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07 December 2008 @ 10:05 pm
In time for the holidays: Zombie Chess  
hrafntinna and I have taken up playing chess. A few of those games, hilarious for their morose march toward death, have led to the idea of "zombie chess." Today, we worked out a set of rules for the game. You will need at least three cheap plastic chess sets. You can see why, partly, in the way you set it up:

The object for White is to get the king to the far end of the board. The object for Black is to checkmate White's king. White moves first. All white pieces move normally, except for the rook, which moves as usual but can neither take nor be taken. Black can move only one square at a time, even on the pieces' first moves, but moves and takes in the normal directions.

When Black is in a position to take a piece, it must do so. (If it ever became possible to take more than one piece at a time, then you could choose which one.) But the big difference is, when Black takes, the black pawn doesn't move into the taken white piece's square. Instead, the taken white piece becomes a zombie pawn. For example:

Move 1: White has opened with a pawn. Black responds by opening with its own--

Move 2: White makes some other futile move (in this case, moving a second pawn). But since White didn't move its first pawn, Black is forced to take it--

As you can see, things get ugly fast. Since we had only three cheap plastic chess sets, we had to resort to black bishops, knights and rooks to swell the the zombie horde. While there is a certain Romeroesque quality to replacing a white queen with a black queen, making the other white pieces stare in the zombified face of their old buddy, it's easy to forget that the black queen moves like any other zombie pawn.

Once a zombie pawn has advanced to the end of the board, then, on its next turn, it can move to the first square in the same file so long as that square is unoccupied (i.e., the board wraps around for Black).

White basically sacrifices most its pawns right off the bat to keep Black from advancing too quickly. Just like in "Dawn of the Dead," the living player faces the problem of keeping track of all the zombies and not underestimating them for being so slow. The zombies (not exactly like in "Dawn of the Dead") have to support their forward pawns, spread their pieces out more or less evenly, and avoid letting any white pieces get to your back row. The rooks can be useful, but since they can't take any pawns, they easily get boxed in.

Hrafntinna mostly played White. She's a very careful player, and she won all four games, but it looked horrifying and even impossible most of the time. That sounds like your basic horror movie. The one time that I played White, I died quickly and gruesomely--but I had a hard time changing gears after having played Zombie twice already.

Hrafntinna dubbed the white queen "Last Girl," i.e., that girl in all the slasher movies who (hasn't had sex and therefore) survives. But since the king is the one who has to get to the other side, not her, that basically made him "wounded boyfriend." The rook is the truck, and the knight is no doubt the helicopter.

Letting zombie pawns wrap around the board in the advancing direction took away a relatively easy strategy for White, i.e.: surviving until the wave of zombies passes you by, at which point they're completely unsupported and vulnerable from behind. Playing without a wraparound board is "Shaun of the Dead" rules.

For more zombie realism, I thought of starting with just two ranks of zombie pawns, then letting them move in all four directions (and taking along the diagonals). But it starts to distort more and more of the original shape of chess, and chess could never literally recreate a George Romero movie. (Maybe that's where the "Zombies!!!" game picks up.)

If you do play zombie chess, I'd like to know how it went for you, especially if the game is too easy or too hard--within the bounds of the horror-movie-chess-game genre, that is. After all, it was fun, as Hrafntinna said, to play a game that had no illusions of being fair.

On the way home from the cafe where we played, she and I talked about alternate games: For instance, you could play a sort of inverse version of zombie chess, modeled after "Alien": Only White's pieces are on the board, in their usual places, except that White is missing its queen--who is replaced by a black queen (the alien)--and its king, who apparently crawled into the air ducts early on to kill off the alien with a flamethrower but died painfully instead. The black queen can move like a regular queen, and also like a knight. White moves first, not that it will do you any good. Last one standing wins. The board is the Nostromo: there is no way off.

daveroguesf: BOOMdaveroguesf on December 8th, 2008 05:22 am (UTC)
What a brilliant post.

