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Complicacious Chess

V. R. Parton originally described this variant under the heading "GRYPHON'S FANCY AND FUN" in Curioser & Curiouser, which draws on Lewis Carroll for inspiration. It is also known as Gryphon Chess, but the Gryphon is only the fictional character used to introduce the game, and it has no Gryphons in it. Parton describes four versions. First is the no-holds-barred original version, then a couple variations to address different concerns, and finally a simplified version. You can find Parton's original text in the Notes section.


In the original version and the first variation, the setup is the same as Chess except that the Kings are omitted. In the second variation, the setup is the same as in Chess. In the simplified version, each player starts with a King and eight Pawns, all starting where they do in Chess.


Pieces move the same as they do in Chess, though on moving, each piece except the King changes into another piece.


We may presume that the game follows the rules of Chess except where differences are described.

In the original version, each piece except the King changes into the next most important piece on making a move. So, a Pawn changes into a Knight, a Knight into a Bishop, a Bishop into a Rook, a Rook into a Queen, and a Queen into a King. Once a King, a piece remains a King, and the object of the game is to checkmate one of your opponent's Kings. Since this version does not start with any Kings on the board, each player wants to try to get his opponent to be the first one to move a Queen, which will make him vulnerable to checkmate.

In the first variation, there is a limit on how many pieces of the same type a player may have on the board at once. This limit is given as four Knights, four Bishops, and four Rooks. Parton does not mention a limit on Queens, but since some sets come with an extra Queen for each side, and the limit's purpose is to make the game playable with only two sets, a limit of four Queens would also fit in with this suggestion. There are two ways this limit could be imposed. One way is to allow pieces to move without changing if the limit on changing has been reached, and the other is to make illegal any move that would result in the limit being exceeded. Parton does not mention which way he recommends. In his Gryphon Chess Java applet, Ed Friedlander has made moves illegal if they would exceed the limit. This is probably the better way to do it, because it forces each player to makes moves that change pieces instead of allowing him to avoid changes by moving pieces that can't change.

To appease the more aggressive player, he offers another variation that begins with the full set of Chess pieces in their usual positions, and he modifies the rule for changing pieces into a circular one that has a Queen turn into a Pawn. Because of this rule change, no pieces can change into a King, and each player instead begins with a King. Parton mentions that this version may also be played with the restriction on how many Knights, Bishops, and Rooks a player may have.

In the simplified version, each player starts with just a King and eight Pawns. As with the original version, Queens turn into Kings, and Kings don't change into anything. He says nothing about whether the simplified version would include any of the rule changes in his earlier variations. In his Gryphon Chess II Java applet, Ed Friedlander implements this version with the restriction on how many pieces of each type can be on the board.

Although Parton hasn't mentioned any change to en passant, Ed Friedlander chose to ignore it in his Java applet, and this makes sense, for each Pawn changes into a Knight upon moving, and the rules of Chess don't say that a Pawn may capture a Knight by en passant. Also, if a Queen changes into a Pawn in the simplified version, this was not its first move, which means it is not subject to en passant capture.



         The Gryphon sat up and rubbed its eyes; then it watched the Queen of Hearts
     till she was out of sight; then it chuckled.
         "What fun!" said the Gryphon half to itself, half to Alice.
         "What is the fun?" said Alice.
         "Why she," said the Gryphon.  "It's all her fancy; they never executes nobody.
     Come on."
         They had not gone far before they saw the Mock Turtle in the distance sitting
     sad and lonely on a little ledge of rock; and as they came nearer Alice could hear
     him sighing as if his heart would break.  She pitied him deeply.
         "What is his sorrow?" she asked the Gryphon.
         "It's all his fancy that; he hasn't got no sorrow."
                                                               "Alice in Wonderland."

