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Subject: Animal Chess: An Ignored Children's Classic rss

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Dennis Leung
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My girlfriend grew up in Hong Kong and moved to the States for college. We have recently picked up boardgaming as an activity that we could do together rather than just watching whatever was on tv that night. One of the games she mentioned having loved as a kid was called "Animal Chess". Not familiar with this game or its actual Chinese name, I searched and searched and basically had no idea what she was talking about. However, I finally found it here in bgg as Dou Shou Qi---score another win for boardgamegeek!

For her birthday, I decided to surprise her and spent some time on ebay and found a rather nice wooden set for not too much money. You can also find plastic and paper copies of this game for only a couple of dollars at your nearest Chinatown. She was absolutely delighted and we played several games of her old childhood favorite. laugh



Dou Shou Qi or "Animal Chess" is an old Chinese game that resembles Stratego more than chess. Interestingly, there does not appear to be any official rules to this game. Many of the English translations have contained some errors and, according to my girlfriend, there are really no official Chinese rules either. As a child, she played with some house rules that may or may not be official, but ended up being quite functional and fun.

Like Stratego, each player has eight pieces with a defined value. Unlike Stratego, these pieces are not hidden information, but placed upright on the board. The pieces have a thin animal theme to them that correspond to their values: the mouse is the lowest value, followed by the cat, dog, wolf, leopard, tiger, lion, and elephant. This matches with the jungle "hierarchy" that many children are familiar with and helps to make the game a more approachable and less abstract. The gameboard is a 7 x 9 board with the pieces playing within the squares.

Like Stratego, there are two lakes in the middle of the board that are impassable to most of the creature pieces. On each player's turn, they must move one animal. Each piece can only move one space orthogonally, front and back and left and right. If the value of your piece is higher than your opponent's, you can capture or "eat" that piece by moving into their square. For example, a lion can capture a dog piece. The twist is that while the mouse is at the bottom of the Dou Shou Qu totem pole, the mouse alone can eat the elephant by being small enough to crawl into his ear (and the elephant can eat every piece except the mouse). This has the added moral of never counting out the smallest creature!

In addition, the mouse can "swim" and move into the lake pieces. This helps the mouse piece become more than just token catfood---it can evade capture and flee into the lake. Despite this, my girlfriend also plays where the dog can swim into the lake as well, so that the mouse can't just sit there forever (remember, cats hate water and elephants can't swim!) However, the stronger cats such as the lion and tiger can jump over the lake to the square directly on the opposite shore (as long as there is no mouse or dog in the water in the way), making them able to move very quickly around the board.

The goal of the game is to occupy the center "den" square on your side of the board. However, the den is surrounded by three "trap" squares. While your pieces are on the trap squares, they cannot be captured by your opponent. On the other hand, if your opponent moves into a trap square, they are rendered extremely weak and any of your animals can take them.

It's a shame that there aren't more ratings or interest for this game. Dou Shou Qi reminds me of a cross between checkers and Stratego and is a great abstract game to teach children. The animal pieces will definitely be approachable, while the gameplay is not too difficult. The limited movement capabilities are also easy to remember and not too complicated (compared, for example, to the knight piece in chess). The animal values are definitely reminiscent of Stratego, but having them as open information makes the actual gameplay very tactical like checkers. If I move here, then my opponent can move here, etc... The mouse and the elephant become the most important pieces and their positions and moves are especially important. There is also the very specific and easily understood goal of taking over your opponent's den.

I think this would be a great game to teach children as a stepping stone to more strategic abstract games. It's also a nice little game for us to play when we want a filler and the board looks nice enough to bring to a coffeeshop. Oh, and it's fun! laugh

P.S. There is a free online version of Dou Shou Qi with a reasonably decent AI here: http://home1.gte.net/res1bup4/#animal
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Drew
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Games Magazine printed a copy of this game (as "The Jungle Game") in their pages back in the late 70s/early 80s, and I dutifully mounted the board on a piece of wood and stuck the animals to small poker chips. This homemade version got a lot of play when I was growing up.

I plan on making my own copy sometime soon.

Quote:
The goal of the game is to occupy the center "den" square on your side of the board. However, the den is surrounded by three "trap" squares. While your pieces are on the trap squares, they cannot be captured by your opponent. On the other hand, if your opponent moves into a trap square, they are rendered extremely weak and any of your animals can take them.


What I recall is that you need to get one of your pieces into the "Den" of the opposing side. If you are in one of the trap spaces adjacent to the den, your piece value is essentially zero, and any opposing piece can capture you.

I had never heard that your pieces were safe from capture on their own traps.

The ruleset we played with did say the rat/mouse could swim in the water, but not the dog. Hence, sticking the rat in the water is a great move. You can prevent the tiger and lion from jumping over in those rows/columns, and you can attack the elephant if he lumbers by (though I think some rules say that the rat cannot attack from the water). Essentially your rat is safe in the water, always.

