I’ve received a nice bit of feedback this week regarding Yiora, and it has me thinking about a topic I hadn’t previously considered for the game, specifically the idea of Pawn Promotion. Here’s the comment I received:

I have not seen many chess variants without some kind of promotion, but all the ones that I have seen share the same problem: games invariably end in a draw. Players will carefully exchange off pieces until just the kings are left. There needs to be an incentive to advance one’s pieces, which after all will weaken one’s own king position. (There are some games where nearly all the pieces can promote and gain new powers, and that’s an idea that can also be tried.)

The biggest benefit I can see to allowing Pawn Promotion is that it adds a new layer of strategy to the game. It allows players to upgrade their pieces in the middle of the game, keeping the other player on their toes. Also, as is pointed out in the comment, it provides another incentive for each player to move their pieces across the board – there’s a reward for doing so.

So, if I’m going to offer the option to promote pawns, there are a few issues that need to be addressed:

  1. In regular Chess, there are several different kinds of pieces to which a pawn may be promoted, though generally players promote to a Queen, a piece whose superior movement has no parallel in Yiora. With only pawns and mages, there’s very little room for promotion, and frankly Mages are less maneuverable pieces.
  2. Likewise in Chess, moving a pawn to the other side of the board requires patience and strategy, knowing when to advance the extremely vulnerable, slow-moving pawn. Successfully making this trek can take up most of the game for many players.
  3. Due to the geography of the Yiora board, there is no ‘other edge of the board’, leastwise not one that requires most of the game to reach. The board only has two edges, the inner and outer, and either edge is reachable in a single move. Even the opponent’s ‘opening area’ can be reached in just three moves.

The second two points can be addressed with a single solution: Designating a specific space on the board as the ‘promotional space’. It must be a space that is heavily guarded and difficult to reach, so the center of the board is out (since, again, any piece can reach it in a single move, and it isn’t really well-guarded at all). It seems to me the most logical space would be the Overlord’s starting space. Clearly the Overlord will want to defend this ‘castle’, but will be forced to move to avoid being captured by opposing pieces looking for a promotion.

To make this achievement even more challenging, I think I might take the Black opening space out of the A ring, and move it into Y-19. As it is now, it’s only visually on the opposite side of the board. However, being in the same ring as the White opening position, it’s really not as far away as it could be. Under the current rules, for example, Mages can reach their opponent’s opening area in a single move, capturing a Mage in the process. Centering Black’s opening position around Y-19 eliminates this vulnerability, and forces the players to make full use of the entire board.

Simple enough, let’s run with this idea for now.

As to the first point, what does a promotion look like? In Chess, we’re talking about promoting the slowest, most common piece to any of the other higher-ranked pieces, increasing its speed and maneuverability. But in Yiora, simply turning a Pawn into a Mage is almost crippling it, as Mages are less maneuverable. They can cover greater distances, but at a price.

But what if the pieces were more limited to start with? Perhaps instead of having a range of up to five squares, pawns and mages both were limited to three? And what if Promoting them simply increased their range? Each player, through promotion, could now have up to five types of piece on the board (including the Overlord).

Or, perhaps the pieces might have different effects from their Promotions. Let’s say that Pawns, being footsoldiers, receive an increase in their range. But maybe Mages have the ability to resurrect a fallen piece. The new piece might reappear on any of that piece’s initial starting spaces, which might have a significant effect on the game if an opponent is in a strategic position in that area.

While Promotion isn’t something I’d ever considered before, I do think that its inclusion would open up more strategic opportunities for both players. I’ll have to run a few tests and see which of these options makes more sense, but I’m also interested in hearing other ideas. Who knows, maybe some of these options will end up being simple variations.

I’ve started up a topic on the BoardGameGeek.com Game Design forums titled WIP:Yiora, if you have any feedback, please feel free to leave it there!