Shogi Shogi variants

Shogi variant

Standard shogi (9x9, drops)
Small variants
Standard-size variants
Large variants
Multiplayer variants
3D variants

Many variants of shogi have been developed over the centuries, ranging from some of the largest chess-type games ever played to some of the smallest. A few of these variants are still regularly played, though none are nearly as popular as shogi itself.

The drop rule, often considered the most notable feature of shogi, is absent from most shogi variants, which therefore play more like other forms of chess, with the board becoming less crowded as pieces are exchanged.

Predecessors of modern shogi

Some form of chess had almost certainly reached Japan by the 9th century, if not earlier, but the earliest surviving Japanese description of the rules of chess dates from the early 12th century, during the Heian period. Unfortunately, this description does not give enough information to play the game, but this has not stopped people from trying to reconstruct this early form of shogi, which is usually referred to as Heian shogi (平安将棋). Piece movements were as in modern shogi, but there was no rook or bishop. The board appears to have been 9x8 or 8x8. The setup is unknown, but can reasonably be assumed to have been the same as in modern shogi (minus the rook and bishop, and minus a gold general in the 8x8 case), but possibly the pawns started on the second rank rather than the third. It can safely be assumed that the game was played without drops.

By the 16th century the game had taken a form closer to the modern game: it was played on a 9x9 board with the same setup as in modern shogi except that an extra piece (a drunken elephant) stood in front of the king. This form of the game is known as sho shogi (小将棋), which means "little shogi". (While 9x9 may not seem 'little', it was smaller than the other shogi variants prevalent at the time.) The drunken elephant was eliminated by the Emperor Go-Nara (reign 1526-1557), and it is assumed that the drop rule was introduced at about the same time, giving rise to shogi as we know it today.

Large-board variants

There are a number of shogi variants played on boards larger than 9x9. These variants are all quite old, and were probably all played without drops. Michael C. Vanier says, "It is thought that the really huge games (dai-dai and up) were never really played to any significant extent [...] and were devised merely so that the creators could have the fun of inventing enormous games, amazing their friends and confounding their enemies. However, the games up to Tenjiku shogi at least appear to be quite playable, assuming one has the time."

The same 12th century document which describes the Heian form of shogi also describes a variant played on a 13x13 board, which is now called Heian dai shogi (平安大将棋). As with the smaller Heian shogi, the rules for this game have not been completely preserved.

The most popular large-board variant is chu shogi (中将棋), played on a 12x12 board. The name means middle shogi, and the game is sometimes so called in English. Chu shogi has existed since at least the 14th century; there are earlier references, but it's not clear that they refer to the game as we now know it. Chu shogi is best known for a very powerful piece called the lion, which moves like a king but twice per turn. The game was still commonly played in Japan in the early 20th century, but has now largely died out. It has, however, gained some adherents in the West. The main reference work in English is the Middle Shogi Manual by George Hodges.

Other large medieval shogi variants were wa shogi (11x11, possibly played with drops), dai shogi (大将棋, "great shogi", 15x15), tenjiku shogi (天竺将棋, literally "Indian shogi", but probably meant in the sense of "exotic shogi", 16x16), dai-dai shōgi (大大将棋, "great great shogi", 17x17), maka dai-dai shōgi (摩訶大大将棋, "ultra great great shogi", 19x19) and tai shogi (泰将棋, "grand shogi", 25x25). These variants date back at least to the 17th century. Tai shogi was thought to be the world's largest chess variant, but recently records of an even larger variant, taikyoku shogi (大局将棋, "ultimate shogi", 36x36), was discovered.

The most recent large board variant is kō shōgi (廣将棋 or 廣象棋 "wide (elephant) chess", 19x19), which is played on a go board and incorporates elements of Chinese chess. Ko shogi is unusual for the interdependence of its pieces and the complex rules of promotion.

Modern variants

These are some of the new and old shogi variants which have been invented. Time will show which if any of the many recently invented variants stand the test of usage and competition from other games, and stay in use.