         "Just to be ordinary piece is something I know I would dislike very much,"
     said the Gryphon to Alice, "except perhaps a pawn, for that does sometimes change."
     (Alice had come across the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon trying to dance the
     Reflection figure in the new-fangled Lobster Quadrille with some red pawns for
         After a pause it went on: "An ordinary piece must have a very dull existence for
     it is always the same thing.  Now look at me, am I not two things all at the same
         Alice, looking at the Gryphon with its eagle's head and wings, but with its lion's
     body, thought to herself:  "It isn't really two things at the same time, but only
     parts of these two things."
         She saw a grin slowly spreading about the creatures beak as a thought spread
     through its mind.  Then it chuckled and said, half to itself and half to Alice: "What
         "What is the un-fun?" asked Alice with curiosuty.
         "Ordinary pieces," replied the Gryphon.  "It's all their un-fancy, of course;
     they hasn't got no metamorphosis.  Indeed, the plain unvarnished truth of this
     fancy is that the pieces does change, and they does be complicacious."  It repeated the
     word "complicacious" as if it found this word a tasty morsel to have in its beak.

        Even to the reader with the normal mind, it will be obvious that the theme of this chapter
is the idea of the Gryphon's fancy and fun, the game of "Complicacious Chess."

        The pieces are arranged on the board in their usual formation, but the Kings are omitted.
When a piece moves, it not only changes its squares, but also its very nature at the same time,
because it is "complicacious."

        If a player advances one of his pawns, on its new square it becomes a completely new
sort of piece, namely a Knight!  Should he move one of his Knights, this piece becomes one the
new square a Bishop. In like fashion a "complicacious" Bishop changes into a Rook and a
"complicacious" Rook into a Queen.  Finally, on moving to a new square, the player's Queen
changes her gender and becomes this player's King!

        Briefly, the rule of promotion or change in "complicacious" pieces is: P - Kt - B - R -
Q - K, the order of change being the ranking of the importance of the pieces themselves.  It will
be seen at once that a complicacious pawn reaches the status of kingship in five moves, whereas
a complicacious Rook does so in two moves.  When having at last attained kinship, a complicacious
piece remains a King till the end of the game.  In consequence, a player might find himself in time
the proud possessor of several Kings.  If one of those Kings is checkmated, the game is lost,
of coutse, to their player.

        The aim of play is to attempt to force the opponent to be the first to promote a Queen
to kingship.  Naturally, a player will not capture the enemy Queen!  Neither will he desire to
move his own Queen, to provide the necessary target for his opponent to win by.

        Perhaps the player of "Complicacious Chess" may follow rigidly this "theory of
openings": to play only pawns until they all become Knights; next to play only Knights until
these are all changed into Bishops; etc.  One result might thus be that each player might have
15 Queens on the board, but nothing else!

        The reader may complain that several extra boxes of chessmen will be needed for
Complicacious Chess in practice.  To keep the spirit of the idea is the true purpose here; hence
a limitation on the number of pieces of the same sort actually on the board can be imposed on
a player's force.  If not more than four Rooks, Bishops or Knights in play are permitted to the
player, then only one extra box of pieces will be required for this game.

        Naturally, interest in this "Complicacious" variation arises from the deliberate scheming
by each player to remain in his "kingless" state up to the very last move if possible.

        The aggressive player will, however, see no real excuse for delaying the entry of Kings
into play, and will demand their presence on the board from the start.  In the second variation
of Complicacious Chess, his wish is granted!  The pieces, including the Kings, are arranged in
their usual formation.

        In this new form of the idea, a Queen on moving does not change into a King, but into
a pawn.  The complicacious pieces are now "circular" in character; a piece may thus change
twice (or even more times) through the change order Q-P-Kt-B-R-Q-P.  The player's King
is always the orthodox piece, of course, in this variation.  (The restriction that a player cannot
have more than 4 R, 4B or 4Kt may be imposed also in this case.)

        A simplified form of "Coplicacious" is played as follows:--

        A player has only his King and eight pawns.  These pawns change through the regular
complicacious order and terminate in kingship.

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Author: Fergus Duniho. Inventor: Vernon Rylands Parton.

Last revised by Fergus Duniho.

Web page created: 2023-11-16. Web page last updated: 2023-11-16