Four Kings One War: Double the chess, double the fun?

A Kiwi inventor is trying to capture half a million dollars to bring his new chess variant to the masses. Can he checkmate the market, and centuries of chess tradition?

There’s something that’s just so, well, quaint about chess – and no, we’re not talking about the eighties musical that gave birth to an annoyingly catchy Murray Head song about one night in Bangkok where the tough guys tumble. But the game is probably so quaint because it’s been around for millennia and things do tend to get a bit stale after a few thousand years.

But, guess what: a Kiwi man is hoping to change all that with a new version of chess he’s hoping will catch on worldwide. Known as Four Kings One War, the chess variant is the brainchild of Aucklander Glyn Leggett. Played on an oversized board, the game is meant for two players, who use two full sets of chess pieces (that’s two queens, two kings, four rooks, four knights, four bishops and 16 pawns) each.

But this isn’t just some flash-in-the-pan idea that came to Leggett in a “eureka!” moment: he’s already had the game patented and has launched a Kickstarter to raise funds to take it worldwide.

Of course, there have been attempts to modernise the game (parallel worlds chess and 3D chess come to mind, though perhaps more so because of associations with Sheldon Cooper or Spock), but they haven’t exactly caught on en masse. Leggett is hoping his game will take off, and despite its sheer size, its rules are relatively simple.

The game is won when a player is able to checkmate both of their opponent’s kings. Such an undertaking sounds daunting for anyone who’s played chess, but games can be an hour less thanks to a few rule changes. A player gets two moves per turn, for instance, and a pawn can move one, two, or three spaces forward every turn. Knights can also perform a double hop. In other words: the pieces move like they're on steroids.

Leggett’s idea first came to him in 1999, but he’s just recently launched a Kickstarter campaign. The amount he’s asking for, a whopping $520,000, is no small chunk of change, but he’s already raised about $9000 from 25 backers. The money, he says, will help him be able to take his game worldwide amid a crowded board game market. It’s not exactly the model that Settlers of Catan used to sell more than 20 million copies, but it’s a game that Leggett claims has already brought some people back to chess, with matches taking place at an Auckland chess club.

And the game has been lauded by chess enthusiasts. “In 4K1W it is essential that you keep your cool, because it is almost impossible to see every option, which is one of the reasons why it's so fun,” says Corbin Maunsel. “This is a board game that will test your analytical thinking like no other. Personally, I cannot wait to see what Grandmaster chess players will think of it.”

We’ll just have to see if Garry Kasparov has a counter-move to this newfangled disruption of chess tradition.