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This page is written by the game's inventor, Jean-Louis Cazaux.


The games of Zanzibar have been invented in the process of creating and optimizing Zanzibar-XXL (Maasai Chess). However, two versions, called Zanzibar-S and Zanzibar-XL, present their own interest and they met a certain success. With the Pawns on the 3rd row and no Soldiers, those games have "rapid" Pawns and Princes playing like in Metamachy

Zanzibar-XL is intermediate between the -S and -XXL versions. Here, there are 80 pieces of 19 different types, 40 for each player: 1 King, 1 Queen, 1 Eagle, 1 Lion, 1 Duchess, 1 Sorceress, 1 Rhinoceros, 1 Buffalo, 2 Princes, 2 Bishops, 2 Knights, 2 Camels, 2 Rooks, 2 Cannons, 2 Elephants, 2 Giraffes, 2 Archers, 2 Machines and 12 Pawns. 

There is a choice of 288 different starting setups. Black chooses the setup and White makes the first move.

You can play Zanzibar-XL with Game Courier here!


At the beginning Pawns, and all pieces which come as pairs (Elephants, Cannons, Rooks, Camels, Knights, Giraffes, Bishops, Archers, Princes, Machines) are placed on the board as on the following diagram:

Setup of fixed starting pieces at Zanzibar-XL

Then, Black freely decides where to place his King, Queen, Eagle and Lion on squares f12, g12, f11 and g11. After this, Black decides where to place his Duchess, Sorceress, Rhinoceros and Buffalo on squares e12, h12, e11 and h11.

Then, White put his pieces symmetrically in mirror (if Black King is on f12, White King goes on f1) and makes the first move.

This agreement balances the advantage of White starting to play with Black choosing the setup.

As pieces are placed in mirror symmetry, positions of Kings on f squares are exactly equivalent of positions of King on g squares. Then, it can be demonstrated that it exists 288 different starting positions:

This is one of 288 starting position:

1 of the 288 possible starting positions for Zanzibar-XL

Diagrams made with the fantastic Chess Board Painting Tools provided by Musketeer Chess


King: moves 1 step in every (8) directions on a not attacked square. The King is in check if it is attacked by one or several enemy pieces. It is forbidden to play a move letting his King in check.

There is no castling in Zanzibar. At his first move, the King may jump to a free square at two squares' distance. For instance, from f2, it can jump to d1, d2, d3, d4, e4, f4, g4, h4, h3, h2 or h1). It does not matter if the square jumped over is occupied or not; however, the jump is forbidden if that intermediate square is threatened by an enemy piece. When jumping like a Knight, at least one of the two intermediate squares must be free of threat (e.g., if jumping from f2 to h3, either g2 or g3 must not be under attack). The King's jump is not permitted if the King is in check. This rule, which was once prevalent in medieval European chess, replaces castling. Identical to Metamachy.

Queen: slides to any square along the file, the rank or a diagonal on which it stands. Identical to standard chess.

Eagle: moves one square diagonally and then, slides away of an indefinite number of squares vertically or horizontally. It is authorized to go only one square diagonal. It can not jump and the unobstructed path must start with the diagonal movement. This piece is almost as powerful as the Queen and is inspired by the Giraffe from Tamerlane's Chess and the Aanca (a mythical giant bird preying elephants, mistaken for a gryphon) from Alfonso X's Grande Acedrex. Identical to Metamachy.

Move of the Eagle

Rhinoceros: moves one square vertically or horizontally and then, slides away of an indefinite number of squares diagonally. It is authorized to go only one square in line or column. It can not jump and the unobstructed path must start with the orthogonal movement. This piece is inspired by the Unicorn of mediaeval Grande Acedrex. It is a counterpart of the Eagle.

Moves of the Rhinoceros

Lion: moves as a King (a single step move in any direction as Wazir or Ferz), or may jump to a position two squares away, jumping in any orthogonal (Dabbaba) or diagonal (Alfil) directions, or jumping as a Knight. (Inspired by Chu Shogi, the most popular variant of the Japanese Chess, where the Lion has the same range but is more dreadful as it can move twice in a turn). Identical to Metamachy.

Moves of the Lion

Rook: moves to any square along the file or the rank on which it stands. Identical to standard chess (except there is no castling)

Bishop: slides to any square along a diagonal on which it stands. Identical to standard chess

Knight: a (2,1) jumper, it jumps to the opposite square of a 2x3 rectangle. No matter what the intermediate square contains. Identical to standard chess

Camel: a (3,1) jumper, it jumps to the opposite square of a 2x4 rectangle, like an extended Knight. No matter what intermediate squares contain. Note that it always stays on the same color of square. A well known piece from medieval Muslim great Chess like Tamerlane's Chess

Moves of the Camel

Giraffe: a (3,2) jumper, it jumps to the opposite square of a 3x4 rectangle, like an extended Knight. No matter what intermediate squares contain. Note that it always changes the same color of its square. That piece is found in Alfonso X's Grant Acedrex (but its move has been rendered differently by 20th century historians). The same pattern, but with a non-jumping move, is found in Janggi, Korean Chess, for the Elephant. Under the name of Zebra, it is also a fairy piece used by problemists for compositions.

