Les variantes du Shogi
Since his very early infancy, Shogi has been proposed in several variants. In 1230, the Nichûreki presented already two different forms of Shogi, rather primitive. Nowadays, those ancient games are named Heian in reference to that important period (794-1185) of Japanese history.
There were Heian Sho Shogi (Little Shogi from Heian period), played over a 8x8 and/or 9x8 (both might have existed) with only 6 different kinds of pieces (King, Gold General, Silver General, Knight, Lance, and Pawn) ; and Heian Dai Shogi (Large Shogi from Heian period), played over a 13x13 board. The latter had 13 different pieces adding Copper General, Iron General, Side Mover, Wild Tiger, Flying Dragon, Free Chariot, and Go-Between to the 6 already cited.
It was the first time that a diagonal slider (the Flying Dragon moving like a Bishop) was used in any Shogi, and it is remarkable that this happened in a large variant and not in the small game. Maybe, it is not sure, the Free Chariot was like the Hisha (i.e. Rook).
In 1300, a Buddhist text, the Futsû Shôdôshû mentioned two Shogi again: Sho Shogi (Little Shogi), played on a 9x9 board and 21 pieces per side which were those still in use in modern Shogi plus a Suizo, a Drunk Elephant. Played without drops, this game is the direct ancestor of modern Shogi.
The other was Dai Shogi (Large Shogi), played on a 15x15 board with 65 pieces per side. One of them is the Hon’o (Free King) has the same moves the Queen in European Chess. The most original is certainly the Shishi, a powerful Lion, which can move twice in a turn. Then, it can make 2 consecutive steps in a row, capture 2 enemies or even capture 1 and get back on its initial space as if it had not move!
Several pieces of Dai Shogi were employed for the first time. It seems probable that Chu Shogi (Middle Shogi) has been derived from Dai Shogi by removing several pieces (among them was the Knight). Chu Shogi is first evoked, along with Sho Shogi and Dai Shogi, in the Yûgaku ôrai, a text from 1350.
Apparently, Chu Shogi was successful and became widely played, more that the other little and large forms. Chu Shogi used a 12x12 board with 46 pieces per side. Among them there is the Shishi (Lion) again whose power is very augmented with the smaller size of the board.
Chu Shogi started to decline only after 1612, when Sho Shogi adopted drops and became codified.
Another book, the Shogi rokushu no zushiki, estimated from 1443 (although it was published in 1811 only), presented four sorts of Shogi, three being new: Dai-Dai Shogi (Large Large Shogi, 17x17, 192 pieces), Maka-Dai-Dai Shogi (Ultra Large Large Shogi, 19x19, also 192 pieces) and Tai Shogi (Giant Shogi, 25x25, 354 pieces).
With these large games, promotion is now obtained by capture and is compulsory. Also, the powerful Hook Mover-type pieces are introduced since Dai Dai Shogi. In Maka Dai Dai Shogi, even the King can promote. He becomes an Emperor (Jikaitenno) who can – in one turn – move to nearly any square on the board, regardless of how many pieces of either side it must jump or what path it must take!
In Tai Shogi, this impressive piece is directly present on the board when the game starts.
According to Minase's list, dated 1602, he (together with his son and adopted son) made 618 Sho Shogi sets and 106 Chu Shogi sets, in addition to which two Dai Shogi sets, two Dai Dai Shogi sets, three Maka Dai Dai Shogi sets, and four Tai Shogi sets were made. So who would still claim that these large Shogi games could not have been played?
More large Shogi variants were invented, still by Buddhist monks, in the 16th and 17th centuries. Tenjiku Shogi (Exotic Shogi) played on a 16x16 board, is one of the most accomplished variants and surely one of the best. Derived from Chu Shogi, it kept a promotion zone, but introduced new types of pieces like the range jumpers which can jump over any number of pieces in order make a capture, and the Fire Demon which can "burn" all enemy pieces on the squares adjacent to where it lands!
Few years later, Sho Shogi had definitely adopted drops and got rid of the Drunk Elephant in exchange to become Modern Shogi. Several books were published about the renewed game. Few made allusion to the large variants. In addition to the ones already known, there is the Wa Shogi (Yamato Shogi) played on 11x11 board and whose pieces are named after animals and birds. It remains still mysterious today, for instance, no one knows whether it had drops or not.
But the most surprising is the revelation of the monstrous Tai Kyoku Shogi (Ultimate Shogi) played on a gargantuan 36x36 board with a total of 804 pieces. Its definitive reconstruction is still on going.
Maybe even more mysterious is Ko Shogi (Wide Shogi) which was invented in Japan in 1728, or, if tradition is true, in China before 1110! Played over the 19x19 intersections, and not spaces!, of a true Go-ban, with circular pieces, the question is still open to know if it is a Shogi or a Xiangqi variant. It makes use of several new moves like multiple moves and captures by shooting.
The latest historical Shogi variant is not a large one but a small one. The lovable Tori Shogi (Bird Shogi) is played on a small 7x7 board with 32 pieces on it only. Invented in 1799. It is a charming and fine game.
This table summarizes the data for all historical Shogi variants. The date is first (hypothetical) mention in history. Then the board size and the number of pieces per player are given. Then, there is the number of different pieces on the board at the start of the game. Finally, the number of different moves, including promotion which have to be remembered (when 2 pieces present the same move - as Gold General and Tokin - only 1 is counted for).
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Many thanks to Steve Evans too, author of Shogi Variants freeware, Jess Rudolph and Peter Banaschak from whom I borrowed few illustrations and lines of text.