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Graveyard Chess

Updated: Apr 19, 2023

Chess has fascinated people for centuries. The game has been through many iterations since it first reached Europe in the 15th Century. Tho' its pieces are suggestive of a war game, Chess is of course an abstract strategy game. Its core appeal is that it is a game involving no luck whatsoever. It's a game that has been intellectualised to the point where Masters and Grandmasters learn classic openings, responses and sequences of moves as they try to develop their own novel strategies.

But while the intellectualising of Chess is at the heart of the game's appeal to some; to others it can be offputting. That perhaps explains the development of the many Chess variants, where tweaks to the standard rules of Chess shake the game up so that players have to develop their own fresh strategies rather than following in the footsteps of previous masters of the game. Fairy Chess is a well-established subset of Chess involving variant pieces with their own special rules for movement. There have been numerous other variants using different board layouts and/or involving a third or fourth player: Warlord Chess, for example, is a four-player Chess variant. Watch this space in the coming weeks because we'll be featuring on Board's Eye View Chess variants that allow pieces to combine and split.

Nathan Benson's Graveyard Chess follows then in a a long tradition. It has recognisable similarities with Chess, and like Chess it's a game involving zero luck, but it's sufficiently removed from standard Chess to be an entirely new game. For starters, it's played on a 6 x 3 square board instead of the 8 x 8 squares of a conventional Chess board. None of the pieces share names with those in traditional Chess, tho' their movement is comparable. Each player has a Necromancer; the equivalent of the King in Chess and with similar movement. Players also have two of each of three different pieces: the Ghost moves like a Knight in Chess, the Zombie moves one square in any orthogonal direction, and the Skeleton moves either one or two spaces diagonally.

Just as in Chess, you win by capturing your opponent's King, in Graveyard Chess you win by capturing your opponent's Necromancer. The tight board means that pieces are captured on almost every move, at least at the start, but the key twist in Graveyard Chess is that when you capture an opponent's piece, it goes into your graveyard and you can resurrect it as one of your own pieces: placing it in any empty square adjacent to your Necromancer. It's a tweak that designer Nathan Benson acknowledges as having been inspired by Equestrian Chess (a variant where most of the pieces took Knight moves). Here it dovetails perfectly with the game's 'armies of the undead' theme and it makes for a quick-playing positional optimisation game. Resurrecting captured pieces is always a tempting bonus but it costs you a turn (if you use your turn to move a piece, you don't get to resurrect, and vice versa), so it's not necessarily the no-brainer it might seem at first glance. And because you are resurrecting a piece immediately adjacent to your Necromancer, a resurrection action could also be blocking off a movement/escape option for the Necromancer if it is threatened by an opponent...

Graveyard Chess is a clever abstract two-player strategy game that's very easy to learn but with enough depth to keep players coming back for more. It's due to launch on Kickstarter, appropriately, on 31 October (Halloween). Click here to check out the campaign.

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