While there are strong similarities to Stratego, I think the fact that the value of the pieces is open information makes this a much better game than Stratego.

Dang, . . . now I want to find a copy again.

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Dennis Leung
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Drew1365 wrote:
What I recall is that you need to get one of your pieces into the "Den" of the opposing side. If you are in one of the trap spaces adjacent to the den, your piece value is essentially zero, and any opposing piece can capture you.

I had never heard that your pieces were safe from capture on their own traps.

The ruleset we played with did say the rat/mouse could swim in the water, but not the dog. Hence, sticking the rat in the water is a great move. You can prevent the tiger and lion from jumping over in those rows/columns, and you can attack the elephant if he lumbers by (though I think some rules say that the rat cannot attack from the water). Essentially your rat is safe in the water, always.


I think that those are two of the more ambiguous rules and I've found some contrasting rules translations online. My girlfriend had always played with those two rules since she was a kid---the dog can enter the water as well as the rat, and you're pieces are safe within your own trap (I guess your animals know how to navigate the traps, but the enemy animals do not). Also, we play that the mouse can't capture a piece from the water.

I haven't played enough with either rules to say whether they're better or not. I do like having the dog being able to swim, since you can chase the mouse out, and it makes another piece a little more unique with that special ability. Having the traps places being safe spots adds a little more tactical thinking to winning game---how can I maneuver the enemy pieces out so that I can go in and take the den? But I'm sure that you can make your own house rules that feel good to you.

On the other hand, if someone knows some more "official" rules, I'd love to hear them... Like I said, we play the way my girlfriend learned how to play as a child in Hong Kong.
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Keng Ho Pwee
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Great review, Dennis.
It was interesting to hear your house rule that the dog can also swim and I think that does add interest to the game.
Many sets do come with rules in Chinese printed on the board and those don't mention the dog being able to swim. Having said that many rules in different sets are word-for-word copies of a particular rule-set which I think has an error in the order of animals (putting the dog as stronger than the wolf - which is rather strange if you think about it).

As to animals in traps, I do recall playing that they are unassailable in their own traps and totally helpless in the opposing ones.
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Dennis Leung
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Drew1365 wrote:
Games Magazine printed a copy of this game (as "The Jungle Game") in their pages back in the late 70s/early 80s, and I dutifully mounted the board on a piece of wood and stuck the animals to small poker chips. This homemade version got a lot of play when I was growing up.

I plan on making my own copy sometime soon.


Hi Drew, if you make your own copy, I'd love to see it. Unfortunately, I have very little art and woodworking skills so I would be lost. Luckily, I found a really nice wooden set on ebay (for surprisingly little) to get for my girlfriend. It comes with some nice, solid plastic pieces that fit inside when you close the board. The animal icons are pretty cute and kid friendly. Despite some Chinese writing on the board, the set feels very language independent. I've uploaded a couple pictures of the set.





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Evan Stegman
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leungd wrote:

... elephants can't swim! ...


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Kin Poon
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This game Trumps Puerto Rico and Agricola anyday.

Most underrated game ever. Should be top 5 in Boardgamegeek.
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Reinhard S.
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I also do recall, that animals are unassailable in their own traps and helpless in opposing ones.
But I have a copy, where only the later is true: Animals are helpless in opposing traps, but animals in Your own traps can be defeated.

I think this is a better rule, because with some tactical mowes it is possible to breach the trap barrier.
Still it makes sense to position Your own pieces in your own traps. When the (stronger enemy is coming, you i.e. move out sideways, and You threaten the trap, so that your opponent can not move into the trap.

Without that rule it is possible to breach the trap-barrier, but sometimes it will be a bit long and boring to do so..., because Ypu first have to track down all other pieces, before Your opponent is forced to move from the trap.

Not using that rule also may lead to never-ending games: For example Your opponent has 4 animlas left.
3 weaker animals occupy the enemies traps - they are unassailabele there...
1 animal - the mouse - is swimming in a lake.

If You have Your own mouse no longer, this game will never end...
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Laurentiu Cristofor
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FWIW, I purchased from amazon the same set depicted in this review. It came with an unambiguous rule set that is explicit about some of the points discussed here.

Here is what this rule set says:

- The Wolf is weaker than the Dog (I know this is counter intuitive, especially since the Dog is a poodle, but that's what they say)
- Traps only impact opposite pieces by reducing their power to 0
- Only the Mouse can go into the Water
- There can be no capture from Water to Land or the other way around. The capturing animal and the captured one must be on the same kind of terrain
- Only the Tiger and the Lion can jump over the Water, but a Mouse can prevent such jump if it's in the way
- One cannot move their pieces into their own Den

This seems to be the basic game, but there are plenty of variations including those mentioned here - Wikipedia has some more listed.
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Ivan Girobu
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Is there any strategy hints for it? Playing with bot, have no idea how to take over him
 
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