Regular readers will know by now I have a particular interest in chess variants.
While I recognize the familiar western chess is a classic, which I have not come close to mastering, I will admit to liking variety. That is why I love Omega Chess with its larger board and additional jumping pieces, the wizard and champion. I find the changes as an enhancement to the chess experience.
Then there is Spartan Chess, reviewed here some weeks ago, which offers two distinct piece arrays, the familiar chess side opposed by a Spartan layout with pieces moving differently. This was a great find, although with no commercial set I had to become something of a craftsman to fashion a set. It was a worthwhile effort.
Which brings us to this week's review game, Odin's Rune Chess created in 2005 by Gary Gifford. I do appreciate Gifford had his reason for incorporating runic design elements into the online game pieces, but it would be smoother to drop rune from the name and go with the simpler Odin's Chess, which of course leads one back to the idea of Norse mythology which again is part of the games theme.
Now when one looks at chess variants there are two rather broad areas, one expanding on regular chess, usually is alternate board size and new pieces, such as Omega Chess, and those which really change everything up but hold to be chess based on 'the feel' of the game.
Odin's Chess falls somewhere in between.
The rook and bishop remain from regular chess, although here I might have changed the piece name of the bishop which I associate more with Christianity than Norse mythology.
From there the game diverges significantly.
The forest ox moves and captures as a knight, plus can optionally remove any one piece one space away orthogonally or diagonally, while staying on the square it just moved to. So the forest ox can capture two pieces in one turn. It automatically becomes the power piece of the game.
The pawns do not promote, but have an enhanced forward move, and can also retreat, so they too are powerful game tools.
The Valkyrie is essentially an enhanced queen. A Valkyrie can capture enemy kings, pawns, and pieces, that are then removed from the board, moving in all eight directions as a queen. But Valkyries also have a powerful additional move. It can also capture a friendly King, piece or pawn by moving to that pieces location, then immediately placing that friendly King, piece, or pawn on any one square that the Valkyrie just traveled through. It can dramatically change a board layout, and with two Valkyries per side they have a lot of influence.
Each side also has two kings, you must capture both to win.
The King in Odin's Chess is either very powerful, or a lame duck, depending on the situation. A King can only move when it has at least one friendly non-King piece adjacent to it; or if a Valkyrie can move it as explained previously. If a Pawn, Valkyrie, and Forest Ox were next to a King, the King could move and capture as would any one of those pieces. The King could even perform the Valkyrie piece movement move or the Forest Ox double kill; providing that it had those pieces adjacent to it.
Isolated from friendly pieces the king is stationary.
The game is chess, but is dynamically different, and a total blast to play.
Now the bad news, there is no commercial set, so you have to make your own.
The runes Gifford uses in his graphics are simple enough to draw, albeit crudely in my case. Given the Norse theme painting on small flat rocks would be great, but finding 40 small flat rocks is a challenge. I used the back of Scrabble pieces, then painted over the letters in black. They work quite well.
The larger 10X10 board is not too hard to find, although drawing one on a piece of leather like I did adds to the old Norse feel, and it is easy to roll the pieces inside the leather board to storage, so Odin's Chess transports well.
This is a great game that plays very differently from regular chess, but the differences are easily understood as well.
Take some time, create a set, and enjoy.
-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 13, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada