ChessVariants.org : European Chess
As you may know, I am vice president of my school's Chess Club. And one of my duties as VP is researching new chess variants (ok, maybe it isn't my duty, but I do it anyway). This is the story of how I (not quite singlehandedly) designed a chess variant so popular that nobody in our Chess Club plays regular chess anymore.
I was researching four-player chess games, because I felt that our club needed a multiplayer game. Bughouse isn't bad, but the players are rather detached, because you can only play one opponent at a time. I immediately dismissed all of the variants that required a special board; all we have in our club are the standard 8x8 boards. Bastardo looked interesting, but I felt that it started out too cluttered, with not enough wiggle room for your pieces. Finally, I noticed Chaturanga for four, and immediately was captivated by its elegance and fun. However, some of the rules were ancient, and in need of revision; I took a Chaturanga modification - ZM Machiavellian Chess - and played around with it a bit, and created ... Chatanooga.
Ok, maybe it wasn't as heroic as that. The real story was something along the lines of: I read about both Chaturanga and ZM Machiavellian Chess, but by the next day it was all mixed up in my head. The game I showed to the club that day was an odd mixture of both games, with a name as mixed up (unintentionally of course, you can see how mixed up my brain was, for me to mistake Chaturanga for Chatanooga. But I have a REALLY bad memory >.<). The club loved it. Well, the four people that played it loved it, the rest was too busy playing standard chess.
What exactly are the rules of "Chatanooga"? It's a sort of a mix of Chaturanga and ZM, closer to ZM, but with some differences: Play always goes clockwise with no exceptions (this occasionally enables players to prevent another player's checkmate), there is no king promotion, castling, or en passant, and captured armies are merged into one.
But Chatanooga is unimportant at this point, merely a stepping stone to much more exciting game that was to come ... European Chess.
The First Design Sessions
After a week or two of Chatanooga, we were getting a bit bored: because you only have 8 pieces, you eventually get tired of having the same arrangement: King, Rook, Bishop, Knight. One day, my friend John and I were experimenting with different rearrangements of the starting position. We finally agreed that the current one was the strongest.
But then I had an idea: "What if there were several different arrangements and you could pick yours? And because some are stronger than others, why don't we give special powers to the weaker ones to make it fair?" The first army I made was, I believe, an early form of Russia, with a queen, but pawns that can run away from you given the chance. John made up Austria, with three knights that automatically destroy any piece they flank. Early forms of Britain, France, the Holy Roman Empire, and Prussia also made their appearance at that first design session: those, I believe, were our first six, and all underwent significant changes, except for Austria, which has stayed the same for the history of the game.
That evening, I thought long and hard, and finally typed up the original 13 armies: Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, Netherlands, Holy Roman Empire, Austria, Prussia, Sweden, Russia, and the Ottomans. These, with the addition of Poland, which was to come later, constituted our first "block": 18th century Europe. At the next chess club meeting, these powers were a hit, with different players developing strategies for different powers (my favorite among these were Switzerland and the Netherlands). It should be noted that some of these powers were very different from their modern incarnations, particularly France and Spain, who had very wimpy powers at that point (they revolved around protecting the king).
European Chess Expands
About a week later, John single-handedly created 12 new armies and created a second "block": "Classical Chess". And a few days after that, I created our third and last block, "Modern Chess". At this point, we had 36 armies, 12 in each block. We later added three new ones - Poland to European Chess, and Canada and Law Enforcement Agents to Modern Chess - to obtain the 39 we have today.
However, we ran into a problem: the powers in Modern Chess, such as Iraq, North Korea, and Terrorists, seemed much too powerful compared to those in European Chess and especially Classical Chess. Rather than weaken the Modern powers, we decided to make the game slightly crazier by instead strengthening the others, and so came the period of "The Great Tweaking" - over the next month, we went and attempted to balance the game out more, completely changing several powers in the process.
This post-tweaking set proved incredibly popular in our chess club, more so than any other set, and so this is the version of European Chess we play today. It is also the version that we submitted to ChessVariants.org.
Where Are We Headed?
What's next on our agenda? Quite a few things, actually.
We're thinking about publishing European Chess, although we haven't quite decided on the specifics (our best plan would probably be to publish online, as this gives us the most control over the process). Fortunately, Michael's uncle is a patent lawyer, so I hope we won't have any legal difficulties in the future.
Also, we've got to work on changing the name: the game is not very European anymore, with the addition of the Classical and Modern blocks. However, the best we've been able to come up with is "Global War Chess" - we have to work a little harder on this.
Meanwhile, we've decided to have a little fun by starting a design competition for creating new European Chess armies. The submissions need not be historically accurate, and I'm very happy with the 16 very creative armies that we've received so far. The competition is open to anyone, so feel free to participate!
After the design competition, we plan to have two separate groups of armies: core and expansion. The core armies are the base 39, the first three blocks. The expansion armies are the design competition winners, and guess where they can be used - in expansions! ^_^
How can you help? Show European Chess to all your friends and family! :P
Links and Goodies
Man, that was a long post, and those who trudged through it should be rewarded. Here are some never-before-seen early European Chess designs that I just found after two hours of searching through three computers. Prior to this day, they have only been seen by a few chess club members; this is the first time that I'm posting them online.
- - 11/28/06: The very first draft, only 11 armies. Note that the early Spain concept would later be recycled into Terrorists.
- - 11/29/06: The second draft, after one day of playtesting. 13 armies (added Portugal and Sweden), and changed a few others. Also added a rather unwieldy two pages summarizing the rules of Chaturanga.
- - 12/1/06: The first draft after John gave me Classical Chess. 25 armies. Note that the Classical armies are very unbalanced at this point - some are very strong, others are very weak.
- - 12/5/06: The first draft after I added Modern Chess. 37 armies (added Poland and 11 modern). The Modern armies are quite unbalanced at this point - they are much stronger than the European and Classical armies.
- - 12/6/06 and 12/8/06: Same as the previous one, but with some tweaking.
- - 01/21/07: The first version that I submitted to ChessVariants.org. The armies are almost at their present state. 38 armies (added Law Enforcement Agents; Canada was to come later).
The very latest rules can be found here. Also, be sure to check out our design competition!