
11                | h |
10                | s | 
9             | r |:c:| r |
8         | o |:c:| o |:c:| o |
7     | m |:::| m |:::| m |:::| m |
6 |   |:::|   |:::|[*]|:::|   |:::|   |
5     | M |:::| M |:::| M |:::| M |
4         | O |:C:| O |:C:| O |
3             | R |:C:| R |
2                 | S |
1                 | H |

    a   b   c   d   e   f   g   h   i
Hitchhiker (H): e1
Sun (S): e2
Rockets (R): d3, f3
Colonizers (C): e3, d4, f4
Orbiters (O): c4, e4, g4
Mines (M) b5, d5, f5, h5
Hitchhiker (h): e11
Sun (s): e10
Rockets (r): d9, f9
Colonizers (c): e9, d8, f8
Orbiters (o): c8, e8, g8
Mines (m) b7, d7, f7, h7

General Rules

          The rules of Hitchhiker Chess are identical to those of FIDE Chess, except when noted otherwise. A player must make a move if one is possible. If no move is possible, the turn is forfeited. The game is won by a player moving their Hitchhiker into the opposite restaurant, or by kidnapping the opposing player's Hitchhiker and dropping it into the black hole.

The Pieces and their Movements

          Each player begins the game with fourteen pieces of six different piece types. These are:

Piece Description
The Vogon Space Mine is used in construction of the intergalactic hyperway system. Celestial bodies that block planned routes are destroyed through detonation of a mine. Inhabitants are usually given three minutes notice, sometimes four.

The Mine moves one space diagonally or two spaces orthogonally, making its coverage a diamond shape. When moving orthogonally the space traveled through must be empty. It does not capture on white squares, called "space," where it serves merely as a block. The Mine is normally bound to space. However, when it passes through the cross-galactic Mobius loop (the wraparound sixth row) it re-emerges on the dark squares, called "antispace." In antispace the Mine gains the power of detonation. By clicking and releasing the Mine, it and all orthogonally adjacent pieces, friend or foe, are exploded and removed from the board. Detonation of a live Mine can be prevented by capture but the capturing piece itself is exploded.

The Golgafrinchan Deep Space Colonizer stands eight kilometers tall and is used for transporting useless elements of society to remote parts of the galaxy for resettlement under false pretenses of imminent destruction of the home planet. On an unrelated note, chess variant designers beware! A comet will soon be striking Earth and you have all been selected for salvation using the latest in Elbonian slingshot technology. Stay tuned for further details!

The Colonizer moves to an adjacent square, orthogonal or diagonal, and captures by replacement. Alternatively, it can plunge into the black hole and re-emerge in the mirror opposite square on the other side, capturing any enemy piece it lands on. A Colonizer on c5, for example, can plunge through the black hole to position g7. A Colonizer cannot capture an enemy Colonizer when plunging.

The Magrathean Orbiter is custom built by the planet makers of Magrathea. The Earth model featured here became popular after the ban on galactic cock-fighting. The inhabitants that come with these planets are designed to engage in constant warfare for the amusement of their owners. They provide a rich source of betting among capitalist galaxeers.

The Orbiter moves in a diamond orbit around the black hole, clockwise or counterclockwise. It moves through any number of empty spaces, turning corners as it goes, and captures by replacement. It is color-bound when moving in orbit. The Orbiter changes orbit by moving one orthogonal space. It cannot capture when changing orbit.

The following diagram shows the movement of the Orbiter:

The Orbiter is on e4, and is marked with a black circle containing a "1". The squares it can move to without capturing (e3 and e5) are marked with green circles, and the squares it can move and capture to on an empty board are marked with red circles. If there are no intervening pieces, an Orbiter can reach any of the squares it "orbits" on by two paths; for example: e4, d5, c6, d7, e8, f7, g6 and e4, f5, g6 both move the Orbiter to g6. An Orbiter can not move in a complete circle back to its starting square, leaving the board unchanged.

The Hypergalactic Improbability Rocket runs on both traditional photonic drive and quantum improbability. The improbability drive operates by making less probable the continued existence of the rocket at its current location and at all other locations in the universe save one, until the rocket rematerializes at the now probable location. With this drive the rocket can travel anywhere within the probability matrix of local particles. For safety reasons the rocket is not allowed to rematerialize within a certain vicinity of unidentified massive objects ("UMOS").

The Rocket moves in a straight line forward or backward and captures by replacement. Aternatively, it can rematerialize in any "safe" square on the board. A square is safe if it is not adjacent to any enemy piece besides the Hitchhiker.

The Kakrafoon Sun scorches the enormous Rudlit Desert, which serves as staging area for performances of Disaster Area, the Galaxy's hottest sound and light show. The shows often climax with the sailing into the sun of a mock ship designed to trigger photonic flares that arc across the void to lick the desert.

The Sun moves in a straight line, orthogonal or diagonal, to an empty square. It captures by "scorching" an adjacent enemy piece. The Sun cannot be captured if it has just moved.

