Mastery: A Game of Skill for Two Players by S. John Ross

Mastery is a strategy game plucked from a fantasy world (see Background Notes). I maintain a modest Mastery Mailing List, and if you want to play Mastery against opponents around the world please visit Super Duper Games, a free website providing turn-based strategy gaming at your own pace (with a large choice of games). Some time ago, the very-groovy Armin Sykes made a Windows Game for playing Mastery in real-time over the 'net. I recommend snagging it; it's still a great way to practice your moves and learn the game, though apparently it has difficulty with modern net connections due to technical concerns beyond my understanding.

Board and Pieces

The Mastery playing field is an ordinary checkerboard (an 8x8 grid). Each side consists of thirteen pieces: three Masters, four Officers, and six Pawns. Each side's pieces should be easily distinguishable by color. A Mastery set can be built easily by scavenging the pieces from two identical chess sets, using Rooks for Masters, Knights for Officers, and Pawns for Pawns.

Imperial Board


Draume Crown Board

Diagram A There are two possible setups, shown in these diagrams. The first setup is traditional - the "lock" or "imperial" board, with both sides closely tangled and ready to fight. The second setup is the "Draume Crown" board, which provides a less immediate conflict, and a more subtle opening game.
Diagram B: Draume Crown Board

The Game's Object

  • There are two ways to win. If either player ever loses (A) all three of its Masters, or (B) all of it's Officers and Pawns, leaving nothing but one or more Masters, that player has lost, and the game is over. Either side may also resign the game to his opponent.
  • There are no conditions for a draw in Mastery according to the game's formal laws, but many "house rules" exist for determining draw conditions.

The Turn

Each player acts in turn, with the darker-colored side moving first. On his turn, a player must do one of three things: Move, Capture, or Control.


All pieces must move in straight, unobstructed lines to their destination. No piece can jump over another.

Masters may move in any single orthogonal direction (up, down, left, right), up to three squares. See the diagram to the right.. The Master M may move to any X shown, provided that the path is unobstructed. Masters may never move diagonally.

Master Movement

Officer Movement

Officers may move in any single orthogonal direction as well, up to two squares. See the diagram to the left, in the lower right corner. The Officer O may move to any X shown, provided the path is unobstructed. Officers may never move diagonally. (for the bit about Z, keep reading).
Pawns may move only one square, but it can be to any unoccupied adjacent square, including diagonally adjacent ones. Pawns are the only piece capable of diagonal movement. See the diagram to the right. The Pawn P may move to any X shown, provided the square is unoccupied.

The double-x squares XX represent the movement treacherous pawns are capable of (see below).

Pawn Movement


  • Capture in Mastery is comparable to capture in Chess. That is to say, it's identical to a Move, except that the destination square contains an enemy piece, which is removed from the board. The path toward the enemy piece must still be unobstructed.
  • Rank plays no part in capture. Any ally piece can capture any enemy piece, and vice versa.
    Ally pieces may not be captured by one another, except by Masters. Masters may "devour" ally Officers or Pawns if desired.
  • Whenever an enemy Officer or Master is captured, the capturing player may immediately return one of his own captured pieces to play. The "resurrected" piece may be placed in any unoccupied space on the board. The resurrected piece must be of a lower rank than the piece that was captured: capturing a Master will allow the resurrection of an Officer or Pawn (player's choice); capturing an Officer will allow the resurrection of a Pawn only. If no eligible captured pieces are available, this benefit is lost. Masters, once captured, may never be resurrected by any means.
  • Masters "devouring" ally pieces do not trigger resurrections at all.


When making a Move or Capture, players must move one of their own pieces. When making a Control play, however, players must move one of the enemy's pieces. When a piece is moved by an enemy, it is referred to as a treacherous piece. For the duration of a Control move, the treacherous piece is considered to be of it's opposite color, and follows the normal rules for movement and/or capture. Thus, a Control play will be either a Move or a Capture, using an enemy piece as if it were your own.

Controllable Pieces

Only those enemy pieces sitting in the Zone of Control of one of your ally pieces may be controlled. Furthermore, pieces only exert control over pieces of lower rank: Masters may exert control over Officers and Pawns; Officers may exert control over Pawns only, and Pawns exert no control at all.

