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Engagement Chess

The game of Chess originated as a simulation of warfare on the playing board. However, it is a particularly stylized simulation of warfare, even slightly more so since the movements of the Queen and Bishop were made more powerful.

Several attempts to modify Chess in order to make it a more realistic simulation of warfare are recorded. Many of them, it must be noted, took place in either Hitler's Germany, or Stalin's Russia. The aggressive militarism of those régimes might give one pause before attempting to add to the list of more warlike chess variants.

However, militaristic dictatorships do not have a monopoly on games based on warfare. The modern wargame is a product of a great democracy, the United States of America, having been originated by Avalon Hill. Before that, there were several board games with military themes in the English-speaking world, but these, such as the Strand War Game (which is now described on this web site, on a page which also discusses Parker Brothers' Chivalry, subsequently offered in a modified form for many years as Camelot, which was then brought out again in a modified form as Inside Moves) or Siege of Paris, tended to be based on Checkers rather than Chess.

Thus, the fact that most militarized Chess variants came from Russia and Germany may owe more to the fact of strong Chess traditions in those countries, while Chess has been viewed as a game suitable only for intellectuals and not the masses in the English-speaking world, than to the militarism of some of their régimes.

With the foregoing apology in mind, I bring forwards the chess variant whose initial layout is shown below:

One of the changes made to Chess to make it a (slightly) more realistic simulation of war is to enlarge the playing field; here, the board is a 15 by 15 array of squares. Both the black and white squares are used, and the pieces move as in Chess, except for a few changes below, despite the fact that the layout of the initial array places a large majority of the pieces on white squares.

Also, while there are still one King, and two each of Rooks, Bishops, and Knights upon each side, each side has sixteen Pawns. Having more footsoldiers and fewer officers is a more realistic characteristic of warfare.

The Rules

The remaining rules of play, in so far as they differ from those of Chess (the basic moves of all the pieces except the Pawn remaining the same) are described below:

Due to the different layout of the board, the Pawn's move is changed considerably. Here, the pawn moves by moving one square diagonally in any direction, and it captures by moving one square orthogonally; and it can also capture another Pawn, but not any other piece, by moving two squares orthogonally. This latter rule ensures that Pawns are not immune to capture by enemy Pawns on squares of the same color, while it remains true that Pawns in this game, like those of normal Chess, cannot capture in their normal direction of motion.

The normal diagonal movement of the Pawn in this game corresponds with the direction along which the two sides face each other, and the freedom to move backwards is clearly more realistic in itself.

Castling and the two-square first move of the Pawn are, of course, eliminated. Since the Pawn can move backwards, so is Pawn promotion.

In wargames of the kind familiar from such suppliers as Avalon Hill and Strategic Publications Incorporated, during each turn, a player may move any or all of his pieces, not just one piece during a turn. This clearly makes sense; different units in an army do move independently. In this game, I move only partially towards this ideal. During a turn, a player may:

In addition to capturing a Pawn by moving to its square, a piece (other than a Pawn) may also, in a turn, capture all of the enemy Pawns which are en prise to it (even if only one Pawn meets that description) without moving from its square. This is the artillery attack mentioned above. The option of removing only selected Pawns that are en prise to a given piece is specifically not provided.

These three possible actions must be performed in the sequence given above; that the Pawn moves come last limits the possibilities for discovered attacks taking place during a single move.

Being able to move more than one Pawn in a turn somewhat redresses one of the most glaring ways in which Chess differs from a simulation of war. In Chess, a piece can only be captured if it is left en prise by the opposing player on the previous turn, leading to the importance of the pin and the fork. Attacks by many Pawns at once render the problem of the defender more difficult. To further promote the strength of the attack in this game, when an enemy piece or Pawn is exactly two squares distant, either diagonally or orthogonally, from two (or more) of one's Pawns, that enemy piece or Pawn cannot move or capture; this includes captures by pieces of Pawns by means of the artillery attack.

Of course, when multiple Pawns are moved during the same turn, Pawns can be chosen to be moved in any order, and there is no restriction on moving a Pawn to a square previously vacated by another Pawn in the same turn.

The King can be captured. When a King is captured, it is returned to the player from whom it was captured, who is then obligated to replace one of his most valuable pieces with it. That is, the Queen, if it is available, next, one of his Rooks, then one of his Bishops, next one of his Knights, and finally one of his Pawns. Thus, in effect, when a King is captured, another piece assumes command, and becomes restricted in movement as a result. Thus, the King remains the most valuable piece on the board, but it is now no more than the most valuable piece.

The game is won when the other player loses, either by resigning, by being completely eliminated from the board, or by being unable to move, that is, unable to perform even one of the three possible movement operations which are part of a turn, when it is his turn for reasons other than having all his pieces removed from the board, such as having all of his pieces immobilized by Pawns.

A much shorter game can be obtained by making capturing the King the goal of the game, or a slightly shorter game by requiring one to capture all the pieces, including the King, but not necessarily the Pawns (thus, a player would lose when his King is captured, and there is no piece other than a Pawn to exchange it with) in order to win.

Comments on the Game

Philidor said that the Pawn is the soul of chess. That is a statement true of this game as well; it is a very different game from normal Chess, and that is a direct consequence of the fact that in this game the Pawn is a very different piece.

The fact that more than one Pawn can be moved during each move means that a Pawn can move during every turn, while a piece can only move when other pieces are not moving. This increases the value of a Pawn, but by an amount that is limited by the fact that only one conventional capture is possible per turn, whether by a piece or by a Pawn. And most pieces have long-range moves, while the Pawn only moves a single step diagonally; thus, a swarm of Pawns attacking a group of pieces could see the pieces, one by one, escaping to the opposite side of the board.

Since only one piece can move during a turn, even the artillery attack is not as inescapable as the attack of a swarm of Pawns. Instead of leading to large numbers of Pawns being captured, its result is simply making the Pawn more circumspect when it moves to the attack.

Note, too, that Pawns only change the color of the square they are on when they capture. And a square two spaces horizontally or diagonally from a Pawn is on the same color as that Pawn. Thus, at least at the beginning of a game, pieces are more vulnerable to being immobilized by Pawns if they are on white squares, as there are nine Pawns that start on white squares, but only seven Pawns that start on black squares.

Since every Pawn may be moved on each turn, despite the threat of the artillery attack, in this game it is Pawns that need to be mated in order to be captured. Also, this makes it possible for the first player, on his first move, to open up several lines of attack by his long-range pieces, although the nature of the array, and the ordering of move phases, both limit this increase in the first move advantage somewhat.

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