839: Explorers

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We're going to have to work together to get over our hangups if we're going to learn to move on Catan's hexagonal grid. It's bad enough that we lost our crew of pawns when we passed within firing range of Battleship.
Title text: We're going to have to work together to get over our hangups if we're going to learn to move on Catan's hexagonal grid. It's bad enough that we lost our crew of pawns when we passed within firing range of Battleship.


This comic blends board games such as chess, The Settlers of Catan, and Battleship, with exploration, making possible references to space exploration and the Age of Discovery.

The typical representation of explorers has them travel from their homeland aboard a ship to unknown distant places. The travel can get very long, implying the need for food supplies on the ship; and the fact that the crew members have to live together with little room (the ship) for such a long time, with possibilities of failure, getting lost or dying for various reasons, can often lead to tensions between some of them. In the Age of Exploration the explorers were mainly sailors from Europe traveling on the sea to other continents, whereas in space exploration they are astronauts or robots from Earth traveling in space to other planets (or whatever celestial bodies), but the general concepts of exploration remain the same.

Here the explorers are two chess pieces, a knight and a bishop; they have left their "home board", presumably a full 8x8 chess board, aboard a smaller "capsule" made of a small 3x3 chess board in motion. It appears to be flying through space with some kind of miniature rocket-thruster located beneath each corner of the board, trailing exhaust gas/smoke, but the drawing is somewhat ambiguous and it could be floating in water with corner nascelles providing thrust, if it weren't for the conspicuous lack of ripples, or rolling along a flat surface with wheels leaving a residue. They are apparently headed for a Settlers of Catan board, and already passed near a Battleship board, so these game boards are like islands or regions which the chess pieces explore, coming from a chess board.

Ba3, Nc3 and Ke5 are the identification of chess pieces and their respective position: Ba3 is a bishop on the A3 square, Nc3 a knight on the C3 square, and Ke5 a king on the E5 square. Chess is pretty much a representation of the structure of medieval European society (with the king and queen being the most crucial pieces, the bishops representing the somewhat powerful clergy, the knights corresponding to the armies, the rook alluding the castles, and the pawns being, as the medieval working classes, the most numerous and disposable assets); so chess pieces exploring other places, approaching the "coast of Catan", and reporting to the king ("calling Ke5"), is reminiscent of explorers from Europe who under their king's jurisdiction set sail to other continents during the Age of Exploration.

The explorers are communicating with a "mission control", which is common in space exploration. Also, an "ETA" is an estimated time of arrival.

In chess, the knight and the bishop have different move constraints. The knight can only move two squares horizontally and one square vertically, or two vertically and one horizontally, so on the capsule the knight explorer can only go from one corner square to a black square, or vice-versa. The bishop can only move diagonally, so this bishop is bound to move only on the white squares. The knight is also the only piece that can "jump" over other pieces, which seems to annoy the bishop, hence the "hopping around"; apparently the bishop put all the food onto the middle square, which the knight can't reach, because the knight was taunting him about his not being able to get onto a black square.

The two pieces are from the opposite chess camps (one black and the other white). This can be a reference to multinational space mission crews, where formerly opponent nations joined their efforts on space missions. But in chess it also means they can capture each other, by getting on the square where the other stands. Here, with the chess turn-by-turn gameplay, the knight won't be able to capture the bishop (except of course in case of error or dumb move), since the bishop will always be able to escape, whereas the bishop is actually one or two moves away from capturing the knight. So saying that he's "this close" to capturing him is a play on words, he is "this close" as in a few moves away, as well as "this close" as in severely annoyed and about to act on it.

Assuming it’s the bishop’s turn this capture could be accomplished by the Bishop moving to C1, there after the knight would be forced to move to either A2 or B1. The Bishop then moves to B2. The knight then must move to C1 or C3 if it moved to A2, or A3 or C3 if it moved to B1 – all valid positions from which the Bishop could capture. If it’s the knights turn, the situation is the same except the Bishop would simply move to B2 regardless of the knight move. Although if there are other pieces, they may simply just not move on a black square.

