Shogi game (picture by Andre Engels)

Shogi

Shogi is a Japanese variant of chess. Shogi was present in current form in the 16th century, so it's a pretty old game. It resembles Western chess perhaps a bit more than xiangqi, but has some pecularities. In general, shogi pieces are pretty slow, so the game begins very slowly. Things get heated and attrition never bites like in Western chess, because once you capture a piece, you can drop in on the board and it becomes your piece. This small change makes a huge difference.



Japanese chess HONKAKU SHOGI SET board koma PIECE from JAPAN HANAYAMA
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Since both players can use the same pieces, shogi pieces aren't color-coded like chess pieces. The pieces lie flat on the board, with a pointed edge showing who controls them. They are double-sided, too, since all pieces can be promoted to better pieces on the opponent's end of the board.

Both players have 20 pieces and the board is 9 x 9, so the game is a bit larger than chess. However, this is not the largest version of shogi: largest known shogi game, taikyoku shogi, was played on 36 x 36 board. Each player has 402 pieces, 209 different types of pieces and 253 different ways to move the pieces. We can only assume the game was created by people with extraordinary amounts of free time. Smallest shogi game is dobutsu shogi, played on a 3 x 4 board. Tori shogi, played on a 7 x 7 board, is one of the most popular variants.

There are some Western shogi sets available. Most shogi sets, however, use Japanese calligraphy to mark the pieces. That's a bit of a barrier for most Western folks and the game may seem incredibly difficult to learn. It is not, but it takes some patience and dedication. Shogi, particularly with Japanese pieces, is not a game you can play casually every now and then, it takes dedicated players willing to put some effort into it. However, effort is rewarded, as shogi is a pleasing game and refreshing change to Western chess.

Most cheap Japanese shogi sets are actually pretty nice, with wooden pieces and clever wooden boards. The board is thin wood, placed on top of supporting pieces, so that there's hollow space beneath the board. That means the pieces make a really nice sound when they are placed on the board. Simple , but clever!