Chieftain Chess - multiple games

These rules include mini-Chieftain, Superchief, Overlord, and Grand Chieftain

This page has links to 9 Chieftain presets and 3 other shatranj variants.

There are 3 variants with preset buttons found just under the setup picture for the original 16x12 game, including a slightly more "traditional" chesslike setup, by Abdul-Rahman Sibahi, and 4 variants with presets at the bottom of this page, an 8x12, a 10x10, a 24x12, and a 30x15.

This is a multi-move game, loosely representing conflict in a far earlier, less technological time.
The original rules, posted at CVorg, are HERE, along with comments and game ratings near the bottom.
The basic rules on this page are shorter, having dispensed with the so far unused optional rules and pieces. The [full] comments section in the original rules [which among other things contain an entire variant game], contains additional explanations of the rules.


The original shortrange chess game most of us were exposed to was Edgar Rice Burrough's Jetan. I read the John Carter on Mars series about age 10-12 or so, and thought Jetan was a great game idea. While I never consciously thought of Jetan in the design of these games, I have to believe that Jetan planted a seed in my unconscious that grew into part of my thinking about shortrange games in general. With the previous game of this series in particular, Lemurian Shatranj, I am lucky to not have re-designed a Jetan piece, especially as they are envisioned by LL Smith. Finally, I would like to thank Mike Nelson and George Duke for pointing out the correspondences between games.
I have just become aware [5/22/08] that Frank Lange used 6 kings per side in Megachess [copyright 1994, 1999] with the rule that each player could move as many pieces as there were friendly kings.


wslidinggeneral.gif - the Chieftain. This is the royal piece. It slides 1 or 2 squares. It may not jump. It may change direction during its move, but may not move back to the square it started from. It has the special power of activating pieces so they may move.

bherowarmachinewazir.gif - the Hero. This piece combines 2 moves, a 1-square step, and a 2-square leap. It moves orthogonally only, in a straight line only. It may slide 1; or jump 2; or slide 1 and jump 2; or jump 2 and slide 1, horizontally or vertically only. While leaping, it may jump over a piece, friendly or enemy, upon which it has no effect.

wshamanelephantferz.gif - the Shaman. This is the diagonal analog of the Hero. It slides 1 and/or jumps 2 in a diagonal line. This piece is a linear mover. It may not change directions during its move. It may jump over other pieces.

bknight.gif - the Scout [standard chess kNight]. It moves as the FIDE knight: It leaps 2 squares from its starting point, and must land on a square of the opposite color from that which it started on. It may jump over other pieces.

wguard.gif - the Warrior - It steps 1 square in any direction, to any of the 8 adjacent squares, moving like a non-royal standard FIDE king.



Click HERE for preset
Click HERE for alternate preset
Click HERE for the Sibahi setup.



The game ends when all 4 Chieftains of one color are captured.


All pieces capture by replacement.

  • Each player may move up to 4 different pieces per turn.
  • A player may move as many pieces as that player has Chieftains.
  • No piece may move more than once in a turn.
  • At least 1 piece must move each turn.
  • Pieces are moved one at a time, in any order desired by the owning player.
  • All moves must be legal when they are made.
Command Control:
  • Pieces [except Chieftains] may not move under their own power. They must be activated by a Chieftain to move.
  • No piece may ever move unless it is activated by a chieftain which has to be within 3 squares of it at the start of its move. The chieftain that activates it may have been activated and moved to that spot earlier in the same turn.
  • An activated piece may move outside the 3-square activation range of the chief which activated it, or any other [friendly] chief.
  • A chieftain may activate only 1 piece per turn, including itself or another chief.
  • No piece may be activated or move more than once per turn.
  • Once a piece has finished its move, it becomes inactive again. It cannot move in a subsequent turn without being re-activated by a chief.
  • Chiefs may activate only pieces of their own color.

There is no castling, en passant, or promotion.
Draws are allowed, half a point each in scoring.

Notes and Comments


This game starts off with 2 axes of symmetry: north-south and east-west. While the north-south symmetry is lost with white's initial move, the east-west [or left-right] symmetry can be maintained throughout the game. The game then becomes one of "casting patterns" at your opponent.


If players wish, they can keep score.
You can score 1 point for each enemy chief taken.
Optionally, you can score 1 point for the other player by being the first to "break symmetry".

First Move Advantage?

I believe that because all the pieces can move backwards as easily as forwards, the activation rules slow an all-out cross-board attack, and the board is rather roomy, having a total starting piece density of 33%, or 64 pieces [32W - 32B], on a board of 192 squares, black can retreat into about any defensive formation imaginable. This game should/does effectively eliminate white's first turn advantage.

