Bloodless Grunwald, or How the Queen Became Hetman

Zviazda newspaper report about PRAS' project

publish date
09.07.2015

Do you like chess? And henefatafl?

These words are not a pamphlet, but the name of an ancient Scandinavian board game, which is in many ways similar to the modern pastime of grosmasters. In fact, there are a lot of lagic two-player games in the world, which resemble Astap Bandar's favorite sports. 

Japanese hieroglyphic sieges, Byzantine round chess, Indian Chaturanga and Chinese games that can be played in the morning are just a few examples. Not so long ago, the PRAS campaign also tried a Belarusian variant of the famous game - Belarusian-Litsvinsk chess. 

We talked about the history of its creation with Mikalai TAMASHEVICH, the campaign's director.

The first thing you notice when you look at the Belarusian-Litsvin chess board is the difference from the classical version in terms of size: nine by nine squares (in the classical ones, eight by eight). In the very center is the "throne", a field surrounded by a "palace" - a square measuring five by five cells. Both the "palace" and the "throne" are made in the form of steps that rise above the board like a pyramid.

- This chess was literally invented at the end of the 1990s by the professor of the Grodno Medical University, Ales Ostrovsky, - says Mikalai Tаmashevich. - At night, it appeared to him that a team of bumblebees and bees was confronting wasps and hornets in just such a place. Ales Aleksandrovich's biological education apparently influenced the choice of heroes. At that time, I collaborated with "Zvyazda", I was looking for interesting materials for the "Zvyazdarinachka" column. 

That's how I came across a picture with these chess pieces on the Internet. We met with Ales Ostrovsky and decided to work on creating the game together. I, as someone more experienced in chess strategy and tactics, suggested some changes to the rules and concepts, after which we proceeded to design the board and pieces.

 

According to Mikalai Tаmashevich, the main distinctive feature of Belarusian-Litsvin chess is that it is meaningfully "based" on Belarusian historical realities. Two armies - the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Teutonic Order - are fighting for the princely throne. Victory can be obtained in different ways: in an aggressive style or almost bloodlessly, as happened more than once in the history of Belarus. 

Figures kept their properties, but changed their names to more authentic ones: elephants became cannons, rooks became rooks, horses became riders, pawns became warriors, queen became hetman, king became prince. In addition, one new piece appeared - the prince, which moves in any direction horizontally, vertically and diagonally by one or two squares. In case of "death" of the prince, this hero becomes his heir.

The player's task is to capture the "throne", that is, to occupy the central square and stay on it for one turn. Only a person of royal blood - a prince or prince - can do this. If any other piece takes the place of the monarch, it must leave it on the next turn. In addition, the prince cannot seize the "throne" if the prince is not in the "palace". Think it's that simple? Nikolai claims that staying in the center of the board for one turn is an incredibly difficult task. There are also traditional chess and checkmate situations, but they become possible only in case of "death" of one of the royal pieces.

- In the beginning, we made the first wooden version of the board, - continues Mikalai Tаmashevich, - it was very rough, ugly. Now I keep it as a memory - at the summer house. Over time, they refined the layout, found craftsmen who can perform all the technical work. When creating a board, we use valuable species of wood: chestnut oak, ash. Figures are made from ceramics using molds, small details are added by hand.

In total, about ten sets were made during this time, but the cost was very high. The cheapest one costs about 700 dollars, and that's why quite affluent people buy our chess. It is clear that mainly as a souvenir - the board decorates the interior somewhere in the cottage and is used for its intended purpose, maybe a couple of times a year.

Those who want to play Belarusian-Lytsvin chess, but do not have extra dollars, should not be sad. The boys and girls from the studio are already working on a cheaper version of the game. The figures will be made of epoxy resin, and a piece of linen cloth with markings will be used as a board (the same way the Scandinavian hnefatafl mentioned at the beginning now looks).

In addition, the version of the game for computers is almost ready. Mikalai Tаmashevich demonstrates its interface - on the main screen, it seems as if a winged hussar is waiting for battle. The user has access to settings, an electronic rulebook and the game itself: online with a live opponent or against artificial intelligence. However, the intelligence of the electronic version is running out - the developers have not yet managed to write a truly "intelligent" software part that would be responsible for the actions of the computer during the game. The existing version is only suitable for beginners. Nikolai says that they will be glad for any help from programmers.

The team's detailed or, better said, perfectionist approach to the implementation of the project is particularly impressive: for the cover of the game, one of the Belarusian actors was invited to a photo shoot, and atmospheric music was written especially for the computer version. All pieces in Belarusian-Lytsvin chess were also developed separately. For example, the tower in the VKL army is an almost exact copy of Kamianetska, the corresponding figure of the Teutons resembles one of the towers of the castle in Marienburg, the former capital of the Order. The same applies to other figures: their appearance, weapons.

The final presentation of the Belarusian-Lytsvin chess project is planned for autumn. At this time, a cheap version of the board will appear, the website of the game and the electronic version will be brought to order, and a gift set of chess will appear. Well, let's wish the boys success in their absolutely worthy initiative and hope that the national game will find its audience both in Belarus and abroad.

By the way

One of the reasons for choosing the name "Belarusian-Litsvin chess" was that "Belarusian chess" already exists. This game was created in 1989 by our compatriots Mykolai Hrushevskyi and Pyotr Shkludov and is a mixture of chess and checkers.

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