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Game Reviews by Mark Thompson

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Whale Shogi. Shogi variant. (6x6, Cells: 36) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Mark Thompson wrote on 2007-11-15 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
I've played Whale Shogi. It's fun. For someone to rate it 'poor' in protest against Japanese whaling practices is really, really weird.

The Game of Jetan. Extensive discussion of various versions of the rules of Jetan. (10x10, Cells: 100) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Mark Thompson wrote on 2005-02-27 UTCGood ★★★★
One possible drawback to playing any CV with a wagering system based on
putting a price on each piece is that it seems it would make the game more
materialistic. One of the endearing features of Chess is that its focus on
the Kings makes spectacular sacrifices for the sake of achieving checkmate
worthwhile. But if the point of the game is to end with the greatest value
of pieces still on the board, I think this aspect will be lost. A player
who hopes to win would play conservatively, trying to keep his own pieces
on the board rather than let their value fall into the hands of his
opponent, while a player who fears losing would try to make exchanges,
thereby reducing the value of the ultimate prize for the winner.

For whatever it's worth, I proposed a variant called 'Contract Jetan'
in a letter to a 2001 issue of Abstract Games magazine, which went about
like this: In Contract Jetan, a player could propose in mid-game some rule
change that would make it more difficult for his opponent to win,
accompanied by a 'proffer' of some tokens that would be added to the
ante if the opponent accepts the dare. Such a proposal would probably be
made by the player in a weaker position. For example, 'You must win in
the next 15 moves or forfeit,' or 'My Thoat can only be captured by your
Warrior', etc. If the opponent accepts the rule change, the proffer is
added to the ante and the rule change is in effect. If the opponent
refuses, then the player who offered it has the option of 'buying out the
contract' as follows: from the proffer he removes a number of tokens equal
to the excess of value of the other player's army over his own, plus his
own Chief's value, and gives that to his opponent; then he adds the rest
of the proffer to the ante, and rotates the board half a turn. Then they
play on, but having reversed their roles, and with the proposed rule
change in effect.

This variant is played in an unpublished work that ERB left unfinished,
'Corporate Lawyers of Mars.'

Ultima. Game where each type of piece has a different capturing ability. (8x8, Cells: 64) (Recognized!)[All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Mark Thompson wrote on 2004-12-18 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
Robert Abbott now has a set of Ultima puzzles on his website!

Wildebeest Chess. Variant on an 10 by 11 board with extra jumping pieces. (11x10, Cells: 110) (Recognized!)[All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Mark Thompson wrote on 2004-10-25 UTCGood ★★★★
The basic idea of the game is that, as there are two simple sliders (B, R)
and one combination slider (B+R=Q), so in Wildebeest Chess there are also
two simple jumpers (Knight = (1,2) jumper and Camel = (1,3) jumper), and
one combined jumper (Wildebeest = N+C). I wonder how well the idea would
work instead with Knights and Zebras ((2,3) jumpers), and a combination
N+Z piece?

There is the idea that, as one of the sliders is color-bound, so perhaps
one of the jumpers ought to be also, hence the Camel. But it's not
obvious to me that rule makes for the best game. I'd be interesting in
knowing whether Wayne Schmittberger or anyone else has tried it. 

Actually, since the preset to enforce the rules has not been written for
this game yet, it would be possible to try playing this way, simply
entering Zebra moves for Camels and Knight/Zebra moves for the Wildebeest.

Caïssa Britannia. British themed variant with Lions, Unicorns, Dragons, Anglican Bishops, and a royal Queen. (10x10, Cells: 100) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Mark Thompson wrote on 2004-09-26 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
I like the way this game addresses the problem of the too-powerful royal
piece (which can make it hard to win the game) by the rule that the queen
cannot slide through check. That seems original and yet chesslike, and
sounds likely to do the trick. The explanation on this page was a little
hard for me to decipher, however: I'd suggest rephrasing somehow to
remove the reference to queens capturing other queens. Is 'cover' as you
use it here a standard chess term? I hadn't run across it yet.

I wish the board had a fourth color, so that each dragon would be
restricted to squares of one color. 

Shouldn't there be a piece for Ireland? A Harp, perhaps? No idea what it
would do, though.

'There must be dozens of possible names that would suit it better and
have the advantage of being offensive.' Surely Charles simply forgot to
type the word 'not' in this sentence.

