Overview: “E” is the Icehouse game of Martian Chinese Checkers. Much of the feel of original Chinese checkers has been maintained, with a few additional bits thrown in for the Icehouse pieces. The game can be played by 2-6 players, (though 5 is hard to do fairly), and takes between 45 minutes to 2 hours to play. I had a wonderful time playtesting it at Gen Con 2001, though I never got the chance to show it to Andy.
Goal: As in basic Chinese checkers, the goal in E is to move all your pieces from their starting positions on your "home" side of the board (in their home territory) to corresponding positions on your "goal" side of the board directly across from your home territory. Your home side is someone else's goal side and vice versa. Your pieces may be on any space in your goal territory, but they must be unstacked from each other at the end, so that only one of your pieces is in each space.
Materials: You need one stash of Icehouse pieces (a set of 15 pieces of one color) for each player. The game is played on a hexagonal grid, as shown in Figure 1. You can get 1” hex maps at various local hobby stores. Chessex makes a perfect sized 1” Hex BattleMat(tm) (stock # 96167), but my original board was made on a homemade poster board hex grid. You will need to fill in the hexes with watercolor markers (something like Vis-a-Vis(tm) overhead markers) to create the board shown. Pick marker colors that match the pyramid colors you’ll be playing with. In my examples, I use the red, green, yellow, blue, black and clear. You can play with whatever colors you so choose…just make your board to match your ‘mids. . Or, you can print out the board in Figure 1 and enlarge it as needed to fit the 1" bases of the large pyramids. Finally, I found a free hexmap link from which you can download 1” hex grid and print out as much as you need to make your board.
Starting the Game: Set up the pieces in the opening pattern as shown in Figure 2. Note that there are 3 kinds of spaces on the board: home/goal spaces, border spaces and unused (non-playing) spaces. You will only move on the colored spaces. The unused spaces are there to help spread out the board and make the pyramids fit nicely on the 1" hex grid.
If 2, 4, or 6 people are playing, set up the pieces so that each person is directly across from another, i.e., so that each person's home is another person's goal. If 3 people are playing, you will be setting up so that each person is starting on every other territory (for example red, yellow and clear) and has an empty goal territory to reach (in this example green, blue and black). You may start all on the same side of the board (for example clear, green, yellow), but that may give a bit of an advantage to the middle player. I have not yet found a fair way to have 5 players (one person would not have to wait until someone moves out of their goal territory). If you can figure out a way to do this, please let me know.
Randomly determine who goes first, and go clockwise around the board thereafter.
Movement: (Figure 3) You may
move your pieces in straight lines on the colored hexes only. Pieces move
according to their size. The smallest pyramids move one space, the medium
size pyramids move two spaces, and the largest pyramids move three
spaces. You must take your full move. You may not, for example,
move a large piece only two spaces and stop. A move consists of picking
up your piece and moving it according to the basic move instructions:
1. If you can touch it, you can move it.
2. You may not trap a piece in its own home territory, even as part of a move. (You may trap pieces elsewhere on the board.)
3. You may not stack directly on top of your own color, even as a part of a move. You may stack on any other piece, as long as you don't violate the second basic move rule.
Your move may consist of a jump, and you may jump any piece on the board, including your own. A jump consists of skipping over a space that a piece occupies and landing in the next space in a straight line beyond the occupied space. You may not change directions (make a turn) in the middle of a jump. Note the difference between E and original Chinese checkers: you may only jump a total number of spaces that a piece can normally move. You may not continue to jump along a line of pieces like you can jump along a line of marbles in original Chinese checkers.
Stacking: The Icehouse pieces
have the wonderful ability to be able to stack pyramids one on top of another
in nice towers or nests. E makes use of this ability by allowing
stacking (see Figure 4). You may stack your
piece on almost any piece on the board with the following exceptions:
1. You may not stack directly on your own color, even as part of your move.
2. You may not stack so that you trap a piece in its own home territory.
3. You do not control the movement of any piece that is not your own which is underneath yours in a stack. If you do stack one of your pyramids on an opponent's piece and your opponent's piece is not trapped, you will hitch a ride with that piece if it is moved before you choose to move your pyramid off theirs. You get free movement, but no control. Remember, if your opponent can touch her piece, she can move it.
Stacking may be used during any part of a move or jump, and you may leave a piece stacked on another at the end of your move. Because of this stacking possibility, the board is much more open than it seems at first. Don't overlook moves just because the space is occupied.
