Chess Roll

Will You Play These 4 Weird Chess Variants? (Plus An App You Definitely Should)

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Chess has been around for like a thousand years, so it should come as no surprise that it has evolved and changed depending on a variety of factors such as the location and the people who play it. What was once a one-square Adviser is now a powerful Queen, and the Elephant has become the Bishop.

Over its long, long history, people have become too familiar with the game, and some of them wanted to add spice to the beloved board game. These attempts at reinvention have given us fun and sometimes weird chess variants. While there are basically hundreds of them out there, start off your exploration with these four quirky chess variants.

1. Three-Dimensional (3D Chess)

If you’ve watched the classic sitcom The Big Bang Theory, you’ve probably seen a weird chess game between Sheldon and Leonard involving three chessboards stacked on top of each other. If you do, congratulations on seeing 3D Chess in pop culture. However, this unusual approach to chess dates back to at least the German Raumschach, or “Space Chess,” in 1907.

chess variants multi-level chess
Multi-Level Chess or 3D chess shows that if you can get confused in 2D, then you can get more confused in more dimensions! Fun!

Over the years, there have also been variants of this variant, but the most common trait is that it allows pieces to move upward, in addition to classical chess seeing vertical and horizontal movements. For example, we know that the rook moves any number of squares horizontally and vertically, but in 3D chess, it can also do the same only this time, upward or downward.

Perhaps its most famous iteration was the Tri-Dimensional Chess first introduced in the sci-fi show Star Trek. What was originally cobbled up as a sci-fi side piece was developed into an actual game by the show’s fans, with help from Professor Leroy Dubeck: chess master, physics professor, and former president of the US Chess Federation.

Why crush your opponent in a flat battleground when you can do it in more dimensions?

2. Four-Way Chess

When it’s one-on-one, there are only three outcomes: you win, you lose, or you both call a draw. However, real war, as history attests, is something a lot more complicated. In an attempt to capture one aspect of its complexity, there became a class of chess variants called four-way chess. Or, maybe we’re reading too much into it and some people just wanted to accommodate more players at a time – like Mario Kart.

chess variants 4-way chess
Four-way chess: because keeping one king in check isn’t enough.

A four-player chess game is actually documented in an ancient Indian text dated around the year 1500 CE. Its most popular version today is the standard 8×8 chessboard extending additional 8×3 squares in four directions. Players may either team up or each for their own, with turns rotating between players in a clockwise direction.

A fun mechanic in these chess variants is the pawn promotion mechanism. Like classical chess, pawns promote to their 8th rank. However, in four-way chess, this translates to somewhere in the middle of the board – isn’t that exciting? In the usual rule, the game ends when one player checkmates any other of the kings. But then again, if you’re playing, who’s stopping you from adding your own twists and turns to this class of chess variants.

3. Peasants Revolt!

No, we are not calling on anyone to do anything. This is another one of those chess variants where we could only think of the creator working on an art imitates life scenario. In this game, one king (usually White) has eight pawns – that’s it. The other side, often Black, has a  king, four knights, and one (poor, brainwashed) pawn.

The knights on the black side are often regarded, or are held to symbolize, the nobility. So in the ideological final war between the working and the ruling class, the game ends when one king – either the labor union leader or the sitting Roi – is locked in a checkmate.

chess variants peasants' revolt
In an excellent case of art imitating life, there’s actually a historic event called “The Peasants’ Revolt” during the 14th century.

Of course, we first tried it out: using two black knights and two black bishops as placeholders for the two additional knights. One interesting part is that it is not as simple as it seems; like regular chess, any perceived advantages or disadvantages can be evened out by the player’s approach and strategy. There were instances in which knights were caught off guard, using the pawn’s sheer number across the board. Pawns here are generally good for distractions, such as sacrificing some of them so one or two could get to the other end and become an all-powerful queen.

4. The AntiChess

As a zero-sum game, chess can be simply understood as “your loss is the opponent’s gain,” and vice versa. Basically, the fewer pieces your opponent has equates to more chances of you winning. Well, with antichess – also known by a variety of names like Losing Chess, Giveaway Chess, Must-Kill or Must-Take, and more – this is not the case.

chess variants antichess
In antichess, players must deliberately put themselves at a disadvantage in order to win. “Why?” You ask? For fun, of course.

In playing the antichess or losing chess, the first player to lose all their pieces wins the game. Other chess variants built from this version might create a win scenario when a player checkmates the opponent or is checkmated in return. The movements are the same as classical chess, aside from a few other special rules. Capturing is compulsory, although, in the event that the move allows for capture from multiple pieces, the capturing player can still choose which unit will take the advancing piece.

One of the factors that make antichess or losing chess popular is the idea that one wrong move could doom the entire game. A carefully set up position could lead to a blundering opponent entering a series of forced captures and subsequent defeat.

Bonus: Chess With Dice, on Your Mobile Devices

If you find classical chess too challenging or too tiresome, why not try another set of chess variants – right from your smartphone! Available for both iOS and Android devices, there’s a new game that brings chess spiced up with chance, through the use of dice rolls.

The game, called Chess Roll, is a lot similar to classical chess – except the only moves you can make are the pieces provided by your dice roll. Each player has a set of three dice, with each of their faces corresponding to the types of chess pieces: pawn, rook, bishop, knight, queen, and king. If there’s no legal move from the results of the dice roll, the player has no choice but to skip that turn.

READ NEXT: The Game Of Chess

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