When it comes to chess variants there are dozens, if not hundreds.
Most are roughly thought out, posted here and there on the ‘Net, and played by a small few in isolation.
A few climb above the average, either in terms of reaching the point of production, not always an indication of it being a good game, or simply recognized by taking a chance to play it, and loving it.
Which brings me to Castle Siege Chess a 2017, variant design, by Richard G. VanDeventer.
What is immediately notable with Castle Siege Chess is the board.
The variant is played on the CirSquare 96 (a unique circular board merged with a square board).
It is the board which makes this one worth investigating.
There have been circular chess boards, Byzantine Chess perhaps the most notable, before. And there are variations on square boards. Marrying the two offers something quite different, and VanDeventer should be given a definite pat on the back for making the unlikely marriage work.
The board (24″x24″, double-sided, quad-fold, custom designed) has 96 spaces and divided into two castles of 24 spaces each. The idea of castles will remind many chess fans at least in part of Xiangqi, the ancient Chinese form of chess.
The game does offer two new optional pieces; the archer and the catapult.
The archer moves up to three spaces like a short-range bishop but can jump one or two pieces in the process.
The catapult is the rook equivalent.
Neither piece is particularly novel or exciting, but they do provide some enhancement to the piece array.
The board with its circular outer track area does allow for a very different approach allowing for true flanking attacks. This is the exciting aspect of Castle Siege Chess as it opens the door to some varied attack and defense positions.
The options afforded by the unique board design in terms of how to move pieces into the battle is easily the most exciting element of Castle Siege Chess. You can toss out the textbook openings you may have memorized and instead investigate a rather bold new realm of possible ways to attack.
Of course, learning how to defend across a broader ‘no man’s land’ in terms of board territory is also a challenge to be savored.
The result of the marriage of circle and square boards has one other interesting wrinkle. The board was left with triangular spaces. When a queen or bishop moves into a triangle across a corner, it can exit across either of the other two corners. When a queen or rook moves into a triangle across a side, it can exit across either of the other two sides. This is a neat twist within the game.
So where do all the neat aspects with the game leave Castle Siege Chess?
Well, the creator has developed varying levels within the ‘game system’. There are versions using cards that turn the game into more of a miniatures wargame, with the chess pieces in lieu of wargaming miniatures. It works but the game is far better left as a straight chess variant.
As a variant, there is a lot to like here. I can’t say it makes my top-10 chess variants, but there are definitely good things going on with this game.
The changes do require a better starting knowledge of chess than say Grand Chess, so that is an element to consider.
But if you are looking for a bigger challenge, with bigger twists on the basic idea of chess, then Castle Siege Chess is one to enjoy. It could be a game that might just become a favourite of many looking for something different when playing chess, yet still anchored in the more traditional chess game we all know.
Check it out at www.castlestrife.com