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Jeff's Gameblog
Friday, 2 July 2004

Topic: Chess Variants
I'm not normally a fan of completely abstract chess pieces, the kind that depict how a piece moves. I prefer some sort of variant on the traditional Staunton design that is used in serious chess play, not because it is used in serious chess play but because I like the way the pieces look. Still, there's something to be said for the ability of purely abstract designs to carry useful information in an uncomplicated manner. Among other reasons this is why board wargames often use NATO military symbols on their pieces instead of little graphics of infantry and tanks.

I'm thinking about making up some abstracted Shogi (Japanese chess) pieces for the large variant called Ultimate Shogi or Taikyoku Shogi. This is one of the largest chess variants I've ever seen, comparable in my experience only to the chess variants that led directly to the first military wargames. Ultimate Shogi is played on a 36 x 36 board (1296 cells) with 402 pieces per side. The reason why I would use abstract pieces is because there are about 200 different types of pieces on the board at the start of play! As per normal Shogi, almost every piece can promote, some to additional piece types past that 200. Without systematic abstract piece design, this variant would be a bugger to play. Heck, even with good piece design it would still be a huge undertaking. Although you can find lots of wargames out there that use bigger boards and more pieces, some grognards might even balk at Ultimate Shogi. After all, board wargames generally allow you to move most or all of your pieces in a single turn and most wargames involves less differentiation among piece types. A wargame might have a thousand pieces, but if 500 of them are the exact same type of infantry piece then learning the game looks a little less daunting. And I think the 'one move per turn' aspect of Ultimate Shogi might drive some wargamers to madness.

Which of course only motivates me more to build a set and try it out on some wargamers. Mu ha ha ha!

Posted by jrients at 11:27 AM CDT

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