Small variants

name board size pieces each when invented invented by notes
Bushi shogi 1x2 1 2000? Georg Dunkel The pieces are cubes, and move only by being rotated and set another face up.
Gufuu shogi 2x3 2 2000? Georg Dunkel The players have a king each, and two shared pieces.
Nana shogi 3x3 3 1998/2001 Georg Dunkel The pieces are cubes, and each piece's power and moves varies according to which of its four sides is up. There are two minor variations to piece movement rules.
Dōbutsu shōgi 3x4 4 recently Madoka Kitao Children's game. Dōbutsu shōgi (official site, rules, in Japanese). Also sold as "Let's Catch the Lion!"
Shogi4 4x4 5 2013 Oca Studios Shogi designed for children, released under public domain. Print and play version available.
Micro shogi 4x5 5 modern, before 1982 Oyama Yasuharu? Pieces alternate between promoted and demoted state after each capturing move.
Minishogi 5x5 6 c. 1970 Shigenobu Kusumoto He may have rediscovered it instead of inventing it. Comparatively popular.
Kyoto shogi 5x5 5 c. 1976 Tamiya Katsuya
Judkins shogi 6x6 7 before April 1998 Paul Judkins of Norwich, England
Whale shogi 6x6 12 1981 R. Wayne Schmittberger of USA All pieces named after cetaceans.
Tori shogi 7x7 16 late 18th century Toyota Genryu All pieces named after birds. Uses the drop rule. One of the more popular shogi variants
Yari shogi 7x9 14 1981 Christian Freeling, Netherlands
EuroShogi 8x8 16 2000+ Vladimír Pribylinec Pieces are two colored cubes with chess symbols. A rotation of the man promotes the unit or changes its colour.
Heian shogi 8x8 or 9x8 16 or 18 c. 1120 or before An early form of shogi.

Standard-size variants

name board size pieces each when invented invented by notes
Sho shogi 9x9 21 16th century Ancestor of modern shogi.
Cannon shogi 9x9 20 February 1998 Peter Michaelsen Shogi plus xiangqi-type cannons.
Hasami shogi 9x9 9 or 18 Like ludus latrunculorum. Not much like shogi.
Hand shogi 9x9 19 pieces early 1997 John William Brown, Lewisville, Arizona Starts with 10 pieces each side in hand.
Annan shogi 9x9 20 A Korean variation of standard shogi where pieces gain the powers of the pieces behind them. Popular in Japan.
Unashogi 9x9 20 1994 Edward Jackman Starts with all pieces in hand.
Masonic shogi 9x9 20 1987 George R. Dekle, Sr. Ranks indented like brickwork, adapted moves; otherwise like shogi.
Hexshogi 85 cells 20 1986 George R. Dekle, Sr. Hexagonal cells, adapted moves; otherwise like shogi.
Trishogi 9x10 20 1987 George R. Dekle, Sr. Triangular cells, adapted moves; otherwise same as shogi.

Large variants

name board size pieces each when invented invented by notes
Okisaki shogi 10x10 22 c. 1996 Masayuki Nakayachi
Wa shogi 11x11 27 17th century All pieces are named after animals.
Chu shogi 12x12 46 early 14th century?
Heian dai shogi 13x13 34 early 14th century
Dai shogi 15x15 65 c. 1230
Tenjiku shogi 16x16 76 15th or 16th century
Dai-dai shōgi 17x17 96 15th or 16th century
Maka-dai-dai shōgi 19x19 96 15th century
Kō shōgi 19x19 90 turn of the 18th century Ogyū Sorai (attributed) Based partly on xiangqi & projectile weapons.
Hishigata shogi 19x19 39 c. 2005 Sean Humby maka-dai-dai shogi with fewer pieces & different start setup
Tai shogi 25x25 177 15th century
Taikyoku shogi 36x36 402 around the mid 16th century

Multiplayer variants

name board size pieces each when invented invented by notes
Sannin shogi 7x7x7 hexagonal 18 circa 1930 Tanigasaki Jisuke for three players
Yonin shogi 9x9 9 1993 Ota Mitsuyasu for four players

Three-dimensional variants

name board size pieces each when invented invented by notes
Space Shogi 9x9x9 20 1987 George R. Dekle, Sr. Orthodox shogi in a 3D gamespace