8 Chess variants that I like and recommend

En español

Something I really enjoy doing is meeting with friends to chat and play games, whether videogames or tabletop games. Last time I met with them to play something we played a chess mini-tournament ... where I lost all matches I had :P. After that night, a weird idea got in my head...

"Hmm... how would it be if we all played Chess, on the same board, and at the same time? How would a... '4-players chess' look like? How would that be?

Well, turns out that wasn't such a weird idea after all, as many, many multiplayer chess variants have been developed over the centuries.

Since that night when I got my butt kicked at chess, I've read about several chess variants for multiple players (as well as some two-player variants). I want to share with you the variants that I liked the most, and that I want to play the most.

To be honest, I haven't, from all the variants I will be sharing with you here, I've only played one (Chess960), and I've seen gameplay for 4-handed chess and Omega chess. Even so, I hope you enjoy reading about these chess variants, and who knows, maybe you can end up trying some with friends! :D


1. Chaturaji


Chaturaji (indian word that means "4 kings") is a chess variant originated in India that has been played since 1030 B.C. or so. On this game, four players face each other, whether in teams or free-for-all, using armies of 8 chessmen each, consisting of:

* 4 pawns, which move and capture just like in normal chess, but they cannot move two squares on the first move.

* 1 elephant, which moves just like a rook.

* 1 horse, which moves just like the knight.

* 1 boat, which can jump one square diagonally.

* 1 king (or raja), which moves just like the king.

This game is generally played using dice, where on each turn the player moves two pieces depending on the dice rolls. Sometimes, this game is also played without dice, and that's how I would prefer to play it.

The objective of the game is to actually capture all enemy kings, instead of just checkmate them. Also, the promotion rules for the pawns are a bit complicated, but basically, pawns can only promote to the piece they had behind once they reach their respective "end".


2. QuadroChess (Altenburg variant)


The most popular board in the world of 4 player chess looks like has an 8x8 board in the center with 8x3 "wings" on the sides. According to ChessVariants.org, this is called a "Dessau variant", but most just call it "4 player chess".

If you search "4 player chess" in Google, you will mostly find images and videos of this particular variant. If you feel curious and you'd like to try out this variant, you can play it online at FlightSquare.net

This 4 player variant is the most popular, but is not the one I prefer. I don't like how the board has so much empty space in the middle - space that it's possible to reduce so that the pieces can have quicker interactions.

The 4 player chess variant that I prefer is referred to as the "Altenburg variation" (once again, according to ChessVariants.org), or "QuadroChess". The difference is just that the "wings" are 8x2 instead of 8x3, and that the corners are impassable.

To check out the rules of these two varaints I recommend the site Taurus Games. Also, have a couple of videos I like where these variants are played:

* Buffalo Wizards: 4 Player Chess (Dessau variant)
* QuadroChess Report


3. Conquer the Kings


This chess variant, created by Johnny M. Wahl, is my favorite 4 player chess variant, and in my opinion, I think it's the best designed one.

This variant implements a smaller central area (and tighter "wings"), you can choose the initial position of your pieces, and all players have a pawn movement arrow token they can use to change the movement of their pawns.

Once a turn you can turn the movement arrow so that it points to a different direction, but if you do, you cannot capture with your pawns on that turn.

You can move your king into check voluntarily if you want to - for instance, if you have a temporal alliance with someone and that someone promises not to capture your king, you can move it to where one of his pieces can check it.

The players whose kings get captured (conquered!) lose, and the winner is the last king (or kings, if you are playing on teams) standing on the board.

You can see several photos of how the game looks on this ChessBase article, or you can watch a couple of introductory videos produced by Johnny himself here. They even have an intro theme and everything! :D

A couple of years ago there was a website dedicated to Conquer the Kings where you could buy the game and read news and other information. Unfortunately, the site has been taken down. I think that Johnny gave up with this project after finally selling all 500 copies of the game he managed to produce. But well, you can implement your own copy of the game using the images and videos I shared as a base, if you want.


