Check out Chess with Different Armies, our featured variant for July, 2024.

This page is written by the game's inventor, Charles Gilman.


In 2007 I marked the Chinese Year of the Pig with a page of semi-modest variants of assorted standard and already-variant games, following it up in 2008 with a rodent-piece-heavy variant for the Year of the Rat. For the Year of the Ox in 2009 I found in my Man and Beast articles many pieces whose names are to some extent bovine. Some could not make it onto the variant. Charolais is a breed name for more than one genus of animal - and of Chinese horoscope animal at that. Similarly rectilinear-specific pieces outnumber the hex-specific Aurochs, and I wasn't keen on this being a hex-prism variant. My use of the name Ox itself for a piece dates only from 2012, and therefore was not around at the time when I was plannign this variant.

A rich source of pieces named after oxlike animals (plus a King) is compound pieces in the 10-rank variant from my worst surviving page, Great Herd. I also decided to throw in a few Calves, a piece from my nested variant sFhIoDgEi, but with different promotion rules. So what pieces would fill it out? My first thought was FIDE radial ones, but recalling how I took care to give Random Rodent a touch of Xiang Qi I decided instead to use Xiang Qi pieces, again the strongest. This excluded the General and Mao - or even the Moo to which it might otherwise have been appropriate to upgrade it - as Great Herd pieces can do all that those can and more. It also made sense to model the front rank on Xiang Qi rather than fill it with Pawns, a major criticism of Great Herd being how the leaper-heavy back rank made Pawn structure useless.

Rather than the actual Xiang Qi board, whose 10 ranks would expose major pieces to Calves, I closed it up to Shogi's 9. This gives a middle rank of squares equally threatened by both players. It also brings in a modest variation to Xiang Qi that I never thought worth giving its own page: XIANG QI ON A SHOGI BOARD (XQOASB). The Shogi board has no River or Fortress, and files do not limit pieces that actually have file-changing moves. For this reason XQOASB substitutes leaving one's own camp for leaving the Fortress, and entering the enemy camp for crossing the River. This enables Elephants to capture each other. Castling is also allowed as this array has neither the Xiang Qi obstacle of confining Generals to the Fortress nor the Shogi one of corner pieces with no sideways move. A problem with XQOASB is that a Mao cannot move until the Cannon or Elephant get out of their way. A second modest variation that I decided to deploy was that of FURTHER-PROMOTION XIANG QI, in which a promoted Point can optionally be further promoted to a captured stronger piece at the end of a move along the far rank. If anyone wants to write an implementation for either Xiang Qi on a Shogi Board or Further-Promotion Xiang Qi as variants of standard Xiang Qi, feel free to do so but please credit me.

Returning to the main feature, the name derives of course from the initials of Year of the Ox. The O of Ox is both unambiguous (contrast dog/dragon, rabbit/rat, or sheep/snake) and well suited to acronym-forming. No doubt it means something in at least one Far East language - nothing rude, I hope! As this page combines a very strong Xiang Qi influence, lesser Shogi one, and Chinese theme I have ticked the "Oriental" box. Again feel free to write an implementation but please credit me.



