Maasai Chess

Les échecs Maasaï

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Caution: this chess variant needs more play testing. It may evolve yet



The Maasai are a people living in East Africa, Kenya and Tanzania, near the Great Lakes region. They are famous for their distinctive customs and colorful dress. This large chess variant is dedicated to this great people.

The board is once again the dozenal 12x12 square battlefield, like for Metamachy and Zanzibar games. The pieces from Metamachy and Zanzibar-S are used here again, with a small and necessary difference for what concerns the Pawns and the Princes, which is explained below. The Sorceress and the Duchess are borrowed from the giant board of Terachess.

The setup occupies four full ranks for each player, which gives 48 pieces in each side. There are 20 different types of pieces.

Each player has: 1 King, 1 Queen, 1 Eagle, 1 Lion, 1 Rhinoceros, 1 Buffalo,  1 Sorceress, 1 Duchess, 2 Princes, 2 Bishops, 2 Knights, 2 Camels, 2 Rooks, 2 Cannons, 2 Elephants, 2 Giraffes, 2 Crocodiles, 2 Machines, 8 Maasai and 12 Pawns.

Like for its parents games Metamachy and Zanzibar, there is a choice of different starting setups. Black chooses the setup and White makes the first move.

The goal is to checkmate the opposing King.

Setup rules

At the beginning Pawns, Maasai and all pieces which come as pairs (Elephants, Cannons, Rooks, Camels, Knights, Giraffes, Bishops, Crocodiles, Princes, Machines) are placed on the board as follows for each player:

  • 1st row: Cannon / Camel / Giraffe / Crocodile / . / . / . / . / Crocodile / Giraffe / Camel / Cannon
  • 2nd row: Elephant / Rook / Knight / Bishop / . / . / . / . / Bishop / Knight / Rook / Elephant
  • 3rd row: 4 x Maasai / Prince / Machine / Machine / Prince / 4 x Maasai 
  • 4th row: 12 x Pawns

Setup of fixed starting pieces at Maasai Chess 

Then, Black freely decides where to place his King on one central square of the first or second row, f12, g12, f11 or g11, then his 7 "single" pieces, Queen - Eagle - Lion - Rhinoceros - Buffalo - Duchess - Sorceress on the remaining free 7 squares on the center of the board (e11, f11, g11, h11, e12, f12, g12, h12) in whichever order.

Then, White put his pieces symmetrically in mirror (if Black King is on f11, White King goes on f2) and makes the first move.

One of the possible starting positions for Maasai Chess

This agreement balances the advantage of White starting to play with Black choosing the setup.

An other advantage is that it is not necessary to remember a full arrangement. Finally, it prevents the development of stereotyped openings. Only basic principles ruling the openings and development of the game can be studied and followed.

It can be demonstrated that it exists more than 10,000 different starting positions:

    • Black King can placed on f11 or 12, the a choice of 2 positions.
    • Then, the Queen has a choice of 7 positions on the first or second row.
    • Then, the Eagle has a choice of 6 remaining positions
    • The Lion has a choice of 5 remaining positions
    • The Rhinoceros has a choice of 4 positions
    • The Buffalo has a choice of 3 positions
    • The Duchess has a choice of 2 positions
    • The Sorceress goes on the last remaining free square on the first row.
    • 2x7x6x5x4x3x2 = 10080
All positions where the Black King is placed on f12 or g11 are completely equivalent by symmetry and are, therefore, not accounted for.


  • King: moves 1 step in every (8) directions on a not attacked square. The King is in check if it is attacked by one or several enemy pieces. It is forbidden to play a move letting his King in check. There is no castling in Maasai Chess.

