New Cold War

The metaphor of the “cold war” encourages us to imagine that the world is easily divided into opposing forces, black and white. Throughout the “old” Cold War, chess was an important part of diplomacy, competition and strategy on “both sides” of the “Iron Curtain.” The idea of a “New” Cold War risks inviting us back into an old, simplified way of seeing things.

In our game “New Cold War Chess”, we take the classic game of chess, but complicate it to show that, especially today, things are more complex than “black and white,” good versus evil. And it is possible to choose to play not for one side or the other, but neither. 

To the standard chess game (which can be played by humans or computers) we add two more players: yellow and purple. Their task is to use “event cards” to interrupt the standard game and try and convert pawns to their colours.

The objective of yellow and purple is to convert enough pawns that they can “eliminate” all the black and white players’ back-row “power pieces” and surround the two kings with the purple and yellow pawns.

The purple and yellow players do this by drawing and playing “event cards” that represent unexpected, unforeseen or grassroots challenges and crises that disrupt the typically black/white game: environmental events, popular protests, cultural activism and more. Meanwhile, Black and White are not only fighting one another, they also try and recapture or neutralize purple and yellow.


The game begins as normal. Yellow and Purple are seated at right angles to Black and White, and play passes clockwise. White and Black play chess as normal; inbetween their turns, Purple and Yellow draw a card from the deck to their hand (they may have a limit of three cards in their hands at any time) and either

  • play  a card from their hand to affect the game; or
  • move a yellow or purple pawn in any direction one space, capturing any other piece onto whose space they move (in the same way a King moves in a standard game of chess.

The game ends one of four ways:   

  • White or black wins by checkmating the opposite king.
  • Yellow and Purple win together by eliminating all the “back row” white and black pieces and  surrounding both kings with pawns.
  • Stalemate 

Other notes on rules

  • The bishops are spreading propaganda, so as well as eating the opposite pieces, they can convert purple and yellow pawns to black or white.

Sample cards


A nuclear arms race leads to reckless development of reactors. A meltdown causes a serious disaster.

Roll two 8-sided dice to locate a square on the board. Whatever piece is there is removed from play (unless it is a king, which moves one space away). Place a token on that square: no piece can move there for the rest of the game.


Both kings implement a year of military service.

Yellow and purple pawns become black or white for 4 rounds.


Neither side of the New Cold War is able to suggest a convincing future, its followers are stribing for. So people are not so eager anymore to perpetuate the Cold War.

Black and White skip their turns. Yellow and Purple can make 1 move together, and should negotiate what move that will be.


Proxy wars between superpowers lead to a massive flight of refugees.

All  pieces on the edge of the board cannot be moved for three turns.


Media and activist group leak confidential information into the regards of ruling elites and military-industrial complex, that makes them vulnarable in front of media and public opinion.

The King and The Queen cannot move next round. 


There is a flood.

Role 2 8-sided dice to decide the centre of the flooded area, the flooded area is 9 squares in total, and none of the pieces in that area can move for 2 rounds.


Despite the efforts of the media and the states’ propagandas, the population is not interested in the New Cold War agenda anymore. They are more preoccupied with another Met Gala outfit scandal and search for academic quotes for memes.

The next move of Black and White won’t affect the game. The Black and White close the eyes (have they screens shwitched off) while Yellow and Purple make their moves.


A military agent starts working against their own side.

Switch a black pawn for a white one (or vice-versa), keep rolling two 8 sided dice until it lands on a pawn to decide which pawn is affected.

Credits for “New Cold War Chess”: Olia Sosnovskaya, Lara Luna Bartley, Max Haiven, Aleksei Borisionok.

The ‘New Cold War’ workshop consisted of: Aleksei Borisionak, Lara Luna Bartley, Max Haiven, Ela Kagel, Andrea Liu, Greg McLaughlin, and Olia Sosnovskaya.

This project was conceived at the Berliner Gazette’s annual conference 2021 entitled BLACK BOX EAST.

All text and images: Creative Commons License 4.0 (CC-BY 4.0).

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