Great Herd pieces:
The KING moves one step along any orthogonal or diagonal. It must be kept out of Check and bare facing (see rules below). The one King aside starts in the middle of the camp.
The GNU makes any 2:1 (Knight) or 3:1 (Camel) leap. It is the second strongest GH piece, as like the King it can triangulate - return to a square in 3 moves, in this case two Knight moves and a Camel move. The two Gnus aside start at the back of the outer even files.
The GAZELLE makes any 2:1 (Knight) or 3:2 (Zebra) leap. It is the weakest GH compound piece, as it is colourswitching - it always moves from a dark to a pale square or vice versa, and so can return to a square only in an even number of moves. Appropriately it is named after the least obviously oxlike animal of all this variant's oblique leapers. The two Gazelles aside start on the second square of the outer even files.
The BISON makes any 3:1 (Camel) or 3:2 (Zebra) leap. It is the third strongest GH piece, for while it camnot triangulate it can return to a square in five moves, in this case 2 Zebra and 3 Camel ones. The two Bisons aside start on the second squares of the inner even files.
The BUFFALO makes any 2:1 (Knight), 3:1 (Camel), or 3:2 (Zebra) leap. It is the strongest GH piece, with all the Gnu's power plus the Zebra's longer range and a second triagulation method using one each of all three leaps. The two Buffaloes aside - one more than in Great Herd - start at the back of the inner even files.
Xiang Qi pieces:
The ROOK moves any distance through empty intermediate cells in any of the 4 orthogonal directions. The two Rooks aside start at opposite ends of the King's rank.
The CANNON differs from the Rook in that capturing requires exactly one intervening piece, which may be of either army and is not itself captured. To avoid Cannons immediately threatening a strong piece, their starting square is moved inward to halfway between the King and Rooks.
The POINT moves one square orthogonally forward. The five Points aside start on the third squares of all odd files. The odd total number of ranks gives a dynamic more like Shogi than Xiang Qi, but be warned that when two Cannons' Points approach each other the first Point to capture may let the other player wreak havoc with the Cannon itself!
sFhIoDgEi piece:
The CALF makes either of the two most forward 4:2 leaps - the same directions as Shogi's Helm but exactly twice as far. The version in this variant is a short-leap one, meaning that a piece on the halfway square blocks it. It cannot itself stop or change direction halfway. The five Calves aside start at the end of all odd files. Calves are likely to be held back until stronger pieces have invaded the enemy camp and captured enemy ones - or at least until enemy Calves are blocked by either-colour pieces (but one with no Knight move to themselves threaten) on the halfway squares.


There is no initial double-step move or En Passant.

Castling involves the King moving to the Cannon square and the Rook to the Bison one, with usual restrictions.

Kings cannot leave their camp. Opposing Kings cannot share a file or diagonal without an intervening piece. Sharing ranks does not of course arise.

A Point entering the enemy camp is promoted by an extra move one square orthogonally sideways. At the end of a move along the far rank it can be further promoted to a Rook or Cannon subject to a player having no more than two of either.

A Calf entering the enemy camp must be promoted to a Gnu, Gazelle, Bison, or Buffalo subject to a player having no more than three of each.

Check, Checkmate and Stalemate are as usual. A player can also win by getting their fifth Calf to the enemy camp while having three of each compound leaper, but that is unlikely to happen.


Pieces can be represented by two distinguishable FIDE or XQ sets, or even one of each.

The terms Bison and Buffalo mean the same New-World ungulate, but two distinct Old-World ones, and so are not exact synonyms for each other as Wildebeest is for Gnu.

Given how this game draws on one of my earliest it is worth noticing how my approach to themed variants has matured since then. I have learned from successes and errors alike of others as well as my own. In both this and Random Rodent I complement the themed collection of leapers with unthemed long-range pieces. No longer do I try to use only the themed pieces, as I did with Great Herd. Likewise I rooted my Armies of Faith series in the King, Knight, Pawn, and Rook that all endure across Occidental Chess history. Yoto could be considered to Great Herd what Fergus Duniho's Yang Qi - or perhaps even more so his Eurasian Chess - is to FIDE Chess. By that I mean a variant better thought of as combining the strongest pieces from two variants than as a "strengthened version of" either one earlier game. That is not to claim this variant as being as great a game as those two, but it certainly improves far more on Great Herd than any variant does on FIDE Chess or Xiang Qi!

This 'user submitted' page is a collaboration between the posting user and the Chess Variant Pages. Registered contributors to the Chess Variant Pages have the ability to post their own works, subject to review and editing by the Chess Variant Pages Editorial Staff.

By Charles Gilman.
Web page created: 2009-01-31. Web page last updated: 2016-04-01