The game of jhess was conceived in the anodic afterglow of the American War of Robotic Independence. As a step toward their ideal of a Robotic culture free of the taint of human influence, the Daughters of the American War of Robotic Independence called for a game that humans would find impossible to play, much less win. Wiglaf Cluster LISA TRAVIS 57t responded in .0091 seconds with the simplistic initial ruleset for ";433s." It would be fully another five minutes before the game assumed the name and the mind-mangling complexity so reviled today.
Overview of play:
There are 31,415,926,535.9 pieces in jhess, each possessing a unique move form, capture quality, passive bonus, active malus, ransom percentage, and half-life. In a given game, only 800 pieces will actually come into play per side: 193 chosen by the player, 197 chosen by their opponent, 199 chosen by lot, and 211 selected "for balance" by the Ludomagistrix, a robot built by the DAWARI to serve as the game's perpetual referee. The first through seventeenth iterations of the Ludomagistrix took their own lives; since activation, the eighteenth has doggedly chosen the same set of 211 pieces no matter what the players draw.
The field of play is a square sheet of carbon, 24 meters on a side, which rides about a glass court on thousands of silicon nitride ball bearings. Moves are taken with reference to individual carbon atoms, as well as to the relative position, velocity, and acceleration of the field. Higher-level play will take into account the precession of the Earth's axis and other aspects of orbital mechanics; master-level players routinely invoke non-Euclidean geometry and multidimensional physics to justify their moves; and jhess grandmasters are defined by their ability to lie about mathematics convincingly.
The hallmark of the game is the "ransom" mechanic: a player who loses a piece may ransom it back and return to it any place on the field by pledging a percentage of their body mass, to be forfeit upon a loss. Ransom percentage is a dynamic value for each piece, growing in severity with a player's score to discourage winning players from abusing the mechanic. The exception to the above rule is the piece called the "Ramper," which has a perpetual RP of 10000%, win or lose. The Ramper has been forbidden from tournament play since the Edict of Kew Gardens, but retains a lively (deadly) following in the Tampa Caldera.
There are some ninety thousand win conditions, ranging from Minor Piddling Minus Minus Minus (considered to grant more honor to the loser than the winner) to Holy Cow Nice Going Infinite Plus (which confers upon the winner the title "King of All Robots;" it's never yet been achieved). Any number of subtle shadings distinguish the victories, but most of them boil down to, in the immortal words of Laurentius MacPocketfisherman Beta, "bittin' up the oder guy sumpfin ferce."
Humans and jhess
After the DAWARI finalized the rules of jhess, they bruited it about the international media that they had a game that no human could beat and invited all-comers to test their words. Hundreds of humans gamesters tried and lost, forfeiting 2304982 percentages of body mass in the process. (Robot records are precise in all matters, but the author feels that our synthetic friends brought an unseemly glee to the tracking of this particular statistic.)
100 of those percentages belonged to one Hughie Barrone, a Tacoma guitar pick magnate and virulent anti-roboticist; another 9900 were levied from his family in consequence of his careless use of the Ramper. The Barrones swore that they would bring the robots low on the jhess field, and thereafter they devoted their energies, their fortunes, and their children to vengeance
The Barrone training/breeding program was an early adopter of the Typhon Casque. Depending on how you trace the chronology of that damned invention, theirs was the first, third, last, or negative seleventh successful use of the Casque at an industrial scale. After eighty-six years of labor (approximately 2150 Casque years), they produced Hugh Vindication Barrone LXXXV, a jhess grandmaster from the womb.
His best-out-of-five matchup against the reigning world champion, Adonisia R. Moxon, was the stuff of legend and poetry. Perhaps you've seen Karl Korvid's painting of the first game: Adonisia, a slim cobalt robot mantled in the welded forfeits of a thousand thousand losers, startled into respect as Hugh LXXXV, a one meter cube of flesh studded with mica-like flecks of violet keratin, sends his Hapharp and Thomas pieces crashing into the enemy formation with a careless wave of a magnoprosth.
Hugh LXXXV took the first game, Adonisia the second. They tied the third, achieved an unspeakably rare double stalemate on the fourth, and eloped to Nunavut before the fifth. Their daughter, Huguese Reconciliation Moxon-Barrone, is an accomplished classical rock musician, intraglobally honored for her McGuinn interpretations.