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Hobbies—My Games
Alien Checkers

Alien Checkers is a game for two players who are old enough to play checkers. A game takes five to thirty minutes. Besides these rules and a checkers set, players need 20 special cards, 52 tokens, and 9 goal cards (all available in this PDF file.)

In 1986 Pierre Clequin and Bruno Faidutti published Tempete sur l'Echequier, which modifies chess by having players use cards that alter the rules slightly. The English version is called Nightmare Chess.

When I encountered these games I wondered, "Why would anyone want to take one of the world's great strategy games and add random non-strategeic elements?" If the goal was to make the game fun in a silly way, the English version fails because Nightmare Chess tries to be spooky, not silly. If the goal was to allow someone not expert at chess to play evenly with an expert, the classic game Nuclear Chess does the same thing while keeping the game purely strategic.

(You don't know Nuclear Chess? Play chess as usual, with one rule change. Pawns are "nuclear", and when captured explode, removing the piece that captured them and any pieces in the eight squares around them. Naturally, pawns that are exploded also explode, causing a chain reaction. A pawn that captures does not explode (unless it captures another pawn). Be especially careful not to make moves that put yourself in check!)

So I thought, "I should take another common game and create a deck of cards for it. I can make a game that is much more absurdly fun while keeping the game enjoyably playable." The result was Alien Checkers.

Alien Checkers is © 2001 by David L. Van Slyke

Introduction

The dolphin pondered where to move. After all, Earth's reputation was at stake. It moved a king defensively. When it drew the next card, a Monolith, the crowd hissed with suspense. The dolphin pondered the three face-up cards it had to choose from: Sookle, Galactic Hippo, and Monolith. The Vyngraith sitting across the board kept its expression blank on both faces.

hippos The dolphin chose the Galactic Hippo. It could not afford to let the Monolith come into play.

Beings from all nine planets had gathered on one of Saturn's moons for this Interplanetary Checkers Tournament. The crowd glanced up at the three Galactic Hippos orbiting the moon and sighed, "Oooo..." as one Galactic Hippo slowly descended, politely shrinking itself so it would not cause city-wide destruction. The dolphin pointed at its opponent's three-checker-tall emperor. The hippo drifed down to the board and landed on the emperor, immobilizing it.

snookle The Vyngriath grunted. It moved a pawn, turned over a Revive card, and played the Snookle card. The small creature eagerly climbed from the tank beside the checker board from where it and its bretheren watched the game. The dolphin waved the expected order, and the Snookle approached the Vyngriath's emperor. The Galactic Hippo, which could not stand the smell of a Snookle, grunted thunderously and floated back up into orbit. The Snookle jumped onto the emperor and its four suction-cup feet adhered to the top checker. The Snookle smiled broadly. As everybeing knows, Snookles love to ride on checkers.

The dolphin nervously moved its king again. Then it turned over the next card, at first gingerly but then triumphantly. The new card was a Reshuffle. The dolphin played it, and the deck of cards was reshuffled. Then two new cards were turned face up—neither one the Monolith.

fireThe Vyngriath snorted twice. It had very much wanted to put the Monolith into play. The dolphin's stall with the Galactic Hippo had worked. It moved its emperor (the Snookle chirped, "Wheeee!") and then played a card that filled a square with fire, trapping one of the dolphin's kings in a corner. The other cards did not help it: it did not need any rings around its checkers, and rotating the board ninety degrees would not significantly alter the game.

Summary

Alien Checkers is a verstile game. Besides using cards during the game, players select one of nine special cards to secretly find out which planet they are representing: each planet has a different secret victory condition. Children can enjoy how the game is silly and (compared to plain checkers) gives them a better chance of winning when playing their parents. Adults who wish to analyze the game more carefully will notice new flavors of strategy as the cards and secret goals work together.

Setup

Set up the board and checker-pieces as you would for a normal game of checkers.

Put the tokens off to the side of the board where both players can reach them.

Shuffle the cards that represent the nine planets, and have each player draw one. Put the other planet cards face-down off to the side where they will not get in the way: they are not used for the rest of that game. Player look at their planet cards, then keep them face down and secret.

Shuffle the deck of cards and set it face down as a draw pile where both players can reach it. Turn over the top card face-up next to the draw pile.

Game Play

The Board

The playing board consists of a normal checker board.

Turns

Players take turns. On your turn, you do three things.

  1. move a checker
  2. turn over a second card from the draw pile
  3. choose one of the two face up cards to use

It is important to move your checker before turning over or using a card. This ensures that when you move you know half but not all the options the cards will give you. It also allows your opponent to force you to move in certain ways because of the rule from normal checkers that if you can make one or more jumps you must make one.

Cards

All but one of the cards can be used at any time: their instructions are worded so that if you play them when they are not "useful" then they do nothing. The Antimatter card cannot be played unless it is "useful" and will remain face up next to the draw pile until it is eventually used or the draw pile is reshuffled.

The cards refer to a checker as one or more checker-pieces on a square. When the distinction is important the cards and these rules call a "normal" checker with one checker-piece a pawn, and a "normal" king with two checker-pieces a king.

Most of the cards have self-explanatory effects. There are a few details that clarify situations or resolve potential problems.

Walls

When you build walls, make sure you use wall tokens representing "your" color. You can move through your walls, but your opponent cannot. Walls must be placed in pairs along adjacent edges of checkerboard squares. You may choose to place walls on two edges of a single square (making an "L" shape) or along edges of two different squares (making a line segment two edges long). Walls only block diagonal checker movement if the checker crosses from one side the wall to the other: specifically, walls in an "L" shape block diagonal movement that crosses their vertex but not diagonal movement that skims beside their vertex.

The Monolith

The monolith cannot be put on the board on squares that contains something.

If the monolith moves into a square filled with water or fire, the water or fire is removed. If the monolith moves across an edge with a wall, the wall is removed. If a monolith is moved into a square with a checker, the checker is "pushed" into the next square, which may begin a chain reaction of "pushing". A checker that is "pushed" off the board or against a wall is removed from the board (it is treated as captured). The monolith may not be moved halfway or completely off the board.

Reshuffle

When the deck is reshuffled, the top card is turned face up next to the draw pile (just as was the case at the start of the game). That way every time a player's turn starts there is one face up card.

Making Kings

Once a pawn is across the board it becomes a king, as in a normal game of checkers.

However, you cannot make a pawn into a king unless one or more of your checkers has been captured. If none of your checkers has been captured, you will not have a checker to physically place on top of the pawn. Similarly, if you have already used all your captured pawns to make kinds, you will not have a checker to physically place on top of the pawn. Since you lack an available checker, that pawn must wait to become a king. (Perhaps it will not become a king, if it is captured or moved before you can make it a king.)

If a checker of yours is captured on your opponent's turn, you can immediately make any of your ready pawns into a king. If the board is rotated on your opponent's turn, you can immediately make kings of any of your pawns that are then across the board. Thus it is possible to win the game on your opponent's turn by having five kings/emperors!

A standard checkers set has 12 pawns of each color. If your set has more, remove the extras from the game when you set up or it will be too easy to make kings!

Winning

There are three ways to win.

  1. You can win by capturing all of your opponent's checkers, as you would win a normal game of checkers.
  2. Before the game starts you draw one card to determine which planet you represent; this card affects the game by giving you a second way to win.
  3. You can win by having 5 kings (or a total of 5 kings and emperors: emperors are like super-kings).

Enjoy!