The Hitchhiker travels the galaxy on 30 Altairian dollars per day and steals to make up the difference. It is represented here by the traditional angel of food service, who brings good fortune to all those who bestow kindness upon travelers, and whose image is the favorite target of the skeet shooters of MaxiMegalon Four.

The Hitchhiker cannot move by itself. Instead, it hitches a ride with an adjacent moving piece, called the "carrier." Specifically, when an orthogonally or diagonally adjacent friend moves, the Hitchhiker follows and lands in the corresponding square. The corresponding square is the space adjacent to the carrier's destination square preserving the same relative position. If that square is occupied or off the board, the Hitchhiker stays behind, although the friend can still move. The Hitchhiker cannot be captured and it blocks motion by other pieces. The space it is on can be moved to or through only if the Hitchhiker is carried to a different space as part of the move. The game is won by moving the Hitchhiker into the opposite restaurant. An enemy Hitchhiker still in its restaurant does not block a winning move.

A player can also win by kidnapping the opponent Hitchhiker and dropping it into the black hole, where it is instantly vaporized. The opponent Hitchhiker can be kidnapped only if it is abandoned, i.e., not adjacent to any friends. A player carries a kidnapped Hitchhiker exactly like a friendly Hitchhiker, with the exception that it can be moved into the black hole but not into a restaurant. It is possible to carry both Hitchhikers at once.


          Hitchhiker Chess is popular among patrons of the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, as well as the Big Bang Cafe. It was inadvertently transported by Hotblack Desiato to the planet Kakrafoon two million years before the present time on Earth, and then transported to Earth aboard a Golgafrinchan Deep Space Colonizer. The game remained popular among Earthlings for hundreds of thousands of years before degrading into its present form known as FIDE Chess.


          Openings are varied and promise quick engagement. A direct attack with an Orbiter is possible, although usually not advantageous, on the first move. Moving a Mine toward the Mobius loop sets up a potent threat of activating a Mine. Reshuffling pieces in the home corner allows a Colonizer to move onto a space from which it threatens to plunge onto an enemy piece. If the Hitchhiker is moved out two places, and a Colonizer inserted into the space between the Hitchhiker and the restaurant (called the "threshold"), that player will have a direct attack on the enemy restaurant and be one move away from victory. Moving a Hitchhiker onto the threshold creates a formidable block to any enemy attack on your restaurant. It is impossible to pass a Hitchhiker on the threshold. It must be kidnapped first, or the opponent must be forced to move it by attacking an adjacent piece.

          Moving a Hitchhiker into the enemy Restaurant is difficult while the board remains crowded. Generally the ranks must be thinned out until only a handful of pieces remain. In the endgame the Rocket and Orbiter are good vehicles for carrying the Hitchhiker. Moving the Hitchhiker is an art form. It is a sticky piece that moves automatically. You must learn how to reposition it with regard to the carrier so that it will be facing the enemy restaurant.

Down to Earth

          Science fiction has long been a popular theme for chess variants, inspiring such games as Jetan, Klin Zha, and Tri-Dimensional (Star Trek) Chess. Hitchhiker Chess attempts to follow in this tradition by creating an alternative chess universe based on the Hitchhiker series of books. Each of the piece types is rooted in a character or episode from the series. The board is designed and populated to suggest the chaos and brutal indifference of Adams' universe. Some liberties have been taken. The restaurants are at the spatial ends of the board, whereas in the book the Restaurant at the End of the Universe is located at the temporal end of the universe (the "Big Crunch"). The Vogons piloted huge Yellow construction ships that vaporized the Earth with demolition beams, not with a mine. And so on. Such discrepancies are unavoidable when translating a narrative into a game.

          The pieces were created to take advantage of the unusual board design. Their movements are largely original although there are parallels in existing pieces. The diamond-shaped coverage of the Mine combines the motion of the Ferz and Dabbabah, a combination which has been employed in other chess variants. The plunging motion of the Colonizer is akin to the motion of a Cannon, with the black hole serving as screen. The Orbiter bears a resemblance to Rooks in circular chess variants. The ability of a Rocket to rematerialize is similar to the Emperor of Tai Shogi or Ralph Betza's Black Ghost. The Sun itself moves like a Queen but with a different capturing rule. The goal of moving a piece across the board to a special space or zone is fairly common in chess variants. The ability to destroy the enemy Hitchhiker by dropping it into the black hole resembles the "death by pushing" found in Push Chess and Dynamo Chess.

          Hitchhiker Chess was designed for the superior intellect of various alien races. Humans not descended from the original Golgafrinchans may whine about its complexity. If you ever have to cross the galaxy, however, the skills developed by this game will come in handy. So good luck, and bon voyage!

Computer Play

          An implementation of Hitchhiker Chess has been written for Zillions of Games. You can download it here:

Written by W. D. Troyka, © 2002 W. D. Troyka. HTML conversion by Peter Aronson.
WWW page created: March 22nd, 2002.