For reference, a shogi board and pieces look like this:
Now, I don’t actually know much about shogi. Though, to be fair, I don’t know much about European chess, either.
Basically, the extent of my knowledge of shogi extends to the fact that one of your potential girlfriends in Persona 5 is a professional shogi player and it’s some kind of board game.
Based on reading through the Wikipedia article, there seems to be more variation in the pieces than chess (the writing on each piece indicates what it is), every piece is able to promote — unlike in European chess, where only pawns can promote, and every piece promotes to a specific new piece (not unlike, say, how a Pokémon evolves) — and most notably, you can apparently repurpose your opponent’s captured pieces as your own.
The Wikipedia article doesn’t give a great sense of how it’s actually played, so I’ve actually been watching shogi videos on Youtube.
And, uh, I still don’t really get it…
Luckily, for the purposes of today’s exercise, I don’t really have to write about shogi, I just have to write about people learning about shogi.
“This would be a lot easier if I could read Yamatai,” Kat mutters, staring in bewilderment down at the board.
Sometimes, Kat wishes the people in her life would stop trying to teach her things. The Admiral’s been trying to teach her how to be pirate all her life, Amara’s always trying to teach her how to be a proper lady.
And now Kokoro is trying to teach her traditional Yamatai board games. Emphasis on trying.
“Shall we take a break?” the woman from Yamatai asks gently from the other side of the board.
Kat nods. “Yeah. Or how about I just quit?” she says. “I just can’t get my head around all this. I can’t keep the pieces straight.”
Tsuru reaches up to give her a consoling pat on the shoulder. “That was a good first game,” she tells Kat.
Tsubame reaches up to pat the other shoulder. “We could teach you to read the names of the pieces.”
As Annie makes a slow circuit around the room, studying the various hanging scrolls on the walls, and Dunstana stares longingly up at the samurai sword that had once belonged to Kokoro’s husband, Sally walks over to where Kat and Kokoro are sitting at the game board.
“What’s that?” she asks.
“It’s called shogi,”Kokoro explains. “It’s a game we play in Yamatai.”
Sally takes a step forward and looks curiously down at the board.
“What are the rules?”
“You move your pieces, trying to capture your opponent’s General,” Kokoro says.
Sally’s eyes go wide as the realisation sets in.
She gasps excitedly.
“Would you like to learn how to play, Sally?” Kokoro asks.
“Teach me!” Sally exclaims. “Teach me!”
In her excitement, she all but hip-checks Kat off her seat.
Kokoro gently sweeps aside the pieces from Kat’s abandoned attempt at learning the game and begins to set them back into their original places.
“Wow,” Sally mutters. “There are a lot of pieces.” She points down to the board. “What’s that writing?”
“That’s the Yamatai name for each piece,” Kokoro says. “Kat is right. It can be difficult for someone who doesn’t read Yamatai to learn all the pieces, but Tsuru and Tsubame can help you.”
The two twins give Sally a nod.
“Tell me!” Sally urges, bouncing eagerly in her seat and clapping her hands. “Tell me! I want to know!”
Tsuru and Tsubame begin going through each of the pieces, naming them for Sally and explaining how each one moves around the board.
“And on the other side of each piece,” Kokoro adds, “is the new name for when each piece crosses the board and learns a new way to move.”
She reaches down for one of her pieces.
“For example, the Chariot here —” She flips over the piece. “— becomes the Dragon King.”
“Finally!” Dunstana exclaims from the far side of the room.
She is vindicated in her longstanding belief that chess, as with most things in life, would be better with the inclusion of dragons.
In general, most shogi pieces are apparently given names that correspond to their closest piece in European chess. For example, the pieces that are properly called Generals are Kings — and, in fact, there are actually two different Generals. The higher-ranked player is the King General and the lower-ranked player is Jewelled General. Chariots are Rooks, “Angle-Movers” (I assume that refers to the fact that go diagonally) are Bishops.
I didn’t actually know that there was a shogi piece called the Dragon when I got the idea for this scene, so I wasn’t deliberately setting up a payoff for Dunstana’s “chess would be better with dragons” quip from back in October.
And, thinking about it, I probably couldn’t have written a much about story about Western chess, either, because I don’t have a good enough grasp of how chess is actually played, especially at higher levels, to write a convincingly good or interesting game of chess.
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