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Chess has chugged along for the last 1,400 years as a one-on-one contest of rigorous study, Spartan discipline and iron will. Now an ethereal Episcopal priest and a horticulturalist hung up on bees have decided to jiggle around with a good thing. They've devised a hexagonal chess game for up to six players.

Inspired by the six-sided honeycomb, Talbot Uehlinger, the horticulturalist, was trying to design a more efficient planting pattern for berry bushes and trees. Last year, while playing chess in the kitchen of his friend, the Rev. William Glazier, he decided to use one of his diagrams as the board. The result was Chexxmate, which combines the logic and probabilities of chess with the cutthroat cunning of bridge.

As for Glazier, a practicing metaphysician who runs the MANNA (Mankind's New Age) Center, a self-styled "planetary healing organization" in Woodstock, Conn., he delights in posing the question, "How much space does an ant take?" and hopes Chexxmate will somehow foster universal brotherhood.

Each side in Chexxmate has nine pawns instead of the traditional eight. By pointing a wooden toothpick on which the pawn is impaled, you can move the pawn onto any one of six surrounding hexagonal spaces. Pawns can become queens when they reach the coveted red center space, which Glazier aptly calls the "bloody throne" because so much royalty perishes there.

Glazier and Uehlinger are marketing Chexxmate through the Gene-Sys Company in Woodstock (sets range in price from $29.95 to $49). They've already developed nearly a dozen variations on the basic game, including Megachexx, which allows a player to combine pieces from two or three sets with a single king; and Booby Trap Chexx, in which a clandestine secret-agent pawn "explodes" when taken, destroying its captor. They have also created Orbital Chexx, in which pieces can disappear—"into spherical space like an environment whose circumference is everywhere and whose center is nowhere," says Glazier—before turning up on another side of the board.