Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Remember a few weeks back, when I wrote about The Duke, and talked how my enjoyment of the game at GenCon sprang (in part) from my fond memories of Shogi?

While in the garage last week, I found my copy of Shogi For Beginners, which is fortunate, given the current prices for the book.  And I realized that I want to play more of the game.

So I went to Amazon and ordered a cheap set.  This set, to be more precise.  I chose that one because of its nonstandard markings.  Unfortunately, the set was terrible, and so I returned it. It was low-quality yellow plastic with an extremely cheap yellow vinyl mat for a board.

No.  Really:

So, instead, I've ordered this set, which was recommended to me by a friend. It also uses nonstandard markings, and the way each piece moves is printed on the piece itself using a very clear (and concise) notation which reminds me a bit of the Navia Dratp notation.  The promotion zones are colorful and clear.  And I trust my friend's input.

So why do I crave more Shogi instead of the more common (and more conventional) Chess?

Let's start with "I'm not good at either of them."  I'm a decent Chess player.  Not exceptional.  Not tournament-level.  I understand the concept of the game, I know how the pieces move, and I am good at seeing my own doom coming.  I'm even pretty good at frustrating my opponents.  I'm just not good at getting the win.

So what's different enough about Shogi that I want to play more?

Most of the people I know are on a near-equal footing with me.  The game is similar enough to Chess that it's familiar, but it's different enough that strong players of one aren't going to necessarily be strong players of the other.

Captured pieces are captured and not eliminated.  When talking about Chess, we refer to pieces as having been captured. In reality, they have been destroyed. Eliminated.  They are no longer at all relevant to the game.  In Shogi, any piece I capture, I can put back on the board under my control. It means that sacrifice plays suddenly require a bit more thought.  Because that Lance that I sacrificed a few moves ago could be used against me at any point.

Multiple pieces in Shogi can promote.  In Chess, only the Pawn can promote, and only if it reaches the eighth rank.  In Shogi, pretty much any piece except for the Gold General is able to promote.  Each piece also has a specific promotion, too, so it's not like I can have a force of all Queens.  Most of them promote to Gold General, but not all of them.  And promotion doesn't require reaching the ninth rank - you only need to reach the seventh.

There is only one Rook and only one Bishop in Shogi.  Knights only move forward (not sideways or back). Pawns don't attack diagonally. There's nothing that moves like a Queen - instead, there are two types of Generals who move differently.  And there's a piece that moves like a pawn only with no "one space per turn" limitation.

It all leads to a game that has a great deal in common with Chess, but has enough significant differences that it has an entirely different feel.  The different knight, for example, cripples my usual Chess strategy.

And sometimes that's all you really need, right?

Now I need a Xianqi set and a book on that ...

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