Moves of the Giraffe

Buffalo: combines the leaps of the Knight (2,1), the Camel (3,1) and the Giraffe (3,2).  

Moves of the Buffalo

Cannon: exactly as in Xiangqi. The Cannon moves without taking like a Rook, but it takes by going in a straight horizontal and vertical line and jumping over exactly one piece. When a Cannon takes a piece, there must be exactly one piece between the original and final square of the Cannon's move - this piece may be of either color. This is identical to the move of the Cannon in Shako and Metamachy.

Moves of the Cannon

Archer: it is the diagonal counterpart of the Xiangqi's Cannon. It moves like a Bishop and needs an intermediate piece between itself and its victim to capture it. The Archer jumps the intermediate and takes the victim on its square. The intermediate is left unaffected. (Previously named Crocodile. Also known as Vao by problemists).

Moves of the Archer

Machine: it is an orthogonal counterpart of the Elephant as it moves 1 or 2 squares orthogonally, jumping over the first square if it is occupied. Then, it combines the moves of old Dabbaba and Wazir found in ancient Muslim Chess variants. The word Dabbaba designated a siege machine at war in Arabic, hence the name given for this piece.

Moves of the (War) Machine

Elephant: exactly as in Shako and Metamachy. It moves one or two squares diagonally. When an Elephant moves two squares, no matter what intermediate squares contain. Note that it always stays on the same color of square. The Elephant moves as the combined Alfil and Ferz from Shatranj, two pieces which were also present in mediaeval Chess and have disappeared with the birth of modern moves for the Bishop and the Queen.

Moves of the Elephant

Prince: a non-royal King who moves and captures one square in any direction, but without being hindered by check. It has been inspired by medieval games like the Courier chess , an old chess variant, played in Germany, where it is called "Man". Like the Pawn, he can also move without capturing to the second square straight ahead. 

Moves of the Prince

Pawn: can move straight forward one or two square from any position on the board, without capturing. It captures one square diagonally forward. Identical to Metamachy.

Moves of the Pawn

Sorceress: it moves like a Queen and needs an intermediate piece between itself and its victim to capture it. The Sorceress jumps the intermediate and takes the victim on its square. The intermediate is left unaffected. Like the Queen is Bishop + Rook, the Sorceress is Cannon + Archer. Identical to Terachess-II

Move of Sorceress

Duchess: it moves as a limited Queen, one, two or three squares in any straight directions. When moving two or three squares, it may jump and it does not matter what any intermediate squares contain. Identical to Terachess-II

Move of Duchess


Pawn and Prince Promotion: A Pawn or a Prince reaching the last rank of the board is immediately replaced by an "chief" piece: Queen, Eagle, Lion, Duchess, Sorceress, Rhinoceros or Buffalo. Promotion to any other type of piece is not allowed. It is permitted to promote a Pawn or Prince to a type of piece already present on the same side; however; it is considered "good etiquette" to avoid choosing a piece which is not captured yet, if possible. 

En Passant capture: Any time a Pawn or Prince takes a double step and passes through the capture square of an opposing Pawn, that Pawn may capture the Pawn or Prince as if it had only moved one square. This en passant capture must be made in the immediate move following the double step. Only a Pawn may capture en passant; the Prince does not have this option.

End Of Game: The end-of-game rules, checkmate, stalemate, etc., are identical to standard chess.


Pieces Value Zillions gives these average values, normalized to 5 for the Rook :

Pawn: 0.8 ; Giraffe:2 ; Camel: 2.2 ; Elephant: 2.4 ; Knight: 2.5 ; Machine: 2.8 ; Prince: 3.3 ; Archer: 3.3 ; Bishop: 3.4 ; Catapult: 4 ; Cannon: 4.9 ; Rook: 5 ; Rhinoceros: 6 ; Buffalo: 6.7 ; Duchess: 7.4 ; Lion: 7.6 ; Eagle: 7.8 ; Sorceress: 8 ; Queen: 8.2

A maybe more realistic estimate would be:

Pawn: 1 ; Giraffe: 2 ; Camel: 2 ; Elephant: 2.5 ; Knight: 2.5 ; Machine: 3 ; Archer: 3 ; Prince: 3.5; Bishop: 3.5 ; Catapult: 4 ; Cannon: 4 ; Rook: 5 ; Cardinal: 6 ; Rhinoceros: 6 ; Sorceress: 6.5 ; Buffalo: 7 ; Duchess: 7.5 ; Lion: 7.5 ; Eagle: 8 ; Queen: 9

Option: one previous version of Zanzibar-XL used a Marshal and a Cardinal instead of a Duchess and a Sorceress. It can be played optionally. 

Marshal: it combines the move of Rook and Knight.

Cardinalit combines the move of Bishop and Knight.


Deep thanks to H.G. Muller for making the Interactive Diagram below

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 Jean-Louis Cazaux.

Last revised by Jean-Louis Cazaux.

Web page created: 2020-04-21. Web page last updated: 2020-04-30