Friday, November 6, 2015

Facade Chess [reprint]

[disclaimer -- there are no new chess variants. I don't know who came up with this idea first but I'm pretty sure it wasn't me.]

By most reasonable standards, there are too many chess variants out there already. A few are actually worth playing (such GliƄski's hexagonal game), the rest are of interest, if it all, more as thought experiments and programming problems.

One potentially promising area for the latter is variants of imperfect information, which leads us to familiar games like kriegspiel and this variant, facade chess.

Start with a standard board and pieces. When I say standard pieces I mean that you will have one piece that moves like a king, one piece that moves like a queen, two pieces that move like bishops and so on.

The pieces' appearance, however, will not be standard. They will look like tiny replicas of those A-frame signs restaurants put out on the sidewalk, with slots for pictures of chess pieces on either side. On most of the pieces, the picture is the same on the front and the back, but on up to three (or some other agreed on number), the pictures have been switched.

Pieces are lined up in standard position based the picture in the front but they have to move in accordance with the picture on the back (like kriegspiel, this game definitely needs a referee). If for example, the queen had a rook's picture on front of it, you would put it in a corner but you could move it any distance vertically, horizontally or diagonally.

Each move has to be weighed in terms of both position achieved and information revealed -- as soon as that rook moves diagonally, the other player will know something's up. In addition to deduction you can also find out the true identity of a piece by capturing it. Capturing a disguised piece also provides useful information about the disguised pieces still on the board.

I'm not sure how playable facade chess would be -- players would probably tend to under utilize their pieces (moving rooks like pawns or queens like bishops so as not to give away their identities) -- making for a slow game but from an analytic standpoint, the variant could still provide interesting problems. Chess strategies are complex to start with; imagine adding a layer of uncertainty and questions about how much value to put on concealing information.

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