    At his first move, the King may jump to a free square at two squares' distance. For instance, from f2, it can jump to d1, d2, d3, d4, e4, f4, g4, h4, h3, h2 or h1). It does not matter if the square jumped over is occupied or not; however, the jump is forbidden if that intermediate square is threatened by an enemy piece. When jumping like a Knight, at least one of the two intermediate squares must be free of threat (e.g., if jumping from f2 to h3, either g2 or g3 must not be under attack). The King's jump is not permitted if the King is in check. This rule, which was once prevalent in medieval European chess, replaces castling.
  • Queen: exactly as in Chess. Slides to any square along the file, the rank or a diagonal on which it stands.
  • Rook: exactly as in Chess. Moves to any square along the file or the rank on which it stands.
  • Bishop: exactly as in Chess. Slides to any square along a diagonal on which it stands. Note that it always stays on the same color of square.
  • Knight: exactly as in Chess. Jumps to the opposite square of a 2x3 rectangle. No matter what the intermediate square contains. Note that it always change the color of square at every move.
  • Pawn: as in Chess, it can move straight forward one, or two empty square from its starting position on the board, without capturing. It captures one square diagonally forward.
  • Maasai: as the Pawn in Metamachy, this is a "rapid" Pawn that can move straight forward two empty squares from any position on the board. For the rest, capturing, en-passant, promoting, the Maasai is identical to the regular Pawn.
  • Prince: a non-royal King who moves and captures one square in any direction, but without being hindered by check. It has been inspired by medieval games like the Courier chess , an old chess variant, played in Germany, where it is called "Man". Like the Pawn, he can also move, without jumping, to a second empty square straight ahead from its starting rank on the board.
  • Eagle: exactly as in Metamachy. Moves one square diagonally and then, slides away of an indefinite number of squares vertically or horizontally. It is authorized to go only one square diagonal. It can not jump and the unobstructed path must start with the diagonal movement.

    This piece is almost as powerful as the Queen and is inspired by the Giraffe from Tamerlane's Chess and the Aanca (a mythical giant bird praying elephants, mistaken for a gryphon) from Alfonso X's Grande Acedrex. This piece is also known as Gryphon in many chess variants.
  • Lion: exactly as in Metamachy. Moves as a King (a single step move in any direction), or may jump to a position two squares away, jumping in any orthogonal or diagonal direction, or jumping as a Knight. (Inspired by Chu Shogi, the most popular variant of the Japanese Chess, where the Lion has the same range but is more dreadful as it can move twice in a turn).

  • Buffalo: combines the leaps of the Knight (2,1 leaper), the Camel (3,1 leaper) and the Giraffe (3,2 leaper).
  • Rhinoceros: moves one square vertically or horizontally and then, slides away of an indefinite number of squares diagonally. It is authorized to go only one square in line or column. It can not jump and the unobstructed path must start with the orthogonal movement. This piece is inspired, although slightly different, by the Unicorn of mediaeval Grant Acedrex. It is a counterpart of the Eagle. It is now called Manticore on the chessvariants pages.
  • Sorceress: as in Terachess, it moves like a Queen and needs an intermediate piece between itself and its victim to capture it. The Sorceress jumps the intermediate and takes the victim on its square. The intermediate is left unaffected. Like the Queen is Bishop + Rook, the Sorceress is Cannon + Crocodile.

  • Duchess: as in Terachess, it moves as a limited Queen, one, two or three squares in any straight directions. When moving two or three squares, it may jump and it does not matter what intermediate squares contain.

  • Camel: exactly as in Metamachy. Jumps to the opposite square of a 2x4 rectangle, like an extended Knight. No matter what intermediate squares contain. It is also described as a (3,1) leaper. Note that it always stays on the same color of square. A well known piece from medieval Muslim great Chess like Tamerlane's Chess.
  • Giraffe: jumps to the opposite square of a 3x4 rectangle, like an extended Knight. No matter what intermediate squares contain. It is also described as a (3,2) leaper. Note that it always changes the same color of its square. That piece is found in Alfonso X's Grant Acedrex. The same pattern, but without jumping, is found in Janggi, Korean Chess, for the Elephant. Under the name of Zebra, it is also a fairy piece used by problemists for compositions.
  • Cannon: exactly as in Shako, it is borrowed from Xiangqi. It moves without taking like a Rook, but it takes by going in a straight horizontal and vertical line and jumping over exactly one piece. When a Cannon takes a piece, there must be exactly one piece between the original and final square of the Cannon's move - this piece may be of either color.
  • Crocodile:  it is the diagonal counterpart of the Chinese Cannon. It moves like a Bishop (which was named Crocodile in Grant Acedrex) and needs an intermediate piece between itself and its victim to capture it. The Crocodile jumps the intermediate and takes the victim on its square. The intermediate is left unaffected. Also known as Vao by problemists.
  • Elephant: exactly as in Shako. It moves one or two squares diagonally. When an Elephant moves two squares, no matter what intermediate squares contain. Note that it always stays on the same color of square. The Elephant moves as the combined Alfil and Firzan (Ferz) from Shatranj, two pieces which were also present in medieval Chess and have disappeared with the birth of modern moves for the Bishop and the Queen.
  • Machine: it is an orthogonal counterpart of the Elephant as it moves one or two squares orthogonally, jumping over the first square if it is occupied. Then, it combines the moves of old Dabbaba and Wazir found in ancient Muslim Chess variants. The word Dabbaba designated a siege machine at war in Arabic, hence the name given for this piece.

