In the first half of 2020 I was temporarily out of university, and I had not much else to do due to the lockdown. Therefore, boardgame design became my full time activity for quite a while: several of my competent designs were made back then, but I suppose only one or two of them really matter.
My interest in Draughts variants started due to reading Christian’s articles about the game’s evolution, and due to playing a lot of Hexdame with my brother. I wasn’t really looking for a way to “fix” Draughts, rather for a fun game utilizing Draughts-like mechanics. The BGG abstract subforum is riddled with several of my attempts and some of them seemed promising, but none of them grew to become an actual game.
I believe I came upon the “constitutional” movement restriction when thinking about some kind of race game with far-ranging pieces, and it was inspired by en passant in Chess. The game itself was mediocre and I was just about to drop it, but then I’ve noticed how the same protocol applied to kings yields decisive 2v1 endgames in Draughts, with a forced win sequence similar to rook+king vs king endgames in Chess.
This was exciting! Draughts is obviously a broken game, and 3 kings being usually unable to win against 1 is a serious flaw in terms of both strategy and narrative. At the same time, the game’s openings and middlegames have a unique spirit, and I’d be saddened to see it go. That’s why I believe Dameo is a terrible candidate for replacing Draughts, even though it’s a brilliant game and I hope it gains more traction. The 'constitutional' rule is a pretty modest change, but it works well enough. Non-trivial endgames are a delight too, as they feel almost territorial. Therefore, I believe Constitutional Draughts is well fit to become a mainstream variant.
The rule underwent some changes compared to its original formulation. Very early on I saw that it’s sufficient for kings to be hindered by other kings – if men have the ability to stop kings as well, then the rule becomes too restrictive. Also, originally the king had to stop on the first danger square it encountered, whereas now it can sacrifice itself wherever. Actually changing this one wasn’t a conscious decision: Aleh Tapalnitski accidentally misinterpreted the rules when writing his brochure (pdf), and the results were so promising that I decided to just stick with it. It makes sense on a narrative level too, though, since the whole reason for the Constitutional rule is that the King shouldn’t use its long-ranging moves to run away from danger. Arguably giving oneself up for capture isn’t much of an escape.
In Constitutional Draughts, tempo, material and position matter much more, and an advantage that would prove very minor in International Draughts are often decisive here. Thus Constitutional Draughts requires much more deliberation. It’s an intriguing example of a trimmed down game tree that actually yields more nuance, helping to prove that combinatorial complexity doesn’t always have to be correlated (let alone equivalent!) with the ever elusive concept we know as “depth”.

Mike Zapawa

Constitutional Draughts © Mike Zapawa