Optional Rule:

Allow a chief and a shaman which are orthogonally adjacent to switch squares as that chief's action for the turn. This allows shamans to change color.

Design Notes

This is one of a series of "Three by Two" games. All of these games can be played on 3 chessboards, arranged into one 12x16 board, and using the pieces from 2 chess sets.

On the CVwiki, this game is one of the "feeder streams" to Pond Scum, and is the direct game ancestor of chesimals. It is a large shatranj variant, derived from the author's Lemurian Shatranj. It is also a step toward a chess simulation of military simulations, wargames sketched out on a chessboard.


This game may be played half-sized, using:

  • 2 chiefs [thus, 2 moves/turn per side]
  • 2 knights
  • 2 shamans
  • 2 heroes
  • 8 warriors

Setups could be symmetrical or non-symmetrical [for example, mixing and matching any 4x5 board sections that contain all 8 specific pieces: 1 leader, 1 knight, 1 shaman, 1 hero, and 4 warriors].

Board size is more problematical. Possibly, an 8x12 board should be used, but this seems a bit cramped to someone who's used to the full-size 16x12. A 10x10 is roomier side-to-side but has less headroom.

It's probably a good idea to use the optional rule: Allow a chief and a shaman which are orthogonally adjacent to switch squares as that chief's action for the turn. This allows shamans to change color.

The game can also be played at larger sizes. One 12x24 preset, with 6 chiefs and proportionate armies per side, is provided, Superchief:


  • 6 chiefs [thus, 6 moves/turn per side]
  • 6 knights
  • 6 shamans
  • 6 heroes
  • 24 warriors

This is near the upper limit of reasonable playability. The largest size that might be enjoyable would be about 15x30, with 8-10 chiefs with their armies. This would give considerable scope for tactics and strategy.


Discussion with Uri Bruck got me to consider additional pieces for this series of games. A number of pieces would undoubtedly fit, but I'd like to try the bishopy and rookish from ShortChess. Since I generally tend to do too much in my experimental games, let me make this a 15x30 board, and 64 pieces.


  • 8 chiefs [thus, 8 moves/turn per side]
  • 6 scouts
  • 6 shamans
  • 6 heroes
  • 4 bishopies
  • 4 rookish
  • 30 warriors

New Pieces

wonediamondbishop.gif - Bishopy. This piece moves as a 4-square bishop or a dabbabah. It slides up to 4 squares diagonally, or leaps to the second square orthogonally, jumping over the first orthogonal square and any piece that may be in that square. In Betza's funny notation, it would be a B4D.
A more appropriate name for this piece might be Warlock.

bonediamondrook.gif - Rookish. This piece moves as a 4-square rook or an alfil. It slides up to 4 squares orthogonally, or leaps to the second square diagonally, jumping over the first diagonal square and any piece that may be in that square. In Betza's funny notation, it would be an AR4.
A more appropriate name for this piece might be Champion.

Game Courier presets:

Grand Chieftain

Grand Chieftain

All pieces move as in Two Large Shatranj Variants, specifically the Great Shatranj and Grand Shatranj variants.
Pieces must be activated by a leader to move, exactly as in Chieftain Chess.
The 4 leaders are the King, Jumping general, Minister, and High priestess.

Special Rules for leaders:
The king may activate any piece, up to 3 squares away.
Each of the other leaders may only activate pieces that share a move-type with them.
J activates any elephant or tower piece, up to 3 squares away;
M activates any knight or tower, up to 3 squares away;
H activates any knight or elephant, up to 3 squares away.
Or instead, the J, M, and H leaders may activate any guard on a square that specific leader could move to in the turn of activation.

The game is won by capturing all 4 enemy leaders.

Experimental leaders

warchduke.gif - Leader2. This is a royal piece. It slides 1 or 2 squares. It may not jump. It may change direction during its move, but may not move back to the square it started from. It has the special power of activating 2 pieces per turn, at a command control range of 1 or 2 squares [but not 3], so they may both move.


Free knights

Rich Hutnik suggested that the knights be allowed to move freely on the board, that their activation range be considered unlimited. Should anyone try it, please let me know how it works out.


Chieftain is a very unforgiving game. It can be difficult to regain one lost piece. If a player loses a leader, unless that player can equalize immediately, the game is for all practical purposes over. A couple of modifications to Chieftain change the game enough to put it one more step along the road to a decent chess-wargame fusion. This is enough for its own name and its own page:

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