I miss you guys.
alizarin71alizarin71 on December 8th, 2008 05:43 am (UTC)
I miss you too Dave! Your posts have been a pleasure to read. Stay warm and dry out there, and please say hi to your folks for me at Christmas.
Johnsagahar on December 8th, 2008 06:26 pm (UTC)
I've GOT to try this. Thanks!
hrafntinnahrafntinna on December 8th, 2008 11:28 pm (UTC)
It is highly addictive. Somehow, that seems appropriate.
Epimetheusepymetheus on December 8th, 2008 09:26 pm (UTC)
This is awesome! I've been playing a lot of chess lately, so it's a really great new way of thinking of chess.

Do you mind if I x-post on chess.com forums? I'd love to see what the reactions are.

alizarin71alizarin71 on December 8th, 2008 10:27 pm (UTC)
Hey, that'd be great! I'd like to see too. Thanks.
pantarchpantarch on December 9th, 2008 02:28 am (UTC)

This is so neat! How many false starts were there before you hit on this system?

And, speaking of gaming. When the thaw comes . . .
alizarin71alizarin71 on December 9th, 2008 02:53 am (UTC)
Yeah, we started using just two ranks of zombie pawns, and Hraf picked me off pretty quickly. Then, in our first game with three ranks, we just let the zombie pawns accumulate against the far end of the board. It was cute to see the pawns gnawing and scraping against the wall, but we eventually got the same "Z-Day" effect as we did when playing with two ranks. If I had made more consistent use of the wraparound board--feeding new zombies through to the rear ranks in a timely fashion--I might've beaten Hraf that last time.

Looking forward to meeting your new daughter! And, yes, other things too--I of course recognize "when the thaw comes" as a pass-phrase current among the cult of R'lyeh. Oop--I've said too much!
fictional_emilyfictional_emily on December 12th, 2008 12:03 am (UTC)
You so crazy.
I don't know how to play this chess of which you speak, but i think i could handle the role of the zombie horde overlord.
That is, if i weren't so ascaired of zombies.
(Anonymous) on January 11th, 2010 06:12 pm (UTC)
With a triple line, zombies have a guaranteed win. Each column of pawns move forward one square in an alternating sequence: so a5,a6,a7,b5,b6,b7,c5,c6,c7...a4,a5,a6,b4,b5,b6...

This keeps all pawns protected by each other, and no spaces white can slip by. Since whenever white captures a piece, black replaces that piece instantly by zombifying the piece that just captured.

The double line might be too easy for white...

A nice idea though... I think with a few changes it might be great.
alizarin71alizarin71 on January 11th, 2010 06:59 pm (UTC)
I'll have to try that out! It may be that those are the breaks...a recent epidemiological study said that if we really had a zombie outbreak in North America, we'd all be dead pretty soon. But maybe we can find a way for White to get around the Ordered Zombie Phalanx.
(Anonymous) on January 20th, 2010 02:29 am (UTC)
I'm fairly certain that black has a winning strategy using only two rows without a rap around. Model the attack off of the Phalanx. Progress the forward line and rear line as a single unit, the knight will be ineffective since it can never attack the back row without spending a turn being challenged by a black pawn. The only real concern would lie in the rooks obstructing progress at which point the line would surge around them, as much as it could (I can imagine a situation where the rook may cause some turmoil to my solution by opening up a diagonal to the rear line for a bishop or queen to attack by) However, by the time the rooks and bishops/queen are in a position to do anything of the sort I imagine the double line will be close enough/ have swollen enough to overcome the loss and move into an all out attack.
(Anonymous) on January 20th, 2010 02:34 am (UTC)
Re: Unfair
I suppose I should add that the column chosen to make the first move forward is important, but only a diagonal threat must me considered and since only 3 pieces move diagonally, we have a maximum of 6 challenged squares, so there must remain at least 2 available initial moves at any point that the line has fully advanced.
alizarin71alizarin71 on April 4th, 2010 05:08 pm (UTC)
Re: Unfair
Your comment sounds interesting. Please play it and see what you think. I think white can make a good showing once they figure out the strategies of using the rook.
(Anonymous) on April 4th, 2010 02:35 am (UTC)
Win for white...
You have to realize that the strength of white is controlling the file, not the rank. By setting up the rooks together with a single pawn, you can halt 3 ranks of zombies, and since they have to move you can keep up to 5 players around comfortably as the horde passes through, only to attack them once theyre too far to save their buddies behind rank. Guaranteed win white. However, if black can block white from making this blockade early on... thats where the strategy comes in to play!
alizarin71alizarin71 on April 4th, 2010 05:10 pm (UTC)
Re: Win for white...
This is definitely how white wins: using the rooks, especially in concert, to make a safe haven. Black has to keep evenly spread out and make sure to regenerate on the back row with regularity.
(Anonymous) on October 31st, 2010 06:50 pm (UTC)
Predator chess
Predator was invisible, so my idea is for all of white's pieces to be on the board in their normal starting position playing by normal rules. Black only has it's king on the board in it's normal starting position. The black king (predator) can move like a queen or a knight. After white has made it's opening move, black takes his king off the board (turns invisible) and writes down on a piece of paper the space that he moved to (d8 for example). White then makes a second move. Black writes down on a new piece of paper his next move and gives the first piece of paper to white so that white can see where black had just been. The game continues in this way until one player is wiped out. I haven't tried this yet, someone want to give it a try and let me know how it goes, I'm the only one I know who plays chess.
alizarin71alizarin71 on January 16th, 2011 06:24 pm (UTC)
Re: Predator chess
This is a great idea. Allowing for a little bit of honesty, black doesn't even necessarily have to show white the paper until the end of the game.

