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Traditional chess variants
Moshe Callen
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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One of the longest-running series of games in world history is that of the chess family of games. Clearly, it is not the longest running series nor the most prolific, since those titles are probably both claimed by the Manqala family of games. Yet, certainly, the chess family is ONE of the longest-running and most prolific series in gaming history. As others have pointed out, literally thousands of variants have been created in the last century.
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Frankly that is the reason this Geeklist isn't open to public additions; I'd be flooded with them by nudniks. GM if you think I've left out a truly traditional chess-game but I retain final say on what this list does and does not include.


Yet the complete list of traditional chess-family games, meaning generally those at least 100 years old and which are or were genuinely traditionally played, is still an impressive list. So, the question becomes why a person would want to play these games. THAT is the subject of this Geeklist.

N.B. The primary characteristic of this family of games is the knight's move whether that includes jumping or not.
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1. Board Game: Changgi [Average Rating:7.28 Overall Rank:4109]
Moshe Callen
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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This is the traditional game of this family in Korean. What makes it different from Chinese Xiangqi are two points. First, the "angle-mover" piece which is Xiangqi jumps exactly two points diagonally behind the river [which does not exist in this game] instead moves like the "horse" [a knight's move without jumping] except that the diagonal portion of the move is two spaces rather than one. Second, the move of those pieces which move horizontally or vertically id redefined to be movement along a continuous line on the board so that, for example, the "general" canmove at an angle from the center point of the palace. This games the pieces invovled more powerful and radicall alters the game.
 
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2. Board Game: Chaturanga [Average Rating:6.04 Overall Rank:6919]
Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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This may not be the original game from which all others in the family descend as previously thought, perhaps, but it is still a notable game. The games work muchbetter generally without dice, but this is still interesting.
 
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3. Board Game: Chess [Average Rating:7.10 Overall Rank:320]
 
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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This is the standard Western or International chess. Since this is the primary basis of comparison for the other games in this list, I'll not say much about it.
 
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4. Family: Chess Games
 
Moshe Callen
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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For convenience, I'm adding the family of chess games to this list. This entry is more for functionality on BGG than anything else.
 
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5. Board Game: Chu Shogi [Average Rating:8.50 Unranked]
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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This is "Middle Shogi", referring to the size of the board. Unlike modern shogi, which descends from "sho-shogi" or "small shogi", this does not include a drop-mechanism. Essentially one attempts to compensate for the relative weakness of many pieces by the presence of so many other spieces while trying to keep that number more managably smaller than "Dai shogi" or "large shogi". It's interesting but is more on a par withordinary chess than with shogi.
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6. Board Game: Courier Chess [Average Rating:6.25 Unranked]
Moshe Callen
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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This is a very local regional variation of medieval chess. One problem is that some rules have been lost, but borrowing these from those standard is medieval chess is both logically consistent and playablly viable.

The additional pieces vary play but the game suffers the faults which caused players to develop the modern game from medieval chess.
 
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7. Board Game: Dai Shogi [Average Rating:8.00 Unranked]
Moshe Callen
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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Conceptually one can think of this "Large Shogi" as compensating for the comparable weakness of many of the pieces by the sheer number and vairation of pieces-- literally more than 100 per side.
 
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8. Board Game: Fortress Chess [Average Rating:8.50 Unranked]
 
Moshe Callen
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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This is a traditional Russian vairation in the family for four players. I find this family of games is best with two players just because this maximizes the strategic element of play rather, as opposed to inter-player elements.
 
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9. Board Game: Gala [Average Rating:9.00 Unranked]
Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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This is a German medieval four-player vairant. what makes this novel and interesting are bothits rules of movement and victory conditions.
 
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10. Board Game: Heian Shogi [Average Rating:7.50 Unranked]
Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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This ancient Japanese game just needed to be added to this list.
 
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11. Board Game: Makruk [Average Rating:6.82 Unranked]
Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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This is traditional Thai chess. To anyone schooled in Western chess enough to know why moving all the pawns forward is a really bad idea, this variant seems ghastly. Yet, if both sides start out the same way, both start with the same handicaps.
 
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12. Board Game: Ouk Chatrang [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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This is the Cambodian version of chess. Its initial set-up is like Makruk but it has piece-movement limitations reminiscent of medieval chess and promotion of pawns on the 6th row, reminiscent of shogi "promotion zone" in a very limited fashion.
 
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13. Board Game: Senterej [Average Rating:7.50 Unranked]
Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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This Ethiopian vairety of chess is somehwat similar to medieval chess but has the unique and interesting aspect of an initial mobilization phase during which moves are simultaneous rather than alternating.
 
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14. Board Game: Shatar [Average Rating:8.38 Unranked]
Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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This Mongolian form of chess is made interesting by both the differences in pieces' move-- one piece moving like the promoted rook of shogi-- and the restrictions on which pieces can make a check-mate.
 
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15. Board Game: Shatranj [Average Rating:6.62 Unranked]
Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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This is medieval chess. Although a modern player will feel the "need" for the changeswhich formed the modern game, this game also is the game that established the popularity of the game in the West. that means it's a good game in and of itself.
 
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16. Board Game: Shogi [Average Rating:7.28 Overall Rank:755]
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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This was originally called "sho-shogi" or "small shogi" and did not then include a drop-mechanism. In the early modern period that mechanism was introduced. That it supplanted all other forms of shogi thereafter should be no surprise, even those it had previously been less popular. Not only does the drop-mechanism compensate perfectly for the relative weakness of pieces but it also maintains the complexity of the game throughout play.
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17. Board Game: Sittuyin [Average Rating:7.20 Unranked]
Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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This Burmese chess game varies initial set-up, although the board is markedly open.
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18. Board Game: Tori Shogi [Average Rating:6.85 Unranked]
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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This shogi vairant from the modern area is interesting because the pieces are immediately in direct conflict. This makes the initial constructionof a defensive castle formation much more difficult.
 
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19. Board Game: Xiangqi [Average Rating:7.18 Overall Rank:684]
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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This is the Chinese member of this family of games. Thus to something like 1/3 of the people in the world, this is THE game of this family.

What makes it particularly interesting is not only the difference of the pieces and the board but the restriction of the general to a palace, a specific region of the board. Added to that is the fact the two generals cannot be placed on the same file without intervening pieces. Thus, one can and does use the general as a restricting piece is making check-mate, evenif the piece cannot itself directly attack.
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