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Congo is a chess variant, invented by Demian Freeling at the age of seven in 1982. There will be few board games, invented by people at this age that found such following, also among grown-ups. The game is reported to be very playable. Demian Freeling is the son of Christian Freeling, a well known games inventor. Below, you can read what Christian Freeling wrote about how this game came into being. More on Congo, and on chess variants and other games invented by Christian Freeling can be read at the the website of Mindsports, by Christian Freeling and Ed van Zon.
In the Christmas holidays of 1982/83, some six weeks before his eighth birthday, my son Demian was recovering from the mumps. I was still very much involved in inventing games, and at the time they happened to be Chess variants. As will be seen in time, my approach has never been to make variants on the actual game of Chess, though Grand Chess and Dragonfly are precisely that. (...) My concern was more to invent games on the theme of 'checkmate' in its most abstract form. This is not the subject here, but it was the context: I realized that my strickt approach posed in itself a limitation. Not that I'm against limitations: several ridiculously large Shogy variants give evidence of what happens without them. Yet I started wondering what a more magically inclined spirit might come up with, and there was Demian, all ready to be magically inclined.

I should mention at this point that Demian was familiar with Chess and Xiangqi as well as several other abstract games. To keep him within limits, I suggested a 7x7 board, with seven yet to be defined pawns on the second rank, a yet to be defined king in the middle, and six yet to be defined pieces to the left and right. An hour or so later, Demian came up with the board and the pieces.

The scenery is Africa. The Lion is King, confined to a 3x3 area as in Xiangqi. There is this river as in Xiangqi (well, almost...). There are pieces: he had set out to make a set of '8-square leapers', pieces able to jump to 8 target squares, without being hindered by intervening pieces. So here's a Zebra who, by any other name, is still a knight. There's a Giraffe, a kind of 'square knight', able to jump to the second square in 8 directions. There are two Elephants (because he had run out of options). They unconditionally cover the first and second square 'rookwise', that is: they jump to the second square without being hindered by interposing pieces. Then there's the Crocodile, the only non-jumper, using the king's move. Finally a real surprise: the Monkey, moving as a king, but capturing as an 8-directional draughtsman!

There are pawns too. Demian didn't know anything about Shogi at the time, but his Pawn and Superpawn (the promoted version) look a lot like Shogi's silver and gold. The pawn moves and captures straight and diagonally forward, which struck me as very logical, and, once across the river, has the right to retreat one or two squares straight backward, without the right of capture. Once promoted, it adds the sideways squares for movement and capture, and the unconditional right to retreat one or two squares, either straight or diagonal. These are exeptionally strong pawns!

More surprises came: the object of the game, Demian insisted, was to capture the opponent's Lion. Consequently, Lions may move into check: if they do, they are simply captured and the game is over. Stalemate does not exist.
There is one exception to a Lions confinement: it may capture the other Lion if it faces it along a file or diagonal, with no piece in between!

This marked the end of what I considered to be an impressive presentation. And all is still present in Congo in its final form. But at the time I had a few questions, such as the domain of the Giraffe. Once Demian had figured out that it consisted of only 16 squares, he added the non-capturing king's move. Another point was the river, taken from Xiangqi, but not at all equivalent, because Xiangqi is played on the intersections of a square grid, effectively preventing pieces to actually enter it. Not so in Congo. After pointing out that only the crocodile would seem naturally inclined to appreciate such a feature, Demian went into deep thought and emerged with the now famous 'drowning rule', which, especially in combination with the 'facing Lions rule' and the jumping monkey, gives rise to some most peculiar tactics. At this point the crocodile also got its additional powers in and towards the river.

Thus Congo, which went on to become the second most popular Chess variant at the games club 'Fanatic' at Twente University, Enschede, the Netherlands, was invented by a seven year old in little more than an hour. During its introduction at Fanatic one of the members, Wim van Weezep, suggested to give the monkey the right of multiple capture. This idea was immediately embraced by the inventor and marks the only change in rules the game underwent. Please play Congo but beware: a Lion and any piece (even a pawn) wins against a bare Lion! Good Luck!

Congo takes pride of place on the cover of David Pritchard's The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants (G&P Publications, P.O. Box 20, Godalming, Surrey GU8 4YP, UK. - ISBN 0-9524142-0-1), though in the text the roles of Monkey and Giraffe have been interchanged.


Congo is played on a 7 by 7 board. The middle row of the board is a river. At each side of the board, there is a `castle' of 3 by 3 squares: one castle consists of squares c1, c2, c3, d1, d2, d3, e1, e2, and e3, and the other castle consists of squares c5, c6, c7, d5, d6, d7, e5, e6, and e7.

The opening setup is as follows.

Lion d1; Giraffe a1; Monkey b1; Elephant c1, e1; Crocodile f1; Zebra g1; Pawn a2, b2, c2, d2, e2, f2, g2.

Lion d7; Giraffe a7; Monkey b7; Elephant c7, e7; Crocodile f7; Zebra g7; Pawn a6, b6, c6, d6, e6, f6, g6.

Moves of pieces

The Lion moves like a chessking, but may not leave his castle at his side of the river. In addition, lions can capture other lions if they `see' it, i.e., if there is a vertical or diagonal line with no pieces between the two lions, the lion may jump to the other lion and capture it.

The Giraffe moves and captures by jumping to the second square in a straight or diagonal direction. A jump cannot be blocked by interposing pieces of either color. In addition it has the king's move, without the right to capture with it.

The Monkey moves without capturing as a chessking, i.e., one square in an arbitrary direction, but captures by jumping a straight or diagonally adjacent piece, to the square immediately beyond, which must be vacant for the capture to take place. From there it may proceed in a similar fashion, free to switch from straight to diagonal jumps and vice versa. This is called 'multiple capture'. During a multiple capture the monkey may visit the same square more than once, but it may not capture the same piece more than once. After the completion of a multiple capture, all captured pieces are removed simultaneously. If Lion is captured, this terminates the move as well as the game.

The Elephant can move to the first and second square in a straight direction. The move to the second square is a jump and cannot be blocked by interposing pieces of either color.

The Crocodile moves and captures using the king's move, i.e., one square in an arbitrary direction. Outside the river it also can move on the file towards the river (including the river square) as a rook. Inside the river it also move to another river square as a rook. A crocodile cannot drown.

A Zebra moves like a knight in usual chess.

Pawns move and capture both straight and diagonally forward. Across the river a pawn may also move one or two squares straight back, without the right to capture or jump.

If a pawn moves to the last row, it is promoted to a Superpawn. A superpawn has the additional powers of moving and capturing one square straight sideways and going one or two square straight backwards or diagonally backward. When going backwards, it may neither capture nor jump. A superpawns right to go backwards does not depend on its position: they may go backwards at both sides and on the river.

Terrain rules

The lion may not leave his castle.

In the middle of the board, there is a river. This river enhances the movement capabilities of the crocodile, as mentioned above. In addition, pieces other than the crocodile can drown in the river. It is allowed to move a piece other than the crocodile to the river. However, if the player does not move that piece out of the river at his next turn, then the piece `drowns' and is taken out of play.

Winning the game

A player wins the game by taking the lion of the opponent.
Rules and comments written by Christian Freeling for the Mindsports Website, edited for the Chess Variant Pages, and introduction and comments added by Hans Bodlaender. Rules and image copyright Mindsports; used here with permission.
WWW page created: June 8, 1998. Last updated: January 23, 2005.