In the squares, not on the intersections, goddammit!
February 15, 2008 10:29 PM   Subscribe

At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, "International Chess" was the only widely known chess variant in the West. It had its problems. People tried to solve them. Of course, they could just play xiangqi instead. There's also janggi, Makruk, and the granddaddy of them all, chaturanga. Perhaps the most refined game in the family, however, is Japanese Chess--shogi.

Shogi is a slower game than international chess, with few pieces able to range freely. Pieces remain in play throughout the game--captured enemy pieces can be "dropped" onto the board, using a move to do so; in practice, this thoroughly changes the strategy. Computer opponents aren't quite as good at shogi as they are at chess, probably due to the higher branching factor: even though pieces can't range as far, drops add a large number of possibilities to the game, particularly in the endgame.

The game remains relatively unpopular internationally. "Western" Chess is played in most countries, including the Asian nations, and local variants (like xiangqi and Makruk) enjoy more popularity in their respective countries than shogi does. Even in Japan, shogi plays second fiddle to Go. Still, the game has its charms, and you might play a game or two to get a feel for it, though Kurnik lags significantly behind its go-specific brethren in terms of interface and features.

Who knows, though? Soon there could be a boom in popularity. Shion no Oh is an anime with shogi as a central theme. Hell, it worked for Go, right?! Of course, Go never seemed to have an inferiority complex (or a board) quite this stupidly huge.
posted by sonic meat machine (9 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Curses. Meant to say "could've just played" in the first line. Must there always be a mistake somewhere?
posted by sonic meat machine at 11:10 PM on February 15, 2008

I thought that there were all sorts of Western variants of chess and that the modern conventional game only appeared at some time during the Renaissance. But interesting post, anyways.
posted by XMLicious at 12:12 AM on February 16, 2008

It had its problems. People tried to solve them.

What are the problems? - something about memorizing opening moves?
posted by mary8nne at 4:35 AM on February 16, 2008

I played shogi some in high school. A big barrier to play is that the pieces are marked in kanji which is difficult for someone unschooled to quickly learn and remember. A westernized set with visual indications of how the pieces move is a big help, but I haven't seen one that has any beauty.

Then there's the whole "drop a piece in" thing. It makes for a very odd, difficult game if you've spent your time studying European chess. But it's pretty great.
posted by Nelson at 7:24 AM on February 16, 2008

I've played a chess/shogi combination - which is just chess only you can place a captured piece anywhere on the board as yours instead of a move. The first few games are over very quickly, but once you learn you have to defend your flank as well, it can be quite an enjoyable match of wits.
posted by Sparx at 7:42 AM on February 16, 2008

mary8nne, the opening book is considered stultifying in Chess. There have been attempts to get the establishment to accept variants like Chess960 ("Fischer Random Chess"), but they never catch on. Grandmaster draws and the draw problem in general are also bad, but I couldn't find a really good link for them.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:58 AM on February 16, 2008

One of the western variants is still played, Hnefatafl.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:28 AM on February 16, 2008

New variants coming out every week
posted by otherchaz at 10:01 AM on February 16, 2008

In high school we used to play 4-man, 8-man, 12-man, and (the most we ever got up to) 16-man chess. It uses the 'drop the captured pieces on the board' method. Basically you hand your captured pieces to the player on your right. This person can put them on the board for the next move (you can't capture pieces this way). The person at the right end passes (or throws, in 16-man chess) his pieces back the the person at the left most position.

It is a fast paced game that encourages capturing pieces. You hear lots of shouts like "I need a knight--get me a knight!" Usually the last game being played has an enormous number of pieces on the board.

Lots of fun.
posted by eye of newt at 1:30 PM on February 16, 2008

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