Well, as I mentioned in the last post about this series I thought it might be a fun thought experiment to maybe write some rules, or game structure for games referenced in some of the fantasy books I’ve seen. Now this write-up is about one of the two games I’ve read of recently called Keschet, appearing in Blood Song by Anthony Ryan. The first book in the Raven’s Shadow Series. Now firstly, if you enjoy your Epic Fantasy, I’d highly recommend Blood Song. I looked around briefly and I believe this is a planned trilogy. With the second book coming out later this year. So for those of you with “waiting for next book” anxiety could probably be fine with putting this on a normal spot on your reading list. Lastly, this write-up is a bit of a cheat, which is why it’s happening first for this series as there was a surprise in store for me as I finished Blood Song earlier this week. Apparently Mr. Ryan decided to put together an abbreviated rules list for Keschet! So, the following will more be a reference for Keschet, along with some discussion of the pieces, and some optional rules that could be considered.
Right away this game feels like Chess++, and I’m sure that’s exactly the author’s intention. Played on a 10×10 board, instead of an 8×8. Emperors (4′) are Kings (Player loses if their Emperor is captured, or if the Emperor is the last piece the control). Generals (10′) are Queens. Lancers (10′ diagonal) are Bishops. And lots of other similarities. The board is setup an interesting manner and since the “White” player needs to place his piece first to give information away to his opponent it nicely balances the ability to go first, which is typically considered an advantage in chess. It also allows for tactics rather than opening studies to be the preferred strategy. Sure certain openings or piece pairings would be more popular, but much is given away during this opening placement, and could be counterbalanced if appropriately considered.
A few things to note that pique my interest as a former Chess player.
- Opening – Interesting that the opening is neither standardized, nor hidden (like in stratego) but each piece is placed one after the other in the first three ranks. With 25 total pieces and 30 squares to fill up, there are plenty of opening positions. Although I’d imagine you’d place pieces in a way to draw out when to reveal where your important pieces will sit. With your back center pieces commonly being placed in the last 20%.
- The Scholar – Probably the most powerful piece on the board, as it protects all adjoining pieces from capture. I’m sure most strategies create a Scholar block, where the scholar is surrounded by 8 other pieces, one of which is the Emperor.
- The Thief – Another interesting piece, reminding me of Bughouse. The game that filled up the afternoons of my youth in between rounds at large chess tournaments. Now the author mentioned his interpretation about how exactly the Thief works, since it’s pretty unclear in the rules provided. Basically it sounds like when the Thief captures, he was picturing placing the captured piece (switching sides!) to an adjoining square immediately upon capture. A reader stated he had played a few games, and they were placing the captured piece on the first 3 ranks but couldn’t place a capture. It sounds very similar to how a Bughouse player might place the piece. Your turn would be taken up by reintroducing the piece to the board on your side.
In some ways, I’d kind of like to see Keschet take a page from Bombalot‘s playbook. Instead our primary differences between pieces is “how many of each do I have?”, “how far is their reach?”, and “which direction can they move?” and each piece with a special ability is so weak it may not even matter they have an ability.
- Scholar (2′) – As I mentioned, this piece seems like the strongest, especially in the middle of a block since nothing would be able to disrupt it. A player could just play with their heavy pieces and not worry about their defensive front. With 25 pieces, would holding 9 of them in a block for protection cause strategic impairement?
- Merchant (1′) – Another defensive piece, as it moves slow, but it can always run back to the emperor if it has a direct line to an adjoining square. The ability is interesting but it seems like it will never capture anything (1′ reach normally, and doesn’t seem to be able to capture on it’s return flight)
- Thief (1′) – I really like the flavor of the ability but with the short (1′) reach, it’s rarely going to proc, except when used defensively.
- The thief “steals” the movement type of the last piece it captures similar to the “Imitator” in Bombalot . Place that piece in the same square as the thief to denote how it moves. The next time the thief captures remove the previously captured piece, and place the newly captured piece next to the thief. (Should stealing be optional? Should stealing be a single instance? Should thieves have more interesting movement, one square at a time won’t allow them to capture very much?)
- Different direction and length of movement isn’t enough to make the pieces unique. Where is the interesting jumping movement of a Knight? Where’s the awkward Pawn capture (I’ll ignore en passant for now)? The Merchant has something similar to a Castle, but it’s a weak piece to begin with, so “castling” with it doesn’t really protect the king from harm, nor move a powerful piece into striking position. Where’s the Pawn upgrades by reaching the last rank? We have 8 different pieces, 5 of which can move in any direction (2 with 1′ range + special powers, 1 with 2′ + special powers, 1 with 4′ range + !important, 1 with 10′ range). Of the rest, the most common piece moves 2′ orthogonally. The second most common moves 6′ orthogonally. And the last moves 10′ diagonally. With all those pieces, we could have added some further variation in. The thieves especially deserve some interesting movement (Thieves can move further, but can only capture short). And why do Archers have to move to capture?
- Reduce the power of the Scholar. Being able to protect 8 pieces at once is way powerful, especially when one of those is your leader piece. Now obviously, if you only have 9 pieces on the board, you wouldn’t be able to do anything, but I’d imagine skilled players would be able to force a draw by evasion if the board got thin enough at some points. Maybe each time the scholar moves, it chooses 1 or 2 adjoining pieces to be protected. This prevents the scholar from burying itself in a corner and protecting all three pieces. Obviously those pieces would lose that protection if they moved (or moved away from the scholar?). This should prevent ties and stalemates, although I guess Scholar blocks would be an interesting reason for games that span multiple days. Anyway, it feels like an “unfun” mechanic so I’d limit how it works.
“Games can last for days”
“masters devote lives to the intricacy”
“Only about 200 openings”
“Liar’s Attack” – Brings victory in 10 moves, by concealing an attack in a defensive opening. Targets the Scholar to shatter defensive formations.
“Bowman’s Switch” – Moving offensively against two objects, leaving an opponent ignorant of the ultimate target as the game develops.