I wonder if you could turn chess into a Battleship-type game, with two small chess boards separated by a box lid or other barrier. In the case of Predator chess, the lid would be tipped over to hide black's pieces, allowing black to see white's moves. Of course, it would require an even more honest player on the part of black. (Playing on a computer would make this kind of thing easy.)

A variant on Predator chess, perhaps requiring computers, would be vampire-hunter chess:

Two boards, with black's board hidden from white's view. Black starts with one queen on its board, and white starts with a full set of pieces on its board. When white moves, it's daylight; when black moves, it's night time.

Every time that black takes a piece, it moves to black's board as the same type of piece. It is placed on black's board on the home rank, in the same file from which it was taken. Of course, once it is on black's board, the piece disappears from white's view.

For the home row only, multiple vampire pieces can stack on the same square. If white makes it to that square, it takes any vampire pieces that are on that square. New vampires are therefore in a vulnerable position, but black will presumably move them off the home row at the earliest opportunity.

If white lands on a position shared by a vampire piece, black has to tell white and remove the vampire piece(s). Other than that, white's pieces move through black's positions. Black, however, can't move through white's.

Like zombie chess, this is a deliberately unbalanced game, bringing the horror genre to the game.
alizarin71alizarin71 on January 16th, 2011 06:55 pm (UTC)
Re: vampire-hunter chess
hrafntinna suggests that the best way for black to keep track of where white's pieces are is to have a separate set of white pieces on black's board. (All new vampires would be converted into black pieces.)

How does white win? By taking out all the vampires? Sounds difficult, but maybe that's it.

How does black win? Not by checkmating the king, because white has no way of knowing where black's pieces are. Once black has taken all the non-pawn white pieces, white basically can't win; maybe white has to concede.

Without checkmate in the game, the white king needs a new purpose, which I take from that little cross on top of his head: he's an untakeable piece, representing the cross/consecrated host/holy water/garlic, etc. He still moves as before, so he's not very threatening to black, but other pieces can use him as a shield.
stackware on January 16th, 2011 01:06 am (UTC)
About Alien chess...
There is already a game very similar to your idea of "Alien chess" called Maharaja (I think). It's pretty much just like you said but with just the one Queen/King, which can also move like a knight, that must be checkmated to win. Just thought I'd let you know.
alizarin71alizarin71 on January 16th, 2011 05:21 pm (UTC)
Re: About Alien chess...
Thanks, stackware! That looks interesting. Alien chess is a little bleaker since white is bereft of its own queen.

I think I should also elaborate that white and black start on the same side of the board, that is, the black queen starts where the white queen would normally be. This may not change the game play much, but the close proximity may create a sort of psychological panic.
(Anonymous) on March 28th, 2011 10:26 am (UTC)
I always find if i have no time but want to play chess it is fun to play quick chess

the only difference is that you don't have to say check and the enemy doesn't have to react to check