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The Meeple Guild: Many checker variants worth playing

In terms of games on the various boards, the most straight forward option is to play checkers.
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A Croda game in progress.

YORKTON - Over the last two weeks we have touched on both stacking games and crossing games, all of which can be played with homemade boards and easily found pieces. 

The idea of course is to add just a bit of being ‘crafty’ to gaming, by relaxing while drawing some simple square grids.  

Over time you can end up with a pretty diverse bunch of boards; 5X5, 6X6, 7X7 and of course all the way up to a 12X14 for Bob Abbott’s under-appreciated Epaminondas.

The boards can be as simple as being drawn on bristol board, to getting longer lasting efforts by drawing on particle board. You can get fancier of course, with wood burning options or routers too.

You can even add some neat touches such as mounting the boards into old yard sale-find picture frames.

It really comes down to how ‘crafty’ you are, and how much you wish to spend.

The good news is low cost is a definite viable option, and it still opens up a rather large catalogue of fine games to explore.

In terms of games on the various boards, the most straight forward option is to play checkers – which always takes me back to thoughts of my grandpa, as checkers was the one board game he played – although grandma would drag him to the whist table on occasion too.

Checkers gets something of a bad rap here in North America where it has largely been a game focused on youngsters although there is the American Pool Checker Association which promotes the game.

The familiar game of ‘pool checkers’ is the common game played on an 8X8 board, with players trying to capture their opponent’s pieces. If you get a piece across the board it becomes a far more powerful king.

While this version in an old one, going back centuries, it is also perhaps the least interesting of a rather large checkers family.

For example, International Checkers, played on a 10X10 board, and far more powerful kings; kinged pieces can move across multiple squares on the two diagonals that cross their position for so long as these squares are open, in a rule known as the ‘flying kings.’

International checkers is a more dramatic version of the game.

Turkish checkers is also a better version of the game.

It is a common form of checkers widely played in the Middle-East, where it is known as Dama.

Played on an 8×8 board, it differentiates with most other games of the checkers family because pieces move straight forward or sideways, not diagonally.

When a piece reaches the last row it promotes to a flying king (Dama) which moves like the rook in chess.

There are actually a number of international versions, most with only minor tweaks to core rules, but it can be fun experimenting to see which you like best.

Not surprisingly, there are a number of more recently created takes on checkers too.

For example, in 1995 Ljuban Dedić, a Croatian mathematics professor and draughts champion, created Croda. 

Croda is played on an 8X8 board with each player having 24 pieces.

“Pieces are either men (which can only move straight forward or diagonally forward one space) or kings (which move and capture at a distance),” for “When a man ends a move on the opponent's back row, it is promoted to a king. Pieces capture by jumping, as in draughts, (checkers), but capture is only orthogonally, not diagonally. Capture is enforced. A player must capture the biggest number of pieces when different ways of capture are possible.”

This one is interesting for the density of pieces, especially early in the game, and the more varied movement.

Then we have the even more recent creation Dameo, a 2000 release from designer Christian Freeling. 

Dameo is played on an 8X8 board with 18 pieces per player. 

Again from BGG, “a Checkers-like game that uses linear movement. Men can move straight or diagonally forward. Similarly, a line of men can advance as a group straight or diagonally forward.

“Kings move like a queen in Chess.

“Men and kings capture orthogonally only. Kings can capture at the long range. Maximum capture is enforced.

“Since men can move over other men of their own colour, gameplay is swifter and sharper than that of traditional Checkers.”

The ability to move lines of pieces really sets this one apart, and it, is my mind the best of the checker games. Check it out at

It would be a mistake not to mention designer Christopher Wroth’s 1986 creation King’s Court. 

There was a retail release back in the 1980s and it is a great looking one, but the game can be played on an 8X8 board just as well. 

The board is 8x8 with the squares rotated 45 degrees, (or leave the board oriented naturally and have stone can move to an adjacent (orthogonal) empty cell.

The central 4x4 area forms the King's Court, which is at the heart of what makes this one special.

The starting setup places the pieces on the 48 squares surrounding the Court. The opening moves have both players enter a piece onto the ‘court’ from opposing sides (no jumping yet).

From that point on, a piece must be present on the court at all times -- otherwise the player loses.

Pieces move as in checkers except they all move as kings, with no restrictions on direction.

Jumps are again as in checkers, except that you can jump your own pieces as well, without capturing them, which is a really fun mechanic.

This one is quite refreshing, and jumping your own pieces to get to your opponent’s allows for some rather dramatic play. 

The traditional Hawaiian game Konane deserves mentioning here too.

The game board is made up of rows and columns, like a checkerboard, however, you can apparently have as many rows and columns as you would like. It seems 8X8 is sort of the minimum, so feel free to try it on other boards you create too.

To set-up the game, fill each square with a playing piece, alternating between black and white pieces, so you need 32 or each on an 8X8 board, so a couple of bags of glass beads can be a quick answer to finding pieces.

Black moves first, by taking off one of his pieces. He may only remove a piece from the middle of the board or from one of the corners. White removes one of his pieces that is adjacent orthogonally to the empty square created by black. There should now be two empty squares next to each other, and the game really gets going.

From there on, players take turns jumping their opponents’ pieces. A jump may only be made orthogonally, never diagonally. A player may make multiple jumps with the same piece in a turn, provided that he does not change direction. Pieces that are jumped are removed from the board.

When one player is unable to jump during his turn, his opponent wins the game.

Simple rules but lots of fun too.

There are a few dozen checker-family games, many played on square grid boards, so some online research will add to your rules catalogue, but the seven games above should provide hours of exploration for avid gamers.