Micro-rant: "Hearty's chess" for 6 players


Recently, after years away from chess, I felt like reading about multiplayer chess variants again. One afternoon I said to myself, "Myself, we have a six player parchisi, right?".

And I answered to myself, "Yeah... so?". And myself said, "Well, what would happen if instead of four players... SIX players were playing at the same time?! :O"

0.47 seconds later I was searching "6 players chess" on Google. The first result I found was for a circular chess (referred to as "6 player circular chess" or "Hearty's chess") invented by an Indian kid with muscular dystrophy.

I think that this variant is not badly designed and that it's playable, but personally, I didn't like it that much. But the thing that really left a bad taste in my mouth is how the parents/adults in charge of this kid have elevated him to a celestial pedestal just because he invented this chess variant. To see what I mean, just look at this video, or search "Hridayeshwar Singh Bhati" on Google.

I mean, sure, the kid is the youngest person to have a patent in India for his invention (which isn't even that original, I should add). That's kind of cool. But the kid didn't cure cancer and he's not a genius.

If you check any article and videos that talk about this kid you will notice how they hype him as if he were a huge genius and an immense inspiration for the entire world... just because he made some chess variant. They even call him "mini Stephen Hawkins"... *facepalm*

To the parents/guardians of this kid I say: Get down of your hype cloud and have some friggin humility. Teach modesty to your poor kid if you don't want to spoil him beyond repair. Jeez.


4. Chexs - Hexagonal chess for 3 and 6 players


Images here

Anyways, after that I kept searching for other 6 player variants on Google. Another variant I found immediately after is called Harmegedo - The Board of Lords.

I liked the concept this variant presented: 6 armies of different colors are placed on the board, the pieces move on triangles instead of squares, and each army has an extra pawn and extra queen.

However, something gradually turned me off about this variant: how difficult it is to follow the forward movements from the other armies.

If you want to check where, say, an enemy rook can land, you have no other option than to count light and dark triangles by hand from that rook's position, making sure you follow the right direction. Reading piece movements on triangles is just difficult (at least for me). And to me, reading movements on squares, diamonds or hexagons is way easier.

So... recently, I was researching about three-player chess variants, and I found a variant named Chexs, created by Stephen P. Kennedy. This variant mostly follows the same rules of movement as in Glinski's Hexagonal Chess (with some changes) - the difference being that this variant offers a board and piece setup for three players, and for up to six players.

If I ever get the chance of being with six people who would be willing to play a six-player chess match, I'd definitely try out Chexs for six. You can find more information about this variant here.


How to play these multiplayer variants?


This is what I would recommend if you want to try out some of these variants:

1. Buy two cheap chess sets from a dollar store so that you have four armies in total (If you want to play Chexs for six you will need three sets.) Another option is buying a Shuuro + Turanga set if you want better quality pieces (I share a couple of videos about these two variants later in this hub).

2. Paint each army with a distinct color (one blue, one red, one purple, etc.). If you don't have paint, I would try bringing the pieces to a crafts store and see if they can paint them for you there.

3. Draw the board you want to play on a big sheet of squared paper, or just print it if you can. If you want to play Conquer the Kings, you can cut little cardboard tokens and draw the movement arrows on them.

4. Get together with some friends and agree on what rules will be followed.

5. Try out the game and see how it goes!

Also, if you'd rather try out these variants online instead of face-to-face, I strongly recommend you try them out on Tabletop Simulator.


5. Knightmare Chess


Ohhh, I was looking forward to this!

Make a move. Play a card. Chess will never be the same.

Knightmare Chess, known as the original game of chaos on the chessboard (or that's what is says in the box, at least :P), consists on a deck that "expands" a normal match of chess.

Each player can build their own deck of cards, or they can just draw cards from a shared deck. Each card (besides being big and have gorgeous art) has an effect that affects the board or chess pieces in some crazy and unexpected way. What kind of effects? Here's some examples:

- The "Warlord" card makes your king more powerful, allowing it to move two squares in each direction.

