Handicapping in Knightmare Chess

by Steve Jackson

One advantage of Knightmare Chess is that there are several ways to handicap it, giving the weaker player an advantage to balance out the game. As explained in the basic rules, the stronger player can take a smaller deck, giving up 25, 50 or even more points. But what if it's a common-deck game? This article will discuss several handicapping systems that can work in any Knightmare Chess game, even if the players are drawing from the same deck.

"I'll Spot You A Knight"

To start with, don't forget the classic handicap system from standard chess . . . the stronger player can start the game "down" by a Knight, Bishop, or Rook. The structure of Knightmare Chess actually makes it easier for a player to recover from this situation, since standard openings don't apply!


Reduced Hand

In any game, common-deck or individual deck, the stronger player can work from a hand of four (or even three) cards. You can also let the weaker player have a six-card hand. This is fine for adults, but younger players may find six cards too many to deal with at once.


Panic Tokens

Played Give the weaker player one or more Panic Tokens - you can just use coins. These work like the Panic card in the game . . . when you give your opponent a Panic Token, he has 15 seconds to make his move. If he doesn't move within that time, he loses his move!

The basic Panic Token must be played on your move, instead of a card - you cannot use a card and play a Panic Token. You could also allow a Super Panic Token, playable along with a card!

Each Panic Token can only be used once. A Panic Token cannot be counteracted by any card.

This variant was suggested by Laz Zanger.


Vulture Tokens

These use the same basic idea as Panic Tokens, but they work like the Vulture card. Play a Vulture Token when your opponent discards a card, and take that card!

You cannot play a Vulture Token and a card on the same turn. But most of your opponent's discards will be made on his own turn, and you are less likely to want to play another card then.

Each Vulture Token can only be used once. A Vulture Token cannot be counteracted by any card.


And Yet More Tokens

Any generally useful card can be "tokened" to give both variety and game balance in one package. In particular, Knightmare! or Fog of War tokens could be very powerful. Challenge, Mystic Shield, Hostage, Peace Talks, Rebirth, and Resurrection are generally useful. And Man of Straw, Hidden Passage, or Under Elf Hill tokens would let a weaker player escape the jaws of defeat again and again.


Reserved Cards

Played The weaker player picks from one to six cards before the game starts, depending on how big a handicap you want to allow. He can use these cards, and his opponent can't. The exact mechanism depends on the kind of deck you're using.

Common Deck

If it's a common-deck game, he takes his reserved cards from the common deck, and sets them aside in a separate stack. At any time he chooses, he may draw from his reserved stack instead of from the common deck.

Standard Deck-Building

If both players are building their decks from the same 80-card set, the weaker player pulls his chosen cards out, and then the players split the remaining cards and build their decks. Note that the weaker player does not have to use his chosen cards in his own deck - he may just choose to deny them to his opponent!

Personal Sets

If each player has his own set, the weaker player simply names up to six cards that his opponent may not use in his own deck. Note that Chaos, Knightmare and Think Again! are all separate cards . . .



The weaker player may draw from the opponent's hand, rather than from the deck, when he discards or uses a card. The opponent then replaces his card by drawing from the deck in the normal way.

This makes it much harder for the stronger player to use card-based strategies, since he can't depend on keeping a card to use it later!

If both players have this ability, you have a wild-and-wooly variant in which advance planning becomes very difficult.

Beware: If your cards don't all belong to the same set, this is a really good way to get them mixed up.