Shogi (Japanese Chess)

This morning let's talk about a game that is creative with a rich history: Shogi.

Shogi is a  two player game in the chess family originating in Japan and like many games in the chess family, players try to capture the opponent's king. There are a variety of pieces with different moves, and have promotions when pieces make it to a certain rank on the board in Shogi just like in western chess. Some of these pieces are similar like pawns, bishops, and knights while there are also different kinds of pieces like the silver and gold generals that have movement not found in western chess at all.

There are also few other differences between Western Chess and Shogi as well. Shogi is played on a 9x9 grid and instead of color, the 20 pieces players control have a point on them indicating which direction their opponent is. As a designer this is awesome since it already allow colorblind people a equal playing field regardless of the color the pieces might use and every designer should keep that in mind with their own games. Pieces are set up in the back three ranks with pawns in front only two pieces in the middle row and the rest in the final row. Most excitingly, when a player captures an opponent’s piece in can be played as their own piece later in the game instead of moving a piece on the board. Also there are more pieces that have promoted forms than just the pawns and all of the promotions on on the bottom of the pieces (ie to promote you turn the piece over). Finally there are different kinds of pieces and the movements of these pieces are different than in chess. All of these differences are nice to know but what becomes more interesting is the history around it and how it came to be today.

Shogi basically started out in the 10 century just like other versions of chess and then it began to literally grow in size with multiple variants and new pieces being added on until we got to the mother of all chess games: Taikyoku shogi ( This version of shogi was and still is the largest variant of shogi with a 36x36 board and a staggering 402 pieces per side, 209 types of pieces, and 253 different kinds of moves to remember. While, a lot of these pieces are creative in their movement and their promotion and I personally would have loved to play one game of Taikyoku shogi, making this a consistent game to play is just infeasible. Apparently Shogun Tokugawa also thought the size of these shogi games was getting out of hand because in 1612 he officially recognized the version of shogi that we see today with the rules of capture that make it unique among other chess games.  

For me, I see the history that shogi took and can’t help but want to play a game. There have be plenty of times that I have seen games that have done creative things but expanded far beyond the capacity of being fun only before the designer cuts the game down to its core and finds it fun again. Shogi went through all of that in its history and now is a game that is fun to play and unique (and that is before even considering the variants that are still played today). This morning and take a look at shogi and maybe think about how other games came to be.

Also next week I will be at PDXAGE and might not be able to post but look to Twitter and Instragram @BlueHeronGames for updates on the convention!


Further reading:

The Rules:


History (good overview):


Other Chess games and history: