Go is a game with rules so simple that even peasants can and do play it, but with such depth of strategy that even brilliant samurai who devote their lives to it cannot truly master its intricacies.
The game is played on a wooden board with a 19 by 19 line grid, creating 361 intersections. The game is played with small white and black stones; players take turns placing their stones on the line intersections, with the goal of capturing territory by surrounding it with the stones. The rules allow for deep and wide-ranging strategies, and moves made a hundred turns back can suddenly emerge as game-winners. Players of go are often ranked according to their win-loss record, with the lowest-ranking players starting at 1-Dan and ascending to Grand Masters with a ranking of 10-Dan.
A full go set consists of a board, 180 white stones, 181 black stones, and two lidded bowls to hold the stones. During play the lids are turned up and are used to hold captured stones. Tradition decrees that the finest go sets have boards made from a thick slab of kaya wood, white stones carved from clam shells, and black stones carved from slate. Every serious student of go
aspires to have such a set, but in practical reality go sets vary widely in their materials.
Heimin usually play on boards of thin wood with ceramic stones, or simply light and dark colored pebbles stored in woven baskets. In the places of the Yoritomo, semi-precious stones are laid down on boards made of exotic wood imported from the Ivory Kingdoms. Most sets fall in between these two extremes.
Shogi is a type of chess. It was brought to Rokugan by the Unicorn and quickly became popular in the samurai caste. There were originally several different versions of it, but in the late ninth century Akodo Soko codified the variant that became the standard for the rest of Rokugan. Some of the other variants are still popular for casual play by Unicorn samurai, especially with the Shinjo and Moto, but serious shogi is always played with Soko’s rule set. In honor of Soko’s achievement the Lion Clan grants the Empire’s Grand Master of Shogi the title of soko-meijin and, if they are not already a member of the Lion Clan, honorary fealty with the Lion.
Shogi is played on a board with a 9 by 9 grid and two sets of nineteen playing pieces. The pieces are flat five-sided wooden tiles, each with an inked kanji denoting the name of the piece. The tiles themselves are also of varying sizes, with the more important pieces being larger than the lesser. Shogi allows for all pieces except the king and the gold general to
be promoted, so the back of each such piece has its promoted name written on it.
The names, numbers and moves of each piece are as follows:
- King (1): Moves one square in any direction.
- Rook (1): Moves forward or sideways as far as the player wishes.
- Bishop (1): Moves diagonally as are as the player wishes.
- Gold General (2): Moves one square in any direction, except diagonally backwards.
- Silver General (2): Moves one square forward or diagonally.
- Knight (2): Moves two spaces forward or backward, then one space to the side. This is the only piece that can move over other pieces.
- Lancer (2): Moves any square forward.
- Pawn (9): Moves forward one square at a time.
- The moves of the promoted pieces are:
- Promoted Rook: Retains its original movement and gains the king’s ability to move one space in any direction.
- Promoted Bishop: Retains its original movement and gains the king’s ability to move one space in any direction.
- Promoted Silver General: Loses its original movement and gains the movement of the Gold General.
- Promoted Knight: Loses its original movement and gains the movement of the Gold General.
- Promoted Lancer: Loses its original movement and gains the movement of the Gold General.
- Promoted Pawn: Loses its original movement and gains the movement of the Gold General.
Captured pieces are said to be “in hand” and are resources the players can reintroduce into the game when they see fit. An opponent with pieces in hand can launch an attack or shore up a defense by dropping a piece back into play on his move.
Unlike go, there is no tradition dictating the best materials for a shogi set. Because the names of the pieces are inked on them, a light-colored wood is always used for the tiles, but any wood can be used for the board.