Updated: Nov 19, 2019
There have been endless attempts to introduce variants for Chess. Around this time last year, for example, we featured Warlord Chess on Board's Eye View: a variant that accommodated four players. There have been hundreds of experiments with 'fairy chess', introducing pieces with new powers or different amalgams of the powers of existing chess pieces. There have been relatively few attempts, however, to develop variants of checkers (or draughts, as it is better known in the UK).
Whirtel Games have obviously heard the call. Their checkers variant, designed by Ikie Corbin with art by Alba Palacio, takes draughts/checkers from two to four players. The traditional 8 x 8 checker/chess board is replaced with a 17 x 17 board, and the central square is marked with a Scepter icon. As in regular checkers, play is limited to the black squares. Play proceeds as in the traditional game: ordinary pieces move only forward, but they can jump over and 'take' opponents' adjacent pieces provided there is an empty square immediately beyond that piece. As in regular checkers, you can chain jumps and if you can take an opposing piece then you must take it.
The first key difference is the Scepter square in the centre of the board. Any piece that reaches that square becomes a King. This allows it to move backwards as well as forwards (ie: like a piece in regular checkers that is crowned after reaching the far row). If you get a piece to the farthermost row in Queens & Kings, it becomes a Queen. The piece then has the ability to move any length along her diagonal grid until obstructed and can jump over and take a piece on that same diagonal.
The other rather obvious change is that Queens & Kings is played with four sets of pieces rather than just two. It can be played as a team game or by two players each controlling two colours but it's at its best with four - all playing competitively. Many of the tactics in the Queens & Kings flow from the conventional game, but you'll find the interaction of four factions and, in particular, the potentially powerful impact of the Scepter square, generate their own dynamics. We found there was usually an early game standoff around the Scepter, sometimes involving traps, so that a piece was sacrificed to force a player to jump, leaving them vulnerable to a multiple jump. The novel Queen power gives rise to wholly new strategies.
In an age where we've seen an explosion in new board games, we've found it refreshing to see the traditional game of checkers successfully given a new lease of life. There surely won't be anyone reading this who hasn't played checkers/draughts, so everyone will know almost instantly how to play Queens & Kings. The joy is in discovering how this variant shakes up the original game.
We had just a couple of rule queries come up in play. The rules make it clear, for example, that a Queen cannot move along a diagonal and then jump pieces that are not on that same diagonal, but if the Queen does not use any movement before jumping can she then take jumps that involve a change of direction? We liked the choices Whirtel Games made in producing the checkers: they are small counters (just over 2cm in diameter) but with the weight and heft of poker chips. Each has a plain side (used when the piece is uncrowned) and a flip side showing either a King's or Queen's coronet (using traditional chess notation). You may find in play that the piece you get to the Scepter happens to have a Queen rather than King icon on its reverse side but it's no great hassle to swap the piece for one with the icon you need.
Queens & Kings has been launched on Kickstarter. You can check out the campaign and back the game at www.kickstarter.com/projects/whirtel/queen-and-kings-a-checkers-game.