Recently I came across this website dedicated to a weird go variant. Despite some very complicated rules, this variant seems to have attracted a small but passionate following - they even have their own tournaments!
Because of the sheer number of rules, it can be very hard to get started playing, and I must say the tutorial doesn’t really do a good job of explaining all the changes, instead jumping straight into some cryptic puzzles.
So let me try to give a short introduction here, to increase the chances of this strange variant catching on. Despite all its oddities, I’ve come to rather enjoy it after a few games!
Since the variant is still new, a small board is used. I expect that they may move to a bigger board in the future once they have figured out the basics of the game.
Also, stones are placed inside the squares instead of on the intersections. The reasons for this are not clear, but it means that the standard 9x9 board is actually in effect 8x8.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this variant is that not all stones are the same! There are no less than six different types of stones, each with their own symbol:
- The pawnstone
- The knightstone
- The bishopstone
- The rookstone
- The queenstone
- The kingstone
Every game starts from this setup, with each player having 16 stones of their color placed along the first and second lines:
Ignore the different colors of the squares on this board - they have no impact on the gameplay.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to remember the exact setup! The server will take care of placing the stones correctly at the beginning of the game.
On your turn, rather than placing a new stone, you should pick up one of your stones and move it to a new location. However, you may not freely move your stones! They are allowed to move only in certain ways, and the rules are different for each type:
- The rookstone may move any distance along one of the lines of the board, but may not move past any other stone of any color.
- The bishopstone moves like the rookstone, but along imagined “diagonal” lines of the board. If this sounds confusing, this diagram should clear everything up:
- The queenstone can make any move that a rookstone or a bishopstone could make.
- The kingstone moves like the queenstone, but can never move more than one step at a time.
- The knightstone is by far the easiest to remember: it just makes knights moves.
- The pawnstone is moved exactly one step “forwards”, directly away from the side of the board where it started. The first time a pawnstone is moved, it may move two spaces at once. This is an experimental feature to make the opening less boring.
There is also a special move that can be done with two of your stones at once, but it only happens under very specific circumstances and it’s too hard to explain. You’ll recognize it when you see it!
Again, don’t worry too much about remembering all the details - just click on one of your stones and the computer will help you by highlighting the squares it can move to.
If you are able to move one of your stones to a square which is occupied by an opponent stone, you may remove the opponent stone and replace it with your own stone. This is the only way to capture stones - surrounded chains will not be removed from the board! I’m not sure if this is intended behavior or if the developers just haven’t gotten around to implementing normal captures yet.
A slight variation of the traditional ko rule is used. Repeating an earlier position is allowed, but when the same position happens for the third time, either player can claim a draw.
Each type of stone has a point value associated with it (for instance the pawnstones are worth 1 point each, while the queenstone is worth 9 points). Throughout the game, you can see to the right of the board who is ahead on points and by how much. This is a type of stone scoring - territory does not give extra points. Also, komi is set at 0, because the advantage of moving first is judged to be less than 1 point.
After two consecutive passes, the player with the highest score wins.
Unfortunately, passing is not yet implemented. In the meantime, there is an alternative way to end the game: capturing the opponents kingstone! You can usually do this without too much trouble when you are ahead on points.
As a beginner-friendly feature, the website will prevent you from making “suicidal” moves that would allow your own kingstone to be captured. Also, if your kingstone is about to be captured but there is no move that could save it, you will automatically resign (so you don’t waste time looking for a move that doesn’t exist).
If neither player is able to capture the other’s kingstone, the player with the lower score should resign (or if the score is equal, you can agree to a draw). If you encounter someone who doesn’t resign when they should, call a moderator and they will sort it out.
Since the variant is complex and the website is still under development, there are inevitably a few bugs:
- The black and white colors are reversed, so white actually moves first. I guess this happened accidentally when adding a dark mode to the site. On the plus side, the dark mode looks great!
- Pawnstones’ capturing moves don’t match up with their normal moves. This is probably due to some leftover code from an earlier version where they moved differently.
- The “move two spaces on the first move”-patch for pawnstones is not fully implemented yet: it can sometimes happen that you move two spaces, but still get captured as if you only moved one space.
- Since passing is not yet implemented, you could get a situation where the player to move has no legal moves, or that all their moves are suicidal. The current implementation doesn’t handle this edge case correctly: it just ends the game and calls it a draw. If you lose a deserved victory this way, please call a moderator and they will annul the game.
In a game between competent players, a pawnstone should obviously never make its way all the way across the board. But if you work together with a friend to make this happen you’re in for a funny surprise: you will be allowed to replace your pawnstone with a stone of any other type! (except king) Replacing a pawnstone with a queenstone is obviously way overpowered, so this is by no means meant as a game mechanic. It’s just a placeholder until a better solution is figured out for what should happen in that scenario, and since the situation never comes up in serious games anyways, there seems to be no rush in changing it.
What are your thoughts on this variant? Do you have ideas for how it could be improved?
If you want to play, there are usually a couple of people online looking for a game, just use the automatch! I’m also happy to play some games with anyone wanting to try it out.