Pocket Tactics Presents: A Guide to Shogi27 Apr 2017 5
Shogi is one of the most popular board games in Japan, sometimes called ‘Japanese chess’. It is not a variation of Western chess, but shares a common ancestor in the Indian game of Chaturanga. The objective is the same — to capture the king — and many of the pieces, despite having different names, move in the same ways. Shogi differs from chess in several key respects.
The pieces, reaching the opponents starting zone, can be promoted to different, stronger pieces. Pieces that are captured can also be returned to the board by the capturing player on any open square. This makes Shogi perhaps the most difficult variation of chess to write AI for. So, if you really want to learn Shogi, like Go, you need to play against real human beings.
If you like chess, you will probably like shogi too, and probably more so than the gimmicky chess variants that have appeared in mobile recently. Overall, the game is longer and more 'fluid' since pieces can be returned to the board, most attacks are performed at close range, and draws are very rare.
A difficult part of learning Shogi is learning to recognize the pieces by their Kanji characters. Some players do learn with pieces imprinted with the western chess equivalents of each piece (plus the few that do not have equivalents). However, more advanced players will need to read the kanji, especially if they wish to study the game in more depth.
Why not start with Shogi for babies? Dobutsu (animal) Shogi is a popular variant played on a 3x4 board with adorable animal pieces. It is simple enough to be played by very young children. However, it also features promotion and dropping pieces, and can be quite challenging with the right opponent.
Akira Watanabe's TsumeShogi (iOS)
Highly recommended for players of all skill levels is solving 'tsume' or checkmate problems. If you're just starting, this is a great way to learn how all the pieces move, and get used to some of the ways Shogi differs from chess — namely dropping and promoting pieces. Unfortunately, there is only one series of English-language tsume apps, and it’s iOS only! There are three levels: Primer, Beginner, and Intermediate. After that, try the website of Tsumi Shogi Paradise magazine for real braintwisters.
If you are looking to practice against an offline AI, this is the app for you. Lv.100 offers, you guessed it, one hundred levels of AI skill. There's also an option to play an online game engine for an additional monthly fee, but if you are connected to the internet and good enough to beat 100 levels of AI, why aren't you playing real people for free? The free version (iOS and Android) is similar, but only offers six levels of difficulty (spaced out from 1-100) and has ads.
Kanazawa Shogi 2 (iOS)
The sequel to UNBALANCE's Shogi Lv.100, this app is twice as expensive but has three times the levels available offline, and prettier graphics. Unfortunately, there’s no free version.
When you are familiar with the rules of Shogi, try 81Dojo, one of the most popular servers. This is the official app of the Japan Shogi Association, and an adaptation of their web-based server. It is comparatively user-friendly and has a wide variety of variants and handicaps to play with. Watch out: it allows you to make illegal moves, which will lose the game! If you do get good, however, you can order an official ranking certificate from the JSF.
Overall a prettier interface is the main feature of ShogiWars. The game also allows you to play with (ugly) tiles with English letters to identify the pieces—helpful when you struggle to recognize the Kanji. It also requires the use of a timer—nice when you don’t want to wait around for your opponent to finish a game, not as nice when you are a beginner and need more time to consider moves. You only get three games a day for free.
We've got one more guide to go on Asian-origin games. If you liked what you've read or have any questions, let us know in the comments!