Human Combat Chess at Home

As we move into "Phase 2" of our Human Combat Chess rehearsal schedule,  we thought it'd be fun to give our fans a copy of the home game, like they used to do on game shows.  No actual swords here, but we'll give you the rules for the tabletop version, so you and your favorite chess opponent can add the unpredictability of combat to your game, and find out what the Kings in the Midwest Combat Chess League have to deal with when they call their plays.

In a few weeks, we'll release advanced rules, which will include additional rules for creating your custom roster, specific weapon calls, injuries, and league play.   Take a crack at it, and share the stories of your favorite games in the comments!

Human Combat Chess - Tabletop Edition

PDF Version

Game Design by Mike Lubke, Edited by Nathaniel Nesheim-Case and Philip D Henry

To bring the madness of Human Combat Chess to your gaming table, you will need:

  • A Standard Chess Set
  • Some 6-Sided Dice (at least 1 for each player)
  • Some 8-Sided Dice (at least 1 for each player)
  • Some 10-Sided Dice (at least 1 for each player)
  • 15-20x Fatigue Counters* 

*We like poker chips that are just a bit smaller than the squares on your chess board.  You could also use plastic rings that fit over the top of the chess pieces (like those found on soda bottles)



With the exception of captures, the game plays like standard Chess; all the normal rules for movement apply, with a few other changes to deal with the unpredictability of combat.

Captures and Fights

In Combat Chess, any time a piece attempts to move into a square occupied another piece they must fight for it, and we represent those duels with dice.  Each side rolls a die for their Combat Roll, applies a few modifiers, and the higher roll wins.  The losing piece is removed from the board, and the winner stays in the square and gets a Fatigue Token.

Fighter Strength

Because the better fighters are generally assigned to the stronger pieces, each type of piece rolls a different die, as shown here:

  • Pawns: 6-Sided die
  • Rooks, Knights, and Bishops: 8-Sided die
  • Queens and Kings: 10-Sided Die

Weapon Choice

Each fighter has a preferred weapon, and to reflect that specialized skill, the piece that gets weapon choice gets to add +1 to their Combat roll.  This is usually the attacker, but the Kings always get weapon choice if/when they fight.


Swinging swords at each other is exhausting, so for every previous fight a piece has had they will take -1 on their combat rolls. After each fight, give the surviving piece a Fatigue Token to track how tired they are.  There is no limit to the number of Fatigue Tokens that may be given to a single piece, or to how many total tokens can be on the board.


In 2015, the Midwest Combat Chess League added a 3 minute time limit to each fight.  If a Combat Roll is a tie, each fighter should roll again using the same modifiers.  If the Combat Roll ties 3 times, the fight is ended, each piece is returned to their starting square, and each gets a Fatigue Token.  The move that started the fight is lost.


Other Rules

Because the results of each fight can be unpredictable, there are a few additional rules to keep in mind.

Compulsory Moves

If a piece is threatening the opposing King at the start of their own turn, they must attack the King.  This is impossible in Standard Chess, but this can in Combat Chess happen when an attacker loses a fight.

Kings and Combat

Kings may fight just like any other piece, but if a King ever loses a fight they lose the game, even if they are not in Checkmate. Like in Standard Chess, a King cannot move into a threatened Square, with the noted exception of executing a King’s Prerogative.

King’s Prerogative

If a King is in Checkmate, they can attempt to fight their way out of it by engaging multiple enemies at once.  If the King can attack one of the threatening pieces (i.e. it is adjacent to the King), but that piece’s square is itself threatened (which normally prevents such an attack), the King may declare “King’s Prerogative” and attack both the adjacent enemy and its supporting piece(s).  The King rolls one Combat die as normal, while the opposing pieces roll all necessary dice and add them together.  All of the usual modifiers apply, so the King will receive a bonus for Weapon Choice, and all fatigue markers will deduct from that side’s Combat Roll.

Note that King’s Prerogative can only be used by a King who is in Checkmate.  If there is any other legal move, the King is required to take it.



Only d6’s

If you don’t have access to polyhedral dice, it is still possible to play HCC.  Instead of rolling different dice, stronger pieces should roll multiple dice and take the highest result.  Pieces that normally roll an 8-Sided die roll twice, and pieces that normally roll a 10-sided roll 3 dice.  The usual modifiers still apply.

Even More Chaos

Several companies have published variants on Standard Chess (Nightmare Chess, versions for 3 or 4 players, 3-D Star Trek Chess, etc.).  With a bit of common sense applied, there is no reason you can’t add these to the Combat Chess Rules.  Give 4-player 3-D Combat Nightmare Chess a try and let us know how it goes!