The Chess Variant Pages

Check out Sac Chess, our

featured variant for October, 2023.


Adventures Beyond
The Bounds of Chess

John William Brown

Table of Contents

PART I   -  An Introduction to Meta-Chess

Chapter 1   -   Gollon's Challenge

Chapter 2   -   The Oriental Games

Chapter 3   -  The Spanish Influence

Chapter 4   -  Islamic Chess

Chapter 5   -   Free-form Composition

Chapter 6   -   Three New Games

Chapter 7   -  The Best of Havel

PART II   -  Crafting Meta-Chess Equipment

Chapter 8   -   Creating Markers and Boards

Chapter 9   -   Meta-Chess Storage Systems

PART III   -  Practical Meta-Chess Theory

Chapter 10   -  Describing Chess Pieces Moves

Chapter 11   -  Estimating Chess Piece Values

Chapter 12   -  Naming Meta-Chess Pieces


Appendix A   -  A Glossary of Meta-Chess Terms

Appendix B   -  Gallery of Meta-Chess Pieces

Appendix C   -  The Meta-Chess Pardon System

Appendix D   -  Standard Graphic Conventions

Appendix E   -  Meta-Chess Move Notation

Appendix F   -  The Grand Princes of Echequier

Appendix G   -  More Sample Compositions

The Preface to Meta-Chess

Before we venture into the body of this text, allow me first to confess that the idea for Meta-Chess is not mine and mine alone. It would be a subtle act of plagiarism not to acknowledge the influence of the novelist Herman Hesse; for Hesse's Nobel Prize winning novel The Glass Bead Game served as a catalyst for the creation of the Meta-Chess system. The original title of this book had in fact been "In Search of the Glass Bead Game." It was only later that it came to be called Meta-Chess.

For the uninitiated, The Glass Bead Game is a novel about a so-called "Game of games" that is played by a utopian society of intellectuals. Hesse never fully explains the workings of the Game, but he offers vague insights into its spiritually alluring nature. Most scholars agree that Hesse had intended for the Glass Bead Game to be a metaphor for the purely contemplative disciplines - practices of which he did not fully approve.

I was intrigued by the idea of a game that was so compelling that its practitioners had considered it to be an end unto itself. The parallels to chess here are obvious, and Hesse often used the example of chess to expound upon the Game. But it soon became apparent that the Glass Bead Game was intended to be more than just chess, for its devotees were not only adept players, but gifted composers as well. Yet the moves of the game were limited only by the dual constraints of reason and aesthetics - virtues which Hesse considered to be two sides of the same coin. Hesse's masterwork left me wondering if it might be possible to create a working model of such a game.

This question was partially answered during a 1975 visit to the Computer Science Department of Rutgers University. As Dr. Heiner Beisel escorted me through this facility, I could not help but notice two haggard souls pounding away at their keyboards with the intensity of dueling swordsmen. Upon inquiry, my friend explained that these students were engaged in a competition known as "core wars." The sole object of the game was to gain control of a mutually shared computer and to lock the other player's terminal out of the system. Heiner then interjected that Core-Wars enthusiasts had been known to play for nights at a time, sustained only by the effects of adrenaline and caffeine. When I asked my friend to explain the rules of the game, he merely chuckled. He later revealed that there were no formal rules for playing Core Wars other than the logic imposed by the system itself. To this I replied, "Aah, what you have here is the proverbial Glass Bead Game."

But the game of Core Wars fell short of Hesse's ideal in that the aesthetic criteria were never imposed. Moreover, Core Wars players lacked the means to alter the system in more than a superficial way. And they were certainly not apt to alter it for the sake of mere aesthetics.

As the years passed, I continued to find parallels to the Glass Bead Game in other areas of life, but none that completely satisfied my understanding of Hesse's rich metaphor. Moreover, I came to realize that a perfect analog of the Game would be impossible to play. But still I took note of the various enterprises that seemed to mirror Hesse's brain child. A notable enterprise (one also embraced by Hesse) was the composition of music. This was a realization that inspired me in part to enlist a music-theory instructor for myself. Prophetically, this endeavor triggered a series of events that led to the creation of the Meta-Chess system which represents my own attempt to create a Glass Bead Game. Although Meta-Chess lacks the universality of Hesse's ideal, it has the advantage of being both tangible and playable - features that a literary device can only allude to in indistinct terms.

To express my sentiment for Hesse's book, and to illustrate its influence on the development of Meta-Chess, a selected quote from The Glass Bead Game will appear at the beginning of each chapter of this text. In a number of these passages, an ellipse will be substituted for the words "Glass Bead" so that the reference will read simply "the . . . Game." This benign omission should free your mind from the strictures of Hesse's title, allowing you to consider more freely how each quote parallels or foreshadows the material that is to follow.

See also:

Written by John William Brown.
WWW page created: January 27, 1997. Last modified: November 11, 1997.