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This page is written by the game's inventor, Gary Gifford.

Four-Handed Elephant Chess

4-Handed Elephant Chess © July 2006 by Gary K. Gifford The object of Four-Handed Elephant Chess is to win the game by capturing both of your opponent’s Elephants. There are no checks or checkmates. WHITE and RED are Partners BLUE and GREEN are Partners [Rules for a variant where 4-Players battle against each other are provided at the end of the Rules section] Order of Play: Clockwise, White moves first. This game is based on my 3-Elephant Chess and an early variation of Four-Handed Chess (which I was thinking about again after having looked at David A. Mahan's "Chess Jester," very closely related to 4-handed chess). At any rate, I had been thinking of using Spearmen capable of rotating 8-angles. Also, Joe Joyce and I had discussed the concept briefly during our play of Three Elephant Chess. Joe and I both enjoy the Spearmen rotation factor of that game, which reminds us a bit of Avalon-Hill wargame manuevers. In 3-Elephant Chess I believe that the 3 angles of rotation are quite adequate. But in this 4-handed game we have opponents at 90 degrees and it so it seems very logical to introduce the multi-directional Spearmen to this type of battlefield. So in this game I have kept the essence of 3 Elephant Chess and have adapted it for four-handed play. Beyond the board and setup changes, the adaptation includes a modification to the Spearmen and to the War Tower. Note: My Spearman in 3 Elephant Chess were likely inspired by related piece movement found in Ploy, a chess variant produced by 3M Games (now extinct). The War Tower is closely related to my Ram piece in Catapults of Troy. The Ram would take out an entire rank or file then “splinter” (self-destruct).


See above diagram.


* Quantity is "per-player" ** The Spearmen in this game can rotate to any of their 7 other available angles instantly. In the original 3-Elephant Chess this is not the case. *** The War Towers in this game can fall and take out two spaces of material in the direction of their fall. This is different than found in 3-Elephant chess where ther is an additonal space of destruction.


The game and piece movement is fairly simple. 

On your turn you can do all of the following.  As a minimum movement you must complete action 1 or action 3.  The movements must be completed in this order:

1. Move a Spearman one space in the direction of its spear.  Spearmen can only move one space forward or diagonal, depending on their spear direction.

2. Rotate one Spearman to any of his 7 other angles.  The rotation change is instant.  The rotation can be for the same Spearman from Action 1, if applicable—or a different Spearman.

3. Move one non-Spearman piece.  Stones count as pieces.

Remember, you must complete action 1 or action 3.  Action 2 is optional.
The order of movement must be as above.

A few notes:

8 Squares (dark with color centers) are OFF LIMITS.  Pieces and Spearmen are not permitted on these spaces.  Pieces cannot travel over them; with exception of Knights that can leap over them.  Falling War Towers are blocked by them, but can fall and destroy up to them.

There is no castling.

There is no possible pawn enpassant (no Spearman enpassant).

Spearmen promote only to Dragon Horse.  This is done when they reach their relative 9th Rank.  Thus:

  o White Spearmen -  Promote on Row 9 (notice the Void Markers with white centers, marking the White Spearmen promotion zone.

  o Blue Spearmen -  Promote on File “I” (notice the Void Markers with blue centers, marking the Blue Spearmen promotion zone.

  o Red Spearmen -  Promote on Row 3 (notice the Void Markers with red centers, marking the Red Spearmen promotion zone.

  o Green  Spearmen -  Promote on File “C” (notice the Void Markers with green centers, marking the Green Spearmen promotion zone.


In this variant, when a player captures an Elephant the Elephant is removed and the player making the capture gains control of that color piece group.  Movement rotation remains the same.  Thus, if White captured Blue's Elephant the Blue player is out of the game.  The Player who controls White now additionally controls Blue and would now get to make moves for his new Blue Army.  If White captured a Green Elephant, then he would need to wait for Blue and Red to complete their turns before moving his newly acquired Green Army.


Q:  What happens when 1 Elephant is captured?

A:  Play continues as usual with each player controlling his respective army.  Once a team has lost both Elephants, the game ends.  

Q: Why did you increase the power of the Spearmen?

A: There are 2 reasons.  (a) There are opponents 90 degrees from you and your Spearmen should be able to head in either of those directions.  (b) I made the "instant rotation" {as opposed to 1-angle-click at a time) to increase the dynamics of the game.  It seems to be much more fun to have your Spearman do an instant about face to attack an enemy as opposed to a useless 4 turns to point that spear... not very practical or realistic.

Q: Why did you reduce War Tower path of destruction for 3 spaces to 2?

A: The 3-space destruction was a bit too much for the this playing field of 4 players.  Opponents are in closer proximiy at the start of the game and a War Tower can arrive in fewer turns than it could in 3-Elephant Chess... thus a tone down of its destructive power.

Q:  Can a player lose an Elephant on purpose?  Or, if an Elephant is in check must he move out of check?

A:  A player can sacrifice his Elephant.  He can allow it to be captured.  In regard to “Check” it is wise not to announce it, after all, you are hunting Elephants.  It is generally unwise to give up an Elephant on purpose.  But there are times when you may want to, especially if the other team is down to 1 Elephant and you have found a way to eliminate it.

Q: Why does each player have a Stone to his right, one space above the Dragon Horse?

A: I experimented with a lot of different setups.  This scenario with the Stone outside of the main piece grouping allows for a smaller board size and keeps the enemy Knight from going to that square where it would attack your Queen.  A Spearman at “I2” would also keep the Knight out… but I liked the idea of dead-zones in the corners that would prevent very early corner skirmishes (directing play towards the center) and would also serve as promotion zone markers, even though the later is not essential.  Note that the Stones' initial placement also impedes War Tower entry via that diagonal.

Q: Can team members talk to each other during the game?

A: This is discouraged.  It would allow one team member to dominate his team’s movement.

Q: Can two people play?  Or three?

A: Of course.  The main idea is two teams.  One of White and Red, one of Blue and Green.  One player per color is ideal; but one player could control 2 colors against the other team of two players, for example.  It is also possible for four players to play against each other as in the "Rules for a Variation: 4 Players Against Each Other" section of the above rules.

© July 2006 by Gary K. Gifford

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By Gary K. Gifford.
Web page created: 2006-07-03. Web page last updated: 2006-07-03