'the three heraldic-based pieces could be considered 'brutish'.' I
imagine Charles G's use of 'brutish' harks back to the use of 'brute'
to mean 'beast,' which is comprehensible enough. The idea that a CV
inventor's choice of a name should be second-guessed at length is
certainly odd, though.

Knight Chase. Game played on with two Knights on a Chessboard with differing goals. (8x8, Cells: 64) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Mark Thompson wrote on 2004-06-26 UTCGood ★★★★
'The two players have different goals, so Knight Moves is probably an
unbalanced game,' said Ned. 'And Black, who plays defense, moves first:
that must mean that the offense has the natural advantage in this game.'

Ted said, 'Well, since you're a beginner, I'll let you play White, and
I'll even give you the advantage of the first move.'

'Don't be too cocky, I'm pretty good at games like this,' said Ned.
But Ted proceeded to beat him three games in a row. Catching the Black
Knight was infernally difficult, even with the advantage of the first

Then, as they were about to begin the fourth game, Ned suddenly said,
'Hey -- WAIT a minute!' And Ted broke out laughing.

What had Ned realized?

Eurasian Chess. Synthesis of European and Asian forms of Chess. (10x10, Cells: 100) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Mark Thompson wrote on 2004-06-23 UTCGood ★★★★
Fergus, a Pawn cannot move to the last rank if there is not a captured piece to which it can promote. In that situation, can a Pawn on the second-to-last rank give check?

Sankaku Shogi. Small Shogi variant played on a board of 44 triangles with no drops and a teleporting Emperor. (7x8, Cells: 44) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Mark Thompson wrote on 2004-04-16 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
I haven't played it yet, but the game looks good to me also. There's one thing I think should be added to the rules to clarify the Chariot's power of 'running down' soldiers: it wasn't clear to me whether they could run down any number of soldiers in a line, or only one. From the ZRF it seems to be only one.

Millennium Chess A game information page
. Commercial variant on 15 by 8 board with almost twice the normal set of pieces.[All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Mark Thompson wrote on 2004-03-30 UTCGood ★★★★
People like chess variants for lots of reasons, and some prefer the more
exotic variants that depart from usual chess with unusual pieces or rules:
you don't find that in Millennium Chess. But, without diminishing the
exotics, I like the more modest variants also. I've played this one and
found it to be pretty good. And yes, it did seem to improve my skills at
usual chess, at least temporarily -- or at least my confidence level. When
you come back to 8x8 after a few games you have this strange feeling:
'Why, this game will be SIMPLE!' 

I haven't tried the other variants that are approximately double width
and so I can't opine on how this one compares with them. I once
communicated briefly with the inventor, who said that while developing
M.C. he tried other versions (among them, 8x16) and rejected them. He says
having two rooks in the center of the board is too much power there. I
expect the choice among wide chesses will also come down to personal

Nova Chess. Played on an 8x8 or 10x10 board with a wide range of pieces.[All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Mark Thompson wrote on 2004-02-01 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
It looks like this system would work for 'Mercenary Chess,' which is my
name for a CV in which the players start the game with a certain number of
points (maybe 1000) which they can use to 'hire' the pieces of their
armies, each possible piece in the catalog having a previously agreed-upon
price. Making the cost of an entire army something large like 1000 would
allow for fine distinctions in the prices of the pieces. I like the whole
idea because it would have a natural, easy-to-adjust handicapping
principle: the weaker player starts with more points.

Also, of course, it blasts opening theory away, which I see as a good
thing. Memorizing openings just doesn't seem to me like what chess is
'supposed' to be about.

Doublewide Chess. A discussion of the variant where two complete chess sets (including two Kings per side) are set up on a doublewide board. (16x8, Cells: 128) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Mark Thompson wrote on 2003-06-08 UTCGood ★★★★
This is very similar to Milennium Chess, a commercial variant played on a
15x8 board with only one Rook in the middle of the lineup. I've played it
and found it good, and have communicated with the author (whose name I've
forgotten). He said he had tried 16x8 with two Rooks in the middle but
felt that the two Rooks in the center of the board were too powerful.

Re: Nightriders, it occurs to me you could also create a piece that you
might call an Asterisk, which can move as a Nightrider left and right
(that is, 2 steps along the rank and 1 step along the file, but not vice
versa), or a Rook along the files: so it would have six lines of motion.

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