Trapping: If you cannot touch your piece because someone has stacked a larger pyramid on top of it (i.e., it is nested within another pyramid), you cannot move it. It is considered trapped. Remember the first basic movement rule: if you can touch it, you can move it. You must either wait for the piece trapping yours to move off (and they must pick up their piece and move off you, they may not just slide their piece along and take your piece with it) or you may force an exchange. Players may at any time check under any pyramid to see if their piece is trapped underneath, as long as they don't actually move a pyramid off the space they are on. Be careful if you are playing with the opaque pieces: be sure to pick up your piece and move it up and off any piece that you might have forgotten was trapped underneath.
Guard exchanges: Sometimes you will find your pieces trapped under another piece. This is a normal event in the game, but you always want to be able to control your own pieces when you choose to do so. You want to get your piece out from under the opposing piece. To do this, you can force a “guard exchange.”
To force an exchange, you must trap a piece of the opposing color that is trapping yours. As the final part of your move, you may then do a “guard exchange,” i.e., trade the two larger pyramids. At this point, you will be stacked directly on your own color. This is the only time you are allowed to be stacked on your own color.
example: Bob is playing red, Chris is playing blue. One of Bob's large red pyramids traps one of Chris's small blue ones. Chris then traps a small red piece with one of her medium blue pieces and calls for an exchange. Chris switches the positions of the large red and the medium blue, ending with her medium blue covering her small blue and the large red covering Bob’s small red.
example: Bob’s medium red traps Chris's small blue. Chris stacks a large blue directly on top of these two pieces, trapping them both and calls for the exchange. Chris simply takes the medium red out of the center of the set and stacks it on top of her large blue. This ensures that both players have full control over their pieces, but does not move a piece anywhere else on the board. This is an odd version of trapping and exchange that was discovered during Gen Con playtesting.
Note: this is a guard exchange and not a prisoner exchange. You are exchanging the trapping pieces, not the trapped ones. It is the choice of the moving player (the player whose turn it is) whether or not the exchange occurs. If one player, after trapping a piece chooses not to do an exchange, the opposing player may exchange the pieces during his own turn. This is then the extent of his move.
example: Chris traps Bob's piece on her move. Bob then traps one of Chris's pieces during his move, but chooses not to exchange the guards. Chris may, if she wishes, conduct the exchange as her next move. This would be the only move she makes on her turn.
Playtesting has shown that this "exchange thing" can be a bit confusing at first, but after a few exchanges, it becomes an integral part of some player’s strategies (namely, my husband’s). The idea is to get your pieces always under your control. If a piece is trapped under someone else’s pyramid, your opponent then decides when you can and cannot move your piece. If you are stacked over your own piece, then you decide when the big one moves off, allowing the smaller piece to be free to move. If you think of the guard exchange as a teleportation swap, you’ve got the right idea. And yes, sometimes it’s best to take a piece out of your goal territory to trap an opponent’s piece, or creating an exchange possibility where your piece goes back to its home territory. It’s all about piece control.
Here's one final scenario. If your piece is trapped, you must trap a piece of the trapping piece's color to be able to force an exchange; you don’t just randomly trap any piece. So, if Bob's red piece is trapping your yellow piece, you may not trap one of Chris's blue pieces to force the exchange with Bob's red guard piece.
End of Game: The game ends when one person has managed to move
all 15 pyramids into their goal territory, so
that each pyramid is on a separate goal space in that territory. You may
have other pieces stacked on or trapped under any of your pieces, but your 15
pyramids must occupy the 15 goal spaces available. They do not have to
end up in the starting configuration (5 large pyramids in the back line, 4
medium in the next row... and so forth); but you must have all your pyramids on
separate goal hexes.
Stacking: You may establish a stacking limit if you wish. Stacks of four or less are usually fine, but more may be unwieldy, especially when guard exchanges occur.
Guard Exchanges 1: You may establish that if a guard exchange causes another piece to become trapped, it is an illegal exchange. This usually doesn't happen, except with large towers and odd exchanges that can occur within that tower. Play around with these rules for a while and see what works in your games. Note that in the original exchange, where you are finishing the exchange by stacking your pieces on one another, this is not considered a trap, as you have full control over when you move the top piece off.
Guard Exchanges 2: You may establish that if a guard exchange has occurred (which causes one or more players to have pieces of their own color stacked on one another) the players must, at their next possible opportunity, make a move so that they are not violating the Basic Move Rule 3. They must unstack their pieces first before continuing play elsewhere on the board.
End of Game: To handicap a better player, or to make the game a bit more of a challenge, try to get the pieces ending up in the starting configuration. This is much more difficult that it first seems.
Start of Game: Instead of randomly
determining who goes first, try this as a nod to the Chinese Checkers origins
of this game. The person who was born closest to