By Peter Aronson
There is a genre of Chess variants that increases the size of the board a moderate amount (ten by eight being the most common size), and adds a few new pieces (Knight plus Bishop and Knight plus Rook being the most common), with the rest of the rules remaining pretty much as in standard FIDE Chess. Many of designers of these games are concerned with amount of draws that occur in FIDE Chess, and the degree to which memorized openings can dominate the game. Whether or not these concerns are well founded (a question which I will not address), this genre can also be of interest to the variant game designer due to its constraints and limitations. Not-Particularly-New Chess is my attempt at this genre of Chess variant.
Board and Setup
Not-Particularly-New Chess is played on a board of nine files and eight ranks. The array is modified from FIDE Chess's by the addition of a Cardinal (Bishop plus Knight) to the right of the King, and the replacement of Queen-side Bishops by Unicorns (first move as noncapturing Knights, then move the rest of the game as Bishops).
Not-Particularly-New Chess with is FIDE Chess with a few elements borrowed from various attempts to revise Chess.
From Malcom Horne's Modern Chancellor Chess we have the 9x8 board. It provides enough room for an extra heavy piece, but keeps the Pawns the same distance apart.
From Gabriel Maura's Modern Chess we have the addition of a piece that combines the moves of a Bishop and those of a Knight (named Cardinal in this game, but named Prime Minister in that game) on the other side of the King from the Queen. Pawns may promote to Cardinals as well as to Queens, Rooks, Bishops, Unicorns and Knights.
To fix the resulting problem of both Bishops of a side being on the same color, we borrow Unicorns (first move as a noncapturing Knight, then as a Bishop for the rest of the game) from Grande Acedrex, and replaced the Cardinal-side Bishops with them. Since a Knight's move always changes color, a Unicorn ends up as essentially a Bishop on the opposite color from which it started on.
And finally, from Karl P. Munzlinger's Twenty-First Century Chess, we take the Jester, an improved Pawn that can move diagonally without capturing and is immune to en-passant capture. Otherwise, a Jester's moves and powers are identical to those of a standard Pawn's (Double initial move, single thereafter, capture only diagonally, and promotes upon reaching the 8th rank). A Jester is put into play by replacing a regular Pawn that has not yet been moved with the Jester, and immeadiately moving the Jester. There is one only Jester per side, and it does not have to be put into play.
None of this results in anything particularly new (hence the name), but the result seems pleasant enough. All other rules are as in FIDE Chess, but you castle long on either side (that is, you move the King two spaces toward the Rook on either side, and the Rook jumps over the far side of the King).
An Alternate Array. This is another array I considered using, with the Unicorns on the Cardinal's side, instead of the Queen's. It has the advantage that guards the QN's Pawn, which is undefended in the standard array. It has the disadvantage that it places most of the quickly deployed pieces on the Cardinal's side, instead of balancing them.
More First Move Options for Unicorn. Unicorns on their first move may either make a Bishop's move or an noncapturing Knight's move. Thereafter, they move as Bishops. This allows the Unicorns to be on the Queen's side and still guard the QN Pawn. It also means that the Unicorn's first turn move determines the color on which it will spend the rest of the game.
Minimal Not-Particularly-New Chess. This version gets rid of the more exotic pieces: the Unicorns and the Jesters. The array is altered to fix the two Bishops on the same color problem by swapping the Cardinal-side Bishop and Knight:
King's Pawn is a Berolina Pawn. The King's Pawn is a Berolina Pawn, which moves diagonally without capturing, and forward to capture. The King's Pawn can not become a Jester. Ralph Betza suggested this one: "I would like the center Pawn to be a Berolina Pawn. In front of the K(ing), its move exposes; from the center, its move decentralizes; the choice of moving right or left may be critical."
Guarding Unicorns. In this varient, the Unicorn can guard the Pawns diagonally in front of it. The Unicorn's initial move is redefined to: the Unicorn makes a jump of one square diagonally, followed by one square orthogonally outward, landing in an empty square; any piece on the square moved over diagonally is lept over, and if an opposing piece, captured as well. The following diagram shows a Unicorn poised for its initial move:
Designer's Choice. This is the combination of subvariants that the designer has come to prefer, which is King's Pawn is a Berlina Pawn and Guarding Unicorns.
Not-Particularly-New Chess II, or Not-Particularly-New Chess without Unicorns. After a gap of many months, I have concluded that the Unicorns are gratuitously exotic. So, instead I am proposing the following: the setup from Minimal Not-Particularly-New Chess, but keeping the Jester and combining in King's Pawn is a Berlina Pawn.
I have tried to be restrained in this design. No rampaging Elephants, no complete changes in the capture rules, no self-moving pieces, no pieces that mutate when they move. That's why the board used is nine by eight -- it's the smallest possible increase. And that's why the new piece added to the array is a Cardinal; Cardinals are weaker than Queens (though stronger than Rooks), and are the weakest piece usually added to this sort of Chess variant. However, I'm not sure I have been as restrained as this sort of variant calls for. The Unicorns, while solving the problem of having both Bishops for a side on the same color, are a bit more exotic than usually found in this sort of game. So is the Jester, which was included for the simple reason that I liked it (and that it made openings more varied). Possibly I am simply not capable of restraint when designing Chess variants. Maybe I like invention too much, even when it isn't mine.
I spent a fair amount of time playing around with the array. I didn't like the unbalanced array, but it bothered me to leave a Pawn uncovered. The third option (suggested by Tony Quintanilla), of allowing a Unicorn a noncapturing Knight's move or a Bishop's move for its first move results in one to three Bishops on a color -- too strange of a situation for what I was trying to do with this game. After considering the options, an uncovered Pawn seemed the least of the evils. After all, many successful Chess variants, such as Capablanca Chess and Almost Chess, have an uncovered Pawn.
Zillions of Games
I have written an implementation of Not-Particularly-New Chess for Zillions of Games (latest version of ZRF is 1.3). You can download it here:
Written by Peter Aronson.
WWW page created: May 28th, 2001.
Updated: August 16th, 2002.