a rickety bridge of impossible crossing

more uses for chess sets

A lot of chess boards come with 24 checkers so you can play checkers on the same board, but you can play checkers even if your chess set doesn't include them. You could just set the board up like this:

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If the inconsistency bothers you, you can swap knight/rook pieces out with captured pawns as the game progresses.

That leaves each player with the king, queen, and two bishops to represent the "king" pieces. It's unlikely that either player will have more than four kings per game; if a player does manage to get more than four, they're almost certainly going to win, so you can house rule that having five kings on the board at one time is an automatic win.

Also, every chess board could easily be a Royal Game of Ur board with the addition of just a few unobtrusive lines and symbols:1

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You only need seven pieces per side, so one player uses 6 white pawns and the other player uses 6 black pawns. If you don't have time or space for a full chess setup, this is something you could play with the board folded up and most of the pieces put away.

I haven't found a good solution for mocking up Ur dice at home. It's four dice with a 50/50 chance of a 0 or 1, and I can't think of an elegant solution for getting the same random distribution with traditional dice. You could just roll 4d6 and say odd numbers are 0 and even numbers are 1, but that's not very intuitive. You can't just make a spinner with the numbers 0-4,2 because you should have a much higher chance of a 2 than a 0 or 4:

Roll Probability Percent
0 1/16 6.25%
1 1/4 25.0%
2 3/8 37.5%
3 1/4 25.0%
4 1/16 6.25%
(via Matthew Deutsch)

Traditionally, Ur uses tetrahedal dice with 2 of the 4 points marked, so you could get 4D4 and mark them the same way, but I think we can all agree that D4s are the worst dice: hard to pick up, not satisfying at all to roll, most painful when stepped on.

I'd much rather just use 4D6 and use a permanent marker to color in 3 of the sides on each one, but that's still not ideal. Maybe one could use white-out to fill in the pips on the other 3 sides for a more uniform look, but I'd be worried about the correction fluid unbalancing the dice, or the markings getting rubbed off after a lot of rolling.

The best solution IMO would be to get a set of binary dice, like this:

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But that would cost 8 or 9 bucks, which sucks, because the whole point is to get more use out of stuff you already have.

I mean, it's 4 coin flips, it shouldn't be that hard, but flipping a coin 4 times for every turn would make the game way too slow. I suppose you could put 4 pennies in a little cup, shake it and dump them out on the table, and each "heads" could count as a 1. It doesn't sound or feel as nice as rolling dice, though.3

Well, in a pinch, here's a simple die roller you can use on your phone. It's not as fun as rolling physical dice, but it works.

Anyway, that's some more stuff you can do with a chess set. 🦝


edit: if you do have chess and checkers pieces, you can make an Ur setup without modifying the board, like this:

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In this example, the game just started, white rolled a 2 and black rolled a 3.

Or if not, you could use pawns to draw the boundary of the board, find 5 coins to mark the rosettes, and use 7 other pieces as the game pawns:

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(thanks to the chessboard setup tool at apronus.com for helping me demonstrate these.)

As you can probably tell, I think Ur is a lot more interesting than chess or checkers. This is because I'm very bad at chess, and I enjoy games with elements of both chance and strategy. But you can't just walk into a store and buy a Royal Game of Ur set, and if you order one online, it's going to be expensive and come with terrible pointy dice,4 so homebrew is the way to go.


  1. I'd use a ruler and a marker on a cheap dollar store chess/checkers set. I just received a very nice wooden set as a gift, which is what got me thinking about potential uses for it, since I'm not a big chess player; I would never permanently alter such a nice gift, but I'd maybe use some removable washi tape.↩

  2. I mean, you could, but the effort needed to make a fair one wouldn't be worth it.↩

  3. Another idea: you could have a bag players can reach into with 16 tokens of some sort, each one representing a number from 0 to 4 with this distribution: 0 1 1 1 1 2 2 2 2 2 2 3 3 3 3 4 You could do this with little scraps of paper, or pieces of cardboard, or 4 different colors of poker chips, or write the numbers on ping-pong balls, etc.↩

  4. This one is reasonably priced, but it looks like they made dice by partially drilling holes into wooden cubes, which looks terrible in the close-ups and I wouldn't trust them to be balanced. The single review doesn't fill me with confidence that the rest of the components are any good, either. This one uses a tiny peg board and includes made-up rules for using a single 4-sided die. Watch the video the seller includes, it's total nonsense.↩

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