I was feeling bored and unmotivated toady, so I decided to try and learn shogi, Japanese chess.
All I can say is that it is insane. Besides the obvious learning curve, there is just so much going on at one time on the board. Shogi is unique for it’s “drop rule,” whereby any and all captured pieces can be “dropped” onto (almost) any empty space anywhere on the board. So, unlike chess or checkers, the game doesn’t get any simpler as it progresses; all the pieces are still in play right up to the end. And take a look at this chart from Wikipedia:
Compared to chess it uses a bigger board, more and more different pieces, and of course the drop rule means way more possible positions for those pieces. And that chart isn’t even totally accurate since, with promotion, there are really more like 10 different kinds of pieces operating under 14 or 15 different names.
Overall, I’d say the game is more like a big battle than chess, which I’d say by comparison feels more like a duel. In shogi few of the pieces can be moved more than one space at a time, and since the drop rule always keeps the board crowded even those pieces that can move unlimited spaces tend not to be able to go very far before running into something. Further, most of the pieces either can’t move back at all, or are significantly restricted in their backwards movement. It seems that moving back is much more like a retreat: possible but it’s not so easy to attack when going backwards.
As a final note, like chess there are a lot of variants. I think it is worth mentioning two on opposite ends of the complexity scale. First is どうぶつしょぎ, animal shogi. Only four pieces each, one possible promotion, and a tiny board. But because that drop rule is still there, I find even an intermediate level computer to be very difficult. Play online here (press the third button to start the game).
And lastly we have 大局将棋, broad view shogi, or more simply “Ultimate Shogi.” Hundreds of different kinds of pieces played on a massive board, considered the largest playable chess variant, and quite likely the largest playable board game, ever. Surprisingly though, it is not a modern creation at all, but dates from 1500s.
If you’re up for it, you can play it online against yourself or a friend here, but I don’t know if anyone has written a version with an AI yet.