I’m a lousy chess player. In spite (or perhaps because) of this, I’m fascinated by chess variants — games that alter the rules of chess in order to produce a new and less explored experience.
The website chessvariants.org gets less traffic than it did a decade ago, but it’s still a wonderful archive of ideas. Some of the proposed games on the site are brilliantly playable. Others are very silly, and are headed straight into the dustbin of eccentric creative thought.
The tricky bit is, if you want to play chess using a couple of extra pieces of your own devising, how will you do it? By pushing slips of paper around on the board? Ugh.
A year or two ago, I fired off an email to the House of Staunton, suggesting to them that there might be a market for some handsome chess pieces of unusual design. Afterward, I thought no more about it — but damned if they didn’t take the suggestion! Today, as a Christmas present to myself, I ordered their three new packages of white and black pieces, two of each to a package. And of course a more or less matching set of standard pieces, because the new plastic ones wouldn’t go well with my wooden set.
More packages, including some alternate pawns, are due out in 2016. Yay!
Once I have a set of cannons, leopards, elephants, hawks, chancellors, and archbishops, I’ll have three new challenges. First, I may want to draw up a nice-looking 8×10 board on a thick sheet of cardboard. Second, I could sure use an opponent or two. The town where I live doesn’t seem to have an active chess club.
Third, I’ll need some workable ideas about how the new pieces should move. There’s a fellow with a web page called Musketeer Chess who has movement rules for them, but I’m not uniformly happy with his choices. The chancellor (rook + knight) and archbishop (bishop + knight) are very standard pieces, but you can do all sorts of interesting things with the others. An elephant really ought to be able to push other pieces ahead of it when it moves, wouldn’t you think?
When the Staunton unicorn, spider, dragon, and fortress pieces appear, I’ll have to get them too. This is going to be fun.