Saturday, 16 April 2016

Battle: A wargame played on a chessboard: Part 1: The rules

I am always on the look out for bits of what I refer to as 'wargaming archaeology' ... and recently I came across a set of rules that were designed to be used with a chessboard. The rules were entitled BATTLE, and they came with a box of special playing pieces from a company called 'BROOKS & CO., SPICEAL STREET, BIRMINGHAM'.

I have yet to try out the rules, but they are sufficiently unlike chess to make them different from that game. In fact, in some ways it is much more like the original POLEMOS in that units or pieces are taken or destroyed by tactical movement and/or placement on the 'battlefield'.


1. BOARD: The Chessboard represents the Battlefield of eight miles long by eight miles wide, each square being spoken of as one mile.

2. ARMY: Each Army of 2 Gun-batteries, 2 Shell-batteries, 2 bodies of Cavalry, 8 of Infantry, together with the General’s Staff and Ammunition, faces each other from the extreme far sides of the field, as shown, and with the General to the left of his Ammunition, thus:

3. PIECES: All except the General and the Ammunition are Fighting Pieces, each representing, not an individual, but a body of men and material; and each having its top surface marked, the lines thereon indicate the direction in which pieces march, the numbers how many squares may be marched at a time, for example, thus:

meaning that it is a Gun-battery capable of marching one mile in any one of four directions, N.E., S.E., .W., N.W., as marked thereon; or else of attacking, as explained in Rule 10.

4. OBJECT: To win is to capture the General. To capture the Ammunition is half the battle, since without it the enemy’s Batteries and Infantries are paralysed, and can neither fight nor march, even when in danger of being taken. To lose both the Cavalries besides the Ammunition means defeat for want of real Fighting Pieces. But when the Ammunition and one piece only of Cavalry are captured, it may yet be possible to effect a drawn battle, provided that the surviving Cavalry can make ten moves in all, thereby covering a General’s retreat. Moreover, there is just the possibility of such Cavalry winning the day.

5. DISTANCE: Whether a distance be a march or a range of attack, it counts as from (but not including) the position occupied previous to moving.


7. MOVING: In moving, and where possible so to choose, it is optional whether to march or to attack, but one cannot do both in the same move.

8. MARCHING: Any piece can march, but only over unoccupied ground, and in the direction as indicated by the lines on each piece, and to or within a distance marked thereon; and only in one of its four directions if it be a fighting piece, or of its eight directions in case of the General and Ammunition. (See Rule 6.)

9. RANGE: The range of attack, whether it be a Cavalry charge or a Firing-range, is the fighting value less its marching value; for example, for a Shell-battery 5, less marching power 2 leaving a fighting range of 3.

10. ATTACKING: Attacking, capturing or taking is the same thing; it is to capture one or more pieces as the case may be. But only fighting pieces can attack, and only when such attack can be delivered without hurt to one’s own side; otherwise guns so directed are said to be masked and cannot fire, likewise only when the enemy is within range and line of fire, which line is in a diagonal direction to that of a march, or in other words, in the opposite direction to which it marches. Such attack consists of a one mile forward movement into action, along that line of fire, and on to unoccupied ground; except that the very Cavalry-charge itself sweeps the enemy out of the way as it takes up its new position. But the Infantry and Battery-fires reach beyond the attacking move of one mile, so that all pieces lying within range (See Rules 5, 6 & 9) and line of fire are lost, except that the Shell-battery may attack at, or within, its full range; and is of especial value in attacking under cover, for being of the Mortar or Howitzer type, it may fire over a piece of either side if desired, or right into one or other or both of its enemy’s pieces lying within range, taking care when possible, and when in danger of drawing the enemy’s fire in return, to leave one such opponent piece standing between them in order to mask such guns with.

11. PASSIVES: Neither the General nor the Ammunition can approach either one of its rivals without leaving a clear mile space between. And. Moreover, these are the only pieces, though only capable of marching one mile, which have the choice of any one of eight directions, as shown.

12. STARTING, &c.: The rivals draw for colour, which colour is exchanged after each battle. Whites always moving first followed by Blacks each round in succession. Moreover, should a piece be moved and released, such move being possible, it cannot be withdrawn; but if challenged there and then as impossible, it must be corrected, either by moving that or some other piece.

13. TWO A SIDE: One player as Officer takes command of Infantries in front; the other, of all the rest in the rear; White’s Infantry leading off first, and so opening out a way for the Rear Officer to immediately follow. In like manner Black’s follow in turn, thus completing a White and White, then Black and Black clockwise order of play, which must never vary round after round in succession.

