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This Game is for the Birds

By Ralph Betza

with Peter Aronson and John Lawson

An old slang expression, "for the birds" means not good; I think this turn of phrase belongs to the Glenn Miller/Humphrey Bogart era.

For me to say that a game is for the birds when I really think it's the bees' knees, why this is like flipping fate the bird!

This is the revised version of this game (see Revisions below).


A "flying" Rook would move like a Rook, but could ignore obstacles. For example, the Ra1 in the initial position could move to a6 ignoring the obstacle at a2. A flying piece ignores any number of obstacles, so for example after 1. Ra1-a4, next 2. Rh1-a1 is a legal move; but 1...Ra8-a1 is a legal move that blocks 2. Rh1-a1!

This is a fairly good example sequence of flying moves, and in fact you'll see in the next section that the Black Ra1 would threaten to kill either b1 or c1, for free, and therefore gets a big advantage.


A long-necked bird attacks by reaching out and pecking an enemy piece. The pecked piece is killed, but not immediately; it has one chance to peck before it dies.

The one chance is only useful if the doomed piece is itself a pecker, for it can peck after being pecked. For example, after 1. a1-a6, pecking it to death by 1... a8:a6 allows 2. a6:a8 in response.

Technically, pecking is very closely related to "Rifle" capture, and the final peck by a pecked piece is closely related to the concept of "return fire" in my old game of Autorifle Chess.

Pecking counts as a move, and a Rook-equivalent piece that has pecked may no longer castle.

In the example above, 1. a1-a4? a8-a1!, the threat is either a1:b1 and the Dodo at b1 has nothing to peck, or a1:c1 and the Flamingo at c1 likewise is killed without a counterpeck -- and therefore the example shows that this peck/counterpeck type of capture is especially powerful when the pecker and the peckee have different powers, even though pecking is devalued when the two parties have equivalent powers (for example, 1. Crane a1-a6? Crane a8:a6? 2. Crane a6:a8 is a legal opening sequence that shows devaluation).

Initial Setup

The Rook

The Rook is replaced by a Crane, which moves as a Flying Rook or captures by pecking as a WD (Wazir and Dabbabah).

The Knight

The Knight is a Dodo. which moves as a Knight or captures by pecking as a Knight.

The Bishop

The Bishop is a Flamingo, moves as a Flying Bishop or captures by pecking as an AF (Ferz and Alfil).

The Queen

There are two possible Queens, with the Crandodo being the preferred Queen:

While these Queens are equivalent to the Chancellor and usual Queen respectively, unlike those two pieces, these flying pieces are probably not of equivalent strength with each other -- the Flaming Crane flys in more directions, and thus benefits more.

The Pawn

Four different types of Pawns have been tried: the Nestling, the Kiwi, the Fledgling and the Road Runner. Only the last two are particularly recommended, with the Road Runner being preferred. The Pawns are:

Nestlings and Fledglings capture by moving onto a square and being so cute and lovable that the enemy piece is forced to retire from the game. Kiwis and Road Runner peck like other pieces.

The King

The King is actually a Roc's Egg, which moves or captures by rolling one square in any direction; when capturing, it squashes the captured piece. It follows the usual rules for Kings. It is, however, immune to the counterpeck of a dying piece. The effect of this rule is that a check by a pecking piece can be answered by pecking the threatening piece.


The immediate capture used by the K and P (as a Fledgling) does not allow the captured piece one last peck; on the other hand, capture by pecking does not involve moving onto the square where the capture takes place and therefore it is not easy to recapture -- the rule of the desperado peck is meant to balance this advantage.


The avian analog to the Fibnif would either peck as a narrow forward and backward Knight (fbN) or roll+squash as Ferz. Following this example, many pieces can be translated into this game -- but are values preserved?

The F part of the Fibnif would make an immediate capture, but with the disadvantage of occupying the square where the capture took place; the fbN part of the Fibnif would stand still and peck the victim, but with the disadvantage that the victim survives one turn and can perhaps peck in reply.

If 1 e4 e5 2 fbNF g1-f3 and there is no way to defend e5; but of course Dodo g8-f6 evens up the game by killing e4. Therefore the Dodo and the avian Fibnif may be of equal value.

Now what about the Half-Duck (HFD)? I think the F is a roll/squash move and the HD are both fly/peck moves.

Sample Opening

This is intended to illustrate the rules, not to provide examples of good play. Cave at joker, as they say.

Dodo's Mate

1. Crandodo d1-c3 (this should be a bad move according to general principles),
1... Road Runner c7-c6?? (not the best response), 2. Crandodo c3-c7 checkmate! Note that if the Road Runner on c7 had not moved, the Crandodo could not move there, since capture is not by replacement.


The rules are really simple, but playing well is not so simple.

Pecking is a powerful form of capture, but its range is short; meanwhile the pieces have avian mobility so that "closed games" formed by Pawn chains do not have their usual meaning.

I think you will like playing this game.


In the original conception of this game, the counter-peck of a dying piece could kill the Roc's Egg (King), and Pawns (Nestlings) had only their usual FIDE powers. The above changes were made as a result of extensive play-testing by Peter Aronson and John Lawson. Their observations were:

In the games by the original rules, there were two problems. One was that the counterpeck made it too difficult to defend the Roc's Egg. The other was that the Nestlings were so weak they almost irrelevant, serving only to trap their own Roc's Egg. The game was also too quick, less than twenty moves.

Two different approaches to resolving the issue with the counterpeck were tried. The first idea was to add two Gardeners (WFcD) to the array between the Dodos and the Flamingos. This added a good defensive component, but was unaesthetic because it changed the board to 10 x 8. The other was to weaken the counterpeck so that it could not capture the Roc's Egg. This made a big difference. Formerly, if a piece could be gotten in range of the Roc's Egg, and he could not move away, the game was over. Now it was necessary to take the time and thought to clear away the defenders.

The Nestling issue was addressed by upgrading them to Fledglings. A Fledgling captured like a Nestling, but can move fR. It must stop on the seventh rank, and promote by a single step to the eighth rank. This made promotion a real threat, and it became necessary to carefully consider the effect of opening files.

These changes were tried in different combinations to see how they worked. The weakened counterpeck seemed like a solution, but even Fledglings were still too vulnerable. For instance, a "pawn fork" that could be answered by pecking the pawn was useless. Therefore, we tried allowing an fF peck for both Nestlings and Fledglings. This restored the necessity to beware of pawn forks, especially since the Fledglings ranging forward move meant they could occur anywhere on the board.

Now, with pecking Fledglings (Roadrunners), promotion was likely, so it was weakened to only pieces that had been captured. As a last refinement, it seemed the Flaming-Crane's long swoops across the board on both Bishop lines and Rook lines created too many forking opportunities, so the Flaming Cranes were replaced by Crandodos, which were more vulnerable and slowed things down slightly.

So, their recommendations for improvement, now included in the rules, were:

and less strongly:

The Gardeners also worked well with the weakened desperado peck, and are included in the ZRF as a variant.

Written by Ralph Betza, revised by John Lawson and Peter Aronson.
WWW page created: November 18th, 2002, revised February 24th, 2003.