- Another card that I like, "Masquerade", allows you to move (but not capture) any of your pieces like if it were a queen for one turn.

- A very interesting card is "Fireball" where you move one of your pieces, and wherever it lands, any piece on the eight neighboring squares will be captures, except any king. Then, the landing piece is captured as well. It's like a huge, ballistic kamikaze attack :D

- Here's another card your opponent will hate: "Demotion", which transforms any rook, knight or bishop he or she has into one of his or her captured pawns.

- And here's a crazy and funny card: "Doomsayer". The next person that says the name of a piece... loses it! That means that if you say something like "hehe, watch out your queen!"... you can cry.

For me, Knightmare Chess is like a tool you can use to insert the fantasy and randomness of Magic: The Gathering into the game of chess, which I think is something really cool and fun. You can buy a set of Knightmare chess cards at Amzon, Ebay, or at the Steve Jackson Games website.

Here's a couple of reviews on YouTube about this "expansion", that I thought were pretty entertaining.


6. Omega chess


And here we have Omega chess, one of the many, many 2 player chess variants that have been developed over the centuries, but the one that I like the most (I would put Grand Chess in second place).

Omega chess is played on a 10x10 board, with one extra square on each corner of the board. Two new pieces are introduced:

* The champion, who can jump one or two squares horizontally, and can jump two (but not one) squares diagonally.

* The wizard, who can move one square diagonally, or jump in an exaggerated "L" 4x2 shape. Just like the bishops, the wizards are bound to the square color where they started.

Almost all rules in normal chess apply to omega chess, except that the pawns can move three squares forward on their initial step if you want. There is also an "expansion" for this variant called "Omega chess advanced", where some extra rules and one extra piece (the fool) are added, but I won't be talking about said expansion here.

I like this variant because I personally like the design of the new pieces, and the design of the board (I don't like rectangular boards like in Courier chess or Gothic chess). You can check more information about this variant at OmegaChess.com or here.

Here's an idea if you want to play this variant with a friend: If you bought and colored a bunch of chess pieces like I mentioned before, you can use some of those painted pieces to complement your normal black & white set so you can play Omega chess.

For instance, you can use your blue bishops as the white wizards and your blue knights as your white champions, and you could use your red bishops as black's wizards, and the red knights as black's champions. You could also draw the Omega chess board on a big sheet of squared paper and play on that.


7. Chess960


Chess960 (or Fischer Random Chess) was crated by world champion Bobby Fischer, considered by many to be the best chess player to ever exist. He created this variant because he considered that chess had become a game of memorization, a game where studying openings is the most important thing, and where tactical skill and creativity come second.

This variant uses the same 8x8 board and the same pieces - the only difference is that the initial position of the pieces is random, as long as each bishop is in an opposite color square, and as long as the king ends up in the middle of two rooks. Given these conditions, there are 960 possible variations for the initial setup, and that's why this variant is called Chess960.

You can play this variant online at Lichess.org (my favorite site for playing chess, ever!). If you want to play Chess960 in real life you can determine an initial position using a web or mobile phone app, or using dice.


8. Shuuro and Turanga


Here's the variant that I want to try out the most (update: I tried mini-shuuro and shuuro with a friend, and it was very fun :D), and of which I actually bought a copy not long ago: ¡Shuuro (and Turanga)! I invite you to check out this video on how to play Shuuro, and this one on how to play Turanga.

Turanga would be an expansion of Shuuro for 4 players. If you are interested, you can check out more information about these two games (and even buy them if you want) here in Warlord Games.


Well, that's all I wanted to share here regarding chess variants. I hope to play some of these with friends in the near future, and I hope you get to do the same if you are interested in any of the variants I shared here. If you want you can check out many, many more variants at ChessVariants.org.

Hope you enjoyed this, and Happy Chess-ing! :D


Last Updated: April 28 of 2016

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