Moreover, should the Infantry Officer lose all his pieces, he retires absolutely from the battle. So also he retires should the Ammunition be lost; in which case he leaves his pieces standing where they are, and at the mercy of the enemy (see Rule 4), But should he only be hemmed in, unable to move any piece, he may, if possible, either move the General or Ammunition in lieu thereof; failing which he, in like manner, retires. Such a movement of General or Ammunition will in noways prevent the Rear Line Officer moving same pieces in turn, if he so desires.

14. ONE AGAINST TWO A SIDE: By falling back on Rule 13 an equally fair and interesting game is possible for three players only, where the single player plays his two moves in succession, always starting with Infantry, thus satisfying the White and White, to be followed by Black and Black method.

Finally, the White and White, then Black and Black method makes for the best and most skilful play, even between single players; although White and Black is, perhaps, quicker to learn.


  1. Interesting find. And although the game is substantially different from chess, it very much inspired by chess :-)

    1. Phil Dutre,

      I totally agree. It is very chess-like in many ways ... but still different enough not to be too similar

      All the best,


  2. Replies
    1. Nigel Drury,

      I think that it was first published towards the end of the nineteenth century.

      All the best,


  3. Very interesting. I note that despite the (to me) opaque language the infantry are essentially pawns except that when they attack,the enemy must be 2 diagonals away rather than 1. The rear rank are rather less like the original yet their attck commands much the same ground when you compare the shell gun to a knight or a gun battery to a rook.

    Do you know when this was published?

    1. Ross Mac,

      Part 2 will make how the game works even clearer ... I hope!

      I think that your analysis regarding the relationship between the various playing pieces and their chess equivalents is pretty well spot on.

      I think that the game was first published towards the end of the nineteenth century, but I am not positively sure.

      All the best,


  4. Bob
    Very interested in this sort of thing as well. Never seen anything of this. Echo other comments on publication date - the language suggests twenties to me.

    Have you seen the game called Campaign (not Waddingtons 1970s but

    Published in 1940 and possibly the first board wargame. My father in law had a copy which I have now inherited.

    From Boardgamegeek
    "Campaign is a board wargame produced by Wills and Hepworth in Loughborough, United Kingdom. The company is better known for producing the "Ladybird" range of childrens books.

    The game components are:

    2 x sets of cardboard 4 artillery pieces (one red set, one blue set)
    2 x sets of cardboard 4 tank pieces (one red set, one blue set)
    2 x sets of cardboard 6 infantry pieces (one red set, one blue set)
    1 x six sided dice
    1 x playing board
    1 x rules leaflet

    It is a game for 2 players, but it can be played with 2 or even 3 players on each side. Each side has 4 units of tanks, 4 units of artillery and 6 infantry units. The object of the game is to reach the opposing sides base with one of each unit type (tank, artillery and infantry)."



    1. Rumblestrip (Andrew(,

      I have certainly heard about this game - or something very similar - and it does seem to be similar to BATTLE, even if the numbers and types of unit are different.

      I suspect that - as with modern wargames - a certain degree of copying of ideas and concepts to place in the past, and this might well be one such example.

      I hope that you managed to play a game or two at some point as it sounds as if it would be quite interesting to do so

      All the best,


    2. I made three posts on this game on Vintage Wargaming back in 2009. The patent number seems to suggest it might have been patented in 1908. I have a reference to it in gamages General Catalogue of 1914

    3. Vintage Wargaming,

      Thanks for that very useful information. When reading the rules they had a late nineteenth/early twentieth century 'feel' to them.

      All the best,


  5. The game described here could equally well be played with chess pieces, so long as one knew how they moved and acted:
    King = General
    Queen = Ammunition (logistics support)
    Rook = Gun Battery
    Knight = Cavalry
    Bishop = Shell Battery.

    I infer from the rules that guns move diagonally but 'attack' orthogonally. Are the orthogonals lateral (along ranks, cognate to flanking fire) as well as longitudinal (along files)? I also infer "Capture' is not (necessarily) by replacement but by declared attacks?

    2. Infantry march orthogonally but attack diagonally (like pawns in chess, but our infantry can retreat).

    3. Artillery may move OR shoot, not both?

    3. Jiggered if I can fathom the cavalry. I suppose it also attacks orthogonally, but does capture by replacement.

    4. Friends mask gun batteries and block the movement and attacks of other units, but Shell batteries can attack over friends. Reminds me a little of the precursor of the modern chess bishop, the chaturanga elephant, which had a fixed 2-square diagonal move but could leap over friends (A bally near useless piece, the elephant, in my view, as there were only 8 squares on the board it could ever visit).

    If we could be sure about how the pieces moved and attacked (and it is not very clear, is it) then this could be a fine game indeed.

    1. Archduke Piccolo,

      I suspect the the choice of types and numbers of playing pieces is down to the connection the fane's rules do have to chess.

      As to the rest of your comments ... well I think the Part 2 will answer some of them.

      All the best,