Zanzibar, a big island of Tanzania, is the place of
an old sultanate with a rich history. A name that evokes a link
with the Arab civilization when their boats were trading all along
the coast of East Africa from the Red Sea to Madagascar. The game
also bears the name of the Maasai. 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 idea driving the elaboration of Zanzibar was to
fill the void squares of the Metamachy
lineup. The board is the dozenal 12x12 square battlefield, like
for Metamachy. The pieces from
Metamachy are used here again, with a small and necessary
difference for what concerns the Pawns and the Princes, which is
In order to decide which pieces to add, the
following principles have been observed:
Add pieces with medium power. Introducing new
high power pieces is always tempting but too many of them
really spoils the game.
Add pieces which present a strong link with
pieces existing in historical chess-variants.
Avoid complex moves, especially the compound
moves such as pieces that moves as two or more standard
pieces. On the opposite, favor moves that give a recognizable
personality to the pieces.
Complement as much as
possible the pieces already used in Metamachy, for instance
looking for orthogonal counterparts of diagonal pieces and
The setup occupies four full ranks for each player,
which gives 48 pieces in each side. There are 20 different types
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 Metamachy, there is a choice of different
starting setups. Here, that choice is colossal with more than
10,000 possibilities. Black chooses the setup and White makes the
(For smaller versions, Zanzibar-XL and Zanzibar-S, check
it out here)
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
- 4th row: 12 x Pawns
Setup of fixed starting pieces at Maasai
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
It is not necessary to
remember a full arrangement. This 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:
All positions where the Black King is placed on f12 or g11 are
completely equivalent by symmetry and are, therefore, not accounted
- Black King can placed on f11 or 12, the a choice of 2
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
- 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
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
- Queen: exactly as in Chess. Slides to
any square along the file, the rank or a diagonal on which it
- 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
- Maasai: moves as super-Pawn. It captures
1-square diagonally forward like a Pawn, but moves with no
capture either 1-square forward or sideways (left or right).
It can also step two empty squares forward from any position
on the board. Otherwise, it is identical to the Pawn (same
promotion, en-passant capture rules).
- 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 Maasai, he can also move,
without jumping, to a second empty square straight ahead from
any position 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
- 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
on the chessvariants pages.
- Sorceress: as in Terachess,
she moves like a Queen and needs an intermediate piece between
herself and her 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,
she moves as a limited Queen, one, two or three squares in any
straight directions. When moving two or three squares, she 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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 Maasai 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. The goal is to checkmate
the opposing King.
Zillions gives these average values on the line-up,
normalized to 5 for the Rook :
Pawn: 0.9 ; Maasai: 1.5; 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: 1.5; Giraffe: 2 ; Camel: 2
; Elephant: 2.5 ; Knight: 2.5 ; Machine: 3 ; Crocodile: 3 ;
Prince: 3.5; Bishop: 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
Download this zip-file: cazauxchess.zip
Chess in the Chessvariants pages
There are presets to play
Maasai Chess here.
tablier de 12 x 12 cases.
total de 96 pièces, de 20 types différents :
Dames, Fous, Cavaliers, Tours, Pions mais aussi Aigles,
Lions, Chameaux, Éléphants, Princes, Canons,
Girafes, Crocodiles, Machines, Buffles, Rhinoceros,
Duchesses, Sorcières et les redoutables guerriers
de 10000 manières différentes de les disposer au
Diagrams made with the fantastic Chess Board
Painting Tools provided by Musketeer
Thanks to Paul Rapoport for his
discussion, corrections and playtesting