In its primary form, the Open game, klin zha is played on a triangular board divided into triangular spaces, nine per side. In 3D variants, there are nine levels forming a triangular pyramid, with progressively fewer spaces per side.
Klin zha is a contest between two players, whose pieces are classically colored green and gold, respectively. Each side has nine pieces: a Fencer, a Lancer, a Swift, three Vanguards, two Fliers, and one Blockader. The Blockader cannot be eliminated (except in klin zha kinta). The players compete for possession of the Goal, a neutral piece, and the game ends when one player can no longer attempt to take or hold the Goal. If a player holds the Goal, he cannot knowingly place it in jeopardy.
In addition to the Open game, klin zha has numerous variants:
- 3-dimensional, described above, which can be combined with other variants;
- Ablative, where once a piece leaves a space, the space itself is eliminated: no other piece can enter that space for the rest of the game (this was traditionally accomplished with a specialized board whose spaces could be punched out into a tray below as each space was eliminated). This variant is also commonly combined with other variations.
- Blind, where players can only see their own pieces, not those of their opponent, until two occupy the same space.
- Clouded, similar to Blind, but with only some areas obscured, not the entire board.
- Klin zha kinta, "the game with live pieces". Living combatants are equipped in accordance with the piece they play, and move as directed by the klin zha players. Pieces are eliminated as they are incapacitated (by unconciousness, immobilization, or death).
- Reflective: in the Reflective Game, there is only one set of pieces, which belong to each klin zha player in turn. Since your forces are also your opponent's forces, it is considered the most difficult form of the game. The "final reflection" is the endgame of reflective klin zha.
Skill at klin zha is greatly respected in some circles of Klingon society. (Of course, there are some other circles that have no interest and disdain such games as childish trivialities.)
Klin zha in the Federation
- Doctor Emanuel Tagore, the first Federation Ambassador to the Klingon Empire was known as a respectable klin zha player.
- Federation President Nanietta Bacco was offered klin zha lessons by Klingon ambassador K'mtok, after he learned not to underestimate her.