Officer Zone of Control

The Zone of Control Z for an Officer O extends to all adjacent squares, both orthogonally and diagonally. Any enemy Pawn in the Officer's ZOC may be controlled. See the diagram to the left, in the upper left corner.
The Zone of Control Z for Masters M is a diamond shaped pattern surrounding the Master. See the diagram to the right. Any enemy Pawn or Officer in the Master's ZOC may be controlled. Note that the four orthogonally adjacent squares are not part of the Master's ZOC! An enemy piece may sit in these "blind spots" without any risk of being controlled.

Master Zone of Control

Treacherous Pawn Movement

Treacherous Pawns

Officers under enemy control gain no special powers: they're just Officers, with no additional rules. Pawns, on the other hand, are more powerful in the hands of the enemy! A treacherous pawn may move up to three squares in any single direction, instead of just one, to either move or capture.

The Reflection Rule

  • The reflection rule is as follows: No piece may be moved to the square that it occupied on the turn immediately previous.
  • This means that if the Blue player moves a pawn on his turn (Turn 1), and the pawn lands in the Zone of Control of an enemy officer, the Red player may NOT, on his turn (Turn 2) make a Control move to return the blue pawn to the square it came from. On Blue's next turn, however (Turn 3), that pawn may be moved anywhere, since Turn 1 is no longer "the turn immediately previous." Also, on Turn 2, red may opt to make a Control move to move the offending pawn elsewhere - just not to the square it occupied at the beginning of Turn 1.
  • The rule works in both directions. Had Red begun by controlling the Blue pawn, the Blue player could not immediately "reflect it back." He could move it someplace else, or wait another turn to return it to the spot where he wanted it (assuming it survives that long).

The Lost Power Rule

Whenever either side loses either all six Pawns, or all four Officers, it loses the power to make Control moves. This remains in effect for as long as that side is completely without either Pawns or Officers.


Background and Notes

I designed the original Mastery in 1990 in a fit of abstract-strategy madness. I'd decided that my fantasy game-world needed more unique games. I could never wrap my brain around chess, and the idea of my Wise Old Wizards and Sinister Emperors sitting around playing chess bothered me; I wanted them to have a game of their very own.

I had already devised one of the world's popular card-games - called Centaur - and a children's boardgame called Capstones. I sat down determined to make the adult strategy game to accompany tem, and this is the result, evolved through several years of playtest with friends, most notably Ron Wiltshire. For a stretch, Ron played several games a night with me, on a heavy marble chessboard. He was, alas, many times better at the game than I was! These days, Ron and I are both married and live in different states, but the game wouldn't exist in any kind of polished form without him.

Another thing that wouldn't be the same without those gaming days is Uresia: Grave of Heaven, the fantasy world that descended in large part from the campaigns of those years (Ron knew the original Fhario, for example, and for that matter Ron's character was born in the original kingdom - rather than world - of Uresia)! In 2000, when I was drafting the original edition, Mastery was included ... but I was a little gun-shy about it, since (at the time) it would have meant selling the rights to Mastery to another game publisher, when I was already enjoying having it on the site. I also wasn't sure if it would cause any kind of legal difficulties with Armin's software if I did that, so with regrets, I omitted Mastery from the submission drafts (it probably would have run up against space limitations, anyway).

In 2005, I approached Guardians of Order looking to buy the rights to Uresia, and Mark made me an offer we could both afford. With Uresia back home, I began outlining what I'd do in a new Cumberland edition, and - of course - I put Mastery back in.

In 2006, I formally began working on the new Uresia edition, and decided that I'd update the Mastery page and so on as part of a general release blitz. To my surprise, however, Super Duper Games contacted me and asked permission to include Mastery in their lineup of web-playable games. They're a friendly free site, so I happily agreed and that gave me an excuse to update a little early ... But there's still more to come (including a Uresia-style graphic update to this page) when Uresia 2nd comes along, so stay tuned!

Click here for a more Printer-Friendly Version of the rules. If you have any comments or questions about the game, be sure and drop me a line! To learn more about Uresia, visit Blue Lamp Road.

Copyright © 1998, 2002, 2006 by S. John Ross. All Rights Reserved.
"Mastery", "Draume" and "Draume Crown" are trademarks of S. John Ross.


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