Other rules

  • Pawn, Maasai and Prince Promotion: A Pawn, a Maasai or a Prince reaching the last rank of the board is immediately replaced by a "chief" piece: Queen, Eagle, Lion, Sorceress, Duchess, Rhinoceros or Buffalo. Promotion to any other type of piece is not allowed. It is permitted to promote a Pawn, a Soldier or Prince to a type of piece already present on the same side; however; it is considered "good etiquette" to avoid choosing a piece which is not captured yet, if possible.
  • En Passant capture: Any time a Pawn, a Maasai or a Prince takes a double step and passes through the capture square of an opposing Pawn or Maasai, that Pawn or Maasai may capture the opposing piece as if it had only moved one square. This en passant capture must be made in the immediate move following the double step. Only a Pawn or a Maasai may capture en passant.
  • End Of Game: The end-of-game rules, checkmate, stalemate, etc., are identical to standard chess.

Pieces Value

Zillions gives these average values on the line-up, normalized to 5 for the Rook :

Pawn: 0.9 ; Maasai: 1.1; Giraffe:2 ; Camel: 2.2 ; Elephant: 2.5 ; Knight: 2.5 ; Machine: 2.9 ; Crocodile: 3.3 ; Bishop: 3.4 ; Prince: 3.5 ; Cannon: 4.9 ; Rook: 5 ; Rhinoceros: 5.9 ; Buffalo: 6.8 ; Duchess: 7.4 ; Lion: 7.8 ; Eagle: 7.7 ; Sorceress: 8 ; Queen: 8.2

A maybe more realistic estimate would be:

Pawn: 1 ; Maasai: 1.2; Giraffe: 2 ; Camel: 2 ; Elephant: 2.5 ; Knight: 2.5 ; Machine: 3 ; Crocodile: 3 ; Bishop: 3.5 ; Prince: 3.5; Cannon: 4 ; Rook: 5 ; Rhinoceros: 6 ; Sorceress: 6.5; Buffalo: 7 ;  Duchess: 7.5 ; Lion: 7.5 ; Eagle: 8 ; Queen: 8.5

These values are just given for a very rough estimate. A lot of players would disagree and give less or more points to several piece. Never mind, make your own scale and be the Lord of the Maasai. 

You can play Maasai Chess  if you own Zillions-of-Games.

Download this zip-file:

Find (soon) Maasai Chess in the Chessvariants pages

There are presets to play Maasai Chess here.


Un tablier de 12 x 12 cases.

Un total de 96 pièces, de 20 types différents :

Rois, Dames, Fous, Cavaliers, Tours, Pions mais aussi Aigles, Lions, Chameaux, Éléphants, Princes, Canons, Girafes, Crocodiles, Machines, Buffles, Rhinoceros, Duchesses, Sorcières et les redoutables guerriers Maasaï.

Plus de 10000 manières différentes de les disposer au départ !


Masai Warriors, a painting by Moses Konyani

Diagrams made with the fantastic Chess Board Painting Tools provided by Musketeer Chess

Thanks to Paul Rapoport for his discussion, corrections and playtesting


(modified )