Shaturanga Rules, Route and Layout

The 8×8 square board known as an Ashtapada board was used to play a race game in ancient India probably similar to Thaayam. Around the fifth century A.D. the board was used to play Shaturanga, a game considered to be the precursor to the modern day game of Chess. Shaturanga is a miniature battle game played between four people. Each player controls an army consisting of 4 Infantry pieces, a Boatmen piece, a Cavalry piece, an Elephants piece and a piece representing the Rajah.

The Infantry pieces are equivalent to the pawns in Chess and move orthogonally one square forwards unless they are capturing a piece, in which case they move one square diagonally. The Boatmen pieces move diagonally the same as the Bishops in Chess. The Cavalry move as the Knights do, one square forwards then one square diagonally. The Elephants are the equivalent of the Rooks in Chess and move orthogonally forwards, backwards and sideways. The last piece is the Rajah, which is a king or prince. There is no queen, the queen must have been introduce some time later when the game became a two player battle with each player having 16 pieces instead of 8. To represent the Rajah piece with the printable counters, I have used an Image of the Rajah on elephant back.

The Infantry and the Boatmen were minor pieces and were only allowed to capture their own rank and not the major pieces. The dice used was a four sided wooden long dice numbered from 2-5. On a trow for 2, the Boatmen piece could be moved, with a throw of 3, the Cavalry piece was moved, a 4 permitted the Elephants piece to be moved and a 5 permitted either the Rajah or an Infantry piece to be moved.

In R.C. Bell’s book: Board and Table Games from many Civilisations, He says that the four colours of the players were black, red, green and yellow and that black played from the North with red from the South, green from the East and yellow from the West. I have used blue in stead of black and the cardinal points are irrelevant for play. The ruler for Shaturanga below are from Board and Table Games from many Civilisations:

(Additions in italics fill obvious deficiencies in the ancient account.)

  1. At the beginning of the game each player puts an agreed stake into a pool. This is shared by the victorious allies at the end of the game.
  2. Each player throws the die in turn and the player with the highest number throws again and makes his opening move in accordance with this throw, unless it is a 4: when the elephant is unable to move and the turn passes clockwise to the player on the left.
  3. An Indicated piece must move if this is possible, even if it is to the player’s disadvantage. A throw can sometimes be satisfied by a choice of pieces, e.g. if a 5 is thrown the Rajah or a pawn may move, or if the ally’s troops have been taken over, one of his pawns or Rajah.
  4. If the piece indicated by the throw is unable to move the turn is lost and the die passes to the next player.
  5. Seizing A Thrown. When a Raja occupies the thrown of an enemy Rajah he seizes a thrown and wins a single stake from the despoiled opponent. If he captures either adverse Rajah at the same move he wins a double stake. If a Rajah mounts the thrown of his ally he assume command of the allied forces as well as his own…and at his own or his partner’s throws he may move either his own or his ally’s pieces: a considerable advantage.
  6. Regaining A Thrown. If a player who’s ally’s’ Rajah as been captured captures a hostile Rajah, he may propose an exchange of prisoner Rajahs with the player owning the remaining Rajah, but the latter has the option of accepting or refusing the exchange…Rescued Rajahs re-enter the board on their own vacant square.
  7. If a player who’s own Rajah is still on the board but who’s ally’s Rajah is a prisoner captures both enemy Rajah he may claim the restoration of his ally’s Rajah without exchange or ransom…This would, however, also restore to his ally the control of his pieces.
  8. Building An Empire. A player who succeeds in seizing his ally’s thrown and in capturing both enemy Rajah builds an empire. (a) If the player’s Rajah made the capture on the hostile Rajah’s thrown square he wins a quadruple stake… from both opponents. (b) If the player’s Rajah made the capture on some other square he wins a double stake…from both opponents. (C) If the capture of the second hostile Rajah  was made by any other piece the player wins a single stake…from both opponents.
  9. Concourse Of Shipping. Each ship sails on a different course and controls different squares, and they can never attack each other directly, but if three ships are on adjacent squares and the fourth moves into position to occupy the fourth square this player completes a concourse of shipping and he captures the two enemy vessels and takes control of the moves of his ally’s ship…and when he throws a 2, he may move his own or his ally’s ship on to a square favourable to himself even if it is not in his ally’s interest! There are only five positions on the board where a concourse of shipping can occur. See diagram below.IMG_2276
  10. Promotion Of Pawns. If a pawn reaches a X marked square on the opposite side of the board it is promoted to the piece of that square, either a horse or an elephant. Promotion only occurs however, if the player has already lost one or more pawns. He is not allowed to have a promoted piece and three pawns on the board, and promotion is delayed until a pawn as been lost…A pawn reaching a X marked square is not promoted and can take no further part in the game except to be captured by an enemy piece unless he should become a privileged pawn. (The italic part here is a little confusing.)
  11. Privileged Pawn. If a player has only a ship and a pawn left, this pawn becomes privileged and on reaching any square on the opposite side of the board can be promoted to any piece at the choice of his owner. This appears to be a chivalrous courtesy towards a weak adversary.
  12. Drawn Game. If a player loses all his pieces except his Rajah he is considered to have fought to an honourable peace and the game is drawn…His ally may still be in. A position to fight on alone.
  13. When a player has lost all his pieces he is out of the game. His turn does not pass on to his partner who is forced to fight on with only one turn to his opponents’ two.
  14. Each player pays any special debts acquired in the course of the game to the player winning them; e.g. a stake to the first enemy player seizing his thrown; a double stake if his Rajah is captured in the same move; and a quadruple stake if one of his opponents builds an empire. The allies do not win from each other.