Finally, the title text adds two jokes. The Settlers of Catan board has an hexagonal grid, which means the chess pieces will have difficulty to move on it, since they are used to moving on a square grid (though luckily, there do exist hexagonal variations of chess). This can draw a parallel with explorers facing, in distant lands, weather conditions, wild animals, atmosphere or whatever condition, to which they are not used at all in their homeland. Battleship is a game where players send shots on the opponent's board, which is why the chess capsule received shots when it passed within firing range of a Battleship board; in pure chess style, it's the pawns of the crew, the least valuable and most disposable chess pieces, who took the shots. It could also be a reference to the en passant chess move, where, under certain conditions, a pawn can be captured after having "passed within firing range" (so to speak) of an enemy pawn; this could explain why only the pawns were lost in passing Battleship.


[A black bishop, Ba3, and a white knight, Nc3, are on a three by three chessboard. Both are on white squares. There is a heap of supplies at b2, also a white square. The chessboard is mounted on rockets and appears to be flying through the air.]
Ba3: Mission Control, come in. This is Ba3 on the capsule calling Ke5 on the home board. We're on track and approaching the Coast of Catan. Our ETA is—
Nc3: Control, this is Nc3. Bishop put all our food in the center so I can't get it. I demand—
Ba3: Control, knight will get his food back when he stops hopping around bragging about how comfy the black squares are. I swear to God, I'm this close to capturing him and completing the misson alone.


  • There is a misspelling of mission in the last sentence:
    • ...and completing the misson alone.
  • The fact that the black King is located on e5 suggests that the chess game back on the home board is in the endgame phase, where there are few pieces left on the board and the King becomes a valuable attacking piece. Since there are so few pieces and resources back at home, this comic may therefore be a nod to common movie plots such as that of Interstellar, where settlers are forced to flee to another world because of the depletion of the old.

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How is that ship flying in the first place? Wouldn't the pieces fall off? Davidy²²[talk] 09:59, 9 March 2013 (UTC)

Inertia The pieces are moving at the same speed as the board. You would need energy to slow it down. Search it up. It's everywhere on the web. 00:54, 29 December 2016 (UTC)

Magnetic Chess :-) 03:23, 24 March 2013 (UTC)

Is the mini board really floating? It looked to me like it was adrift in sea. I think I might make some edits.

I think the board is actually rolling on casters. If you look closely you can see a small round circle by each corner. I've edited it a bit. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
In the original transcript, it notes that it's mounted on rockets. WriterArtistCoder 02:06, 11 May 2020 (UTC)

This comic actually has a common error by non-chess players using chess positions: a1, and by extension a3 and c3, are dark squares. h1 is supposed to be the light-squared corner. 06:50, 4 May 2013 (UTC)

Unless, of course, the positions are relative to their small board, where al corners are white and hence numbering has to start on a white square 17:41, 16 April 2014 (UTC)

It looks like there are wheels in the corners. 16:25, 22 May 2013 (UTC)

The loose 3x3 board is from a Classic Star Trek 3-D chess set. The little pegs on the corners are used to secure the board in different places around the game. 02:03, 11 August 2013 (UTC)

No, it's not. The Star Trek 3D chess consists of 3 stationary 4x4's and 4 mobile 2x2's. -- 02:25, 22 March 2014 (UTC)

Make of it what you will, but I just realized that the robber in Catan looks a lot like a black bishop.... 14:27, 3 May 2014 (UTC)

There's a typo in the comic. It says "misson" instead of "mission". 04:55, 13 June 2014 (UTC)

and I just adjusted the transcript to reflect that Just some random derp 05:08, 30 June 2015 (UTC)

The black bishop and the "completing the mission alone" might be a reference to the robber from Catan, who looks very similar in the original edition. 09:14, 16 September 2019 (UTC)

On a 3x3 board, in at most 2 moves any pawn would be promoted, almost certainly to queen. The bishop and knight may have deliberately approached Battleship in order to avoid being outranked. Nitpicking (talk) 10:55, 7 September 2021 (UTC)

The bishop isn't any closer to capturing the knight than the knight is to capturing the bishop. Sure, the bishop can move away if the knight tries to capture it, but similarly the knight can move away if the bishop tries to capture it. So I think the explanation needs to be changed. 21:57, 7 July 2023 (UTC)

Our intrepid explorers might be interested in this video: [1] Szeth Pancakes (talk) 04:34, 9 December 2023 (UTC)