Traditional Board Games

Chess games

In the western world, we tend to think of one particular game as "chess" - played with sixteen pieces per side on a chequered board of 8x8 squares. But the original chess, chaturanga, was somewhat different, and modern western chess is just one of a number of games which are descended from it. Known as "chess variants", this page contains a selection of them.


Chaturaji is a four-handed dice chess variant from India. Four play in two partnerships, black and green against red and yellow. A die is used to decide which pieces can move at any given turn. This game differs from many other chess variants in that kings are not subject to check, but may be captured and ransomed. History of Chaturaji Once considered as the original game of chess, this four handed Indian variant is now thought to be a ... (read more...)



When people say that chess was invented in India in the sixth century, they are not exactly talking about the game we play today, with its powerful queens and striding bishops.  The chess invented in India, called chaturanga, while recognisable as a kind of chess, had some differences from the modern game. History Chaturanga means "four limbs", or "four parts", a poetic reference to the four divisions of the army as used in India in ancient times: ... (read more...)



Chess is one of the best-known board games in the world. It is one of the most deeply-studied games, and the subject of serious competition and scholarly analysis. There are many different forms of chess, not only historical curiosities but surviving regional variants. The version described here is the modern game as played in the west. It is played on a chequered board of eight rows of eight squares. 32 pieces are used, sixteen per player, of six different ... (read more...)

Courier Game


The courier game is a mediaeval chess variant played on a 12x8 grid. Each side had a number of novel pieces. The courier which gave the game its name moved like a modern bishop, in contrast to the mediaeval bishop which moved exactly two spaces diagonally. The sage moved like a king, but was not liable to check. And the fool moved one space orthogonally, in contrast to the shatranj-like queen which moved one step diagonally. History of the ... (read more...)

Four Seasons Chess


Four seasons chess is a version of chess for four players, dating back to at least 1283. It was featured in a book of games commissioned by Alfonso X of Castille. It uses a standard chess board and splits to usual two forces into four, giving each player four pieces and four pawns. It is unusual in that the pawns are split, two going in each direction from the corner in which their player starts. A cross is marked ... (read more...)


Mak-ruk is chess as played in Thailand. It differs from western chess in that the pawns start the game on the third row, and that some of the pieces have different moves. There are also rules to ensure a more speedy end game in the case where one side is reduced to a lone king. This form of chess is still played in Thailand, and has recently received some attention around the rest of the world. History of Mak-ruk ... (read more...)



In Arabic, chess is called shatranj. In English language texts, shatranj refers to the particular form of mediaeval chess brought to Europe from the middle east. It has major variations from the modern western game, making it of much different character. Shatranj gives much shorter moves to some of the pieces. The pawns only move one square forwards, even on their first turn. The long move of the bishop, called the elephant in shatranj, is instead a short diagonal ... (read more...)



Shogi, or “the general's game”, is the form of chess popular in Japan. It is played on a board of nine rows of nine squares, each side having twenty pieces. It is unusual among chess variants in that captured pieces may be re-entered into the game on the captor's side; the pieces are formed in such a way that the piece's ownership is indicated by its direction of facing, not its colour. History of Shogi History of Shogi Tradition ... (read more...)



Sittuyin is the Burmese form of chess. It uses the older, short-range moves of some of the pieces like the queen (which it calls commander) and the bishop (which it calls an elephant). But the most remarkable thing about this game is the initial setup of the pieces. The pawns (which are called soldiers) are set up on the third and fourth row of the board, two enemies already in contact. All the other pieces can be placed behind ... (read more...)

Xiang Qi


The Chinese have their own game of chess, called xiang qi, pronounced "shyang chee". It differs from the European game in a number of ways. The board is a lattice grid of ten ranks nine points each. A river divides the two sides, and at each end is a marked 'castle', to which the generals (kings) and ministers (queens) are confined. The pieces sit on the points, not in the squares. The moves of the pieces are similar to ... (read more...)


These are just the more prominent regional or historical versions of chess, rather than variants. David Pritchard compiled a whole encyclopedia of chess variants. The magazine Variant Chess which I started in 1990, and which ran for 64 issues under various editors as the magazine of the British Chess Variants Society until 2010, is a source of hundreds. All issues are free to download in PDF form from my website. 

George Jelliss - 19:31, 29/11/2017

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