Chinese Chess (Xiangqi) vs. Chess: Which Game to Choose?

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If you are looking for a new game to play with a friend or a partner, then there are of course plenty of awesome two-player games out there and moreover, there are some really awesome strategy games too. Two of the best two-player strategy games that we want to take a look at today include Chinese chess, Xiangqi, and chess.

Let’s compare Western chess and Chinese chess to figure out which one is best for you.

Chinese Chess (Xiangqi) and Chess: The Basics

Before we start comparing these two types of chess, let’s first figure out what both of them are.

What Is Chess?

Chess Chess is a very strategy-heavy board game designed for two people that is played on an 8 x 8 checkerboard. Each player has 16 pieces that move in various manners, with the end goal being to capture the opponent’s king via checkmate.

What Is Chinese Chess (Xiangqi)?

Chinese Chess Chinese chess, also known as elephant chess, is a fairly difficult strategy board game that is played on a 9 x 10 grid and is designed for two people. The game is intended to simulate a battle between two armies, with the end goal being for one player to capture the other’s king via checkmate.

In terms of the style of play and the theme, it is indeed very similar to Western chess. Yes, the pieces look different, they move differently, and Chinese chess appears to be a bit more complex too, but that said, they are still very similar types of games.

Similarities of Chinese Chess and Chess

Now that we know what both chess and Chinese chess are, let’s figure out what makes them similar to each other.

1. Both Are Two-Player Games

One of the most basic similarities between both of these types of chess is that they are strictly two-player games. Unless you were to play with teams of two, which is extremely uncommon, there is really no way to play with more than two players.

2. Both Are Very Strategy Heavy

Yet another very basic similarity that both of these types of chess share is that they are extremely strategy-heavy. Most people would say that both games are fairly difficult. Although one is probably a bit harder than the other. The bottom line here is that unlike many other games out there, such as card games or dice rolling games, there is absolutely no luck or chance involved here. Whether you win or lose has 100% to do with the strategy that you use to play the games with.

These are games that require quite a bit of brainpower.

3. Both Are Designed to Simulate War

As can be seen from the boards and the pieces themselves, both of these games are technically designed to mimic war. In the beginning, both games were created to aid soldiers and officers in creating divisive battle plans and strategies. These games are designed to help soldiers and officers practice their battle tactics. Now, it might not be as complex as an actual battle, but these games are designed to stimulate critical thinking and strategic theorizing.

4. Both Can Take a Long Time

Sure, these games can sometimes only take a few minutes to play, but with that being said, Chinese chess and chess may take well over an hour for a single game to be finished. Of course, this is going to depend on the skill level of the players involved.

5. Both Games Are Won in the Same Way

Perhaps the biggest similarity that these two games share is that they are both won in the same way. A player wins both games when the king of the opponent has been checkmated.

Chinese Chess (Xiangqi) vs. Chess

Differences Between Chinese Chess and Chess

Now that we know what makes chess and Chinese stress similar to one another, let’s figure out what the differences between them are.

1. Board

One big difference between these two games has to do with the board itself. In Western chess, the board takes the shape of a 64 square grid that consists of eight by eight squares. The squares are all either black or white, and they alternate in color. On the other hand, a Chinese chess board features a 9 by 10 grid, and it all looks a bit different too, especially thanks to the “river” in the middle of the board that divides the two halves from each other.

2. Where Pieces Are Played

Another fundamental difference between these two games is that in chess, pieces are played on the squares, whereas in Chinese chess the pieces are played on the intersections.

3. Differences with Piece Promotions

In Western chess, the pieces known as pawns can be promoted into queens when they reach the far end of the board, or in other words, the squares closest to your opponent. Now, most people will choose to promote their pawns into queens, but with that being said, they can also be promoted to rooks, bishops, and knights.

In Chinese chess, although technically speaking there are no pieces that can be promoted, one type of peace in the soldier can begin to move sideways once it crosses the river in the middle.

4. Differing Pieces and Movements

Now we aren’t about to start listing all of the different game pieces that come with both games, but with that being said, there are differences in the pieces, and moreover, there are also differences in the movement of the pieces. Generally speaking, chess pieces are much freer to move as they choose,  whereas pieces in Chinese chess are extremely limited in terms of movement. The fact that the Chinese chess pieces are all flat, and are only differentiated with Chinese writing, also makes things a bit difficult.

5. Importance of the King

In Western chess, the king plays a fairly large role and is free to move around the board as he sees fit. On the other hand, in Chinese chess, the king is relegated to just a few squares and cannot move outside of a specific boundary. In normal chess, the king can actually do a whole lot, whereas in Chinese chess he is more or less just a hostage that you need to protect.

6. Board Positions and Overall Difficulty

The other difference here is that in chess, there are 10^120 possible games whereas in Chinese chess, there are 10^150 ways a single game can be played. At the end of the day, Chinese chess is a lot more complex.

Chinese Chess vs. Chess: Which Game to Choose?

Both chess and Chinese chess are fantastic strategy games to play. Due to their similarities, we think that they’re both more than ideal for two people who love strategy games. That said, Chinese chess is the harder of the two, so if you have never played either of them, you should probably start with regular chess.


Now that you know what the similarities and differences between Western chess and Chinese chess are, you can make an informed decision between the two.