Building A Better Chess Set

Chess is a great game that offers intellectual challenge to kids and adults alike.  Studies have shown that kids who play chess experience a significant increase in cognitive development as well as improved test scores.  On top of that, it’s just plain fun.  I decided, recently, that my kids — at least the older two — needed to learn to play.  But, of course, I can never do things the normal way.  I had to have a chess set that was unique and would capture their imagination.


Now, if you’re just learning to play chess, you don’t need to spend a lot on a set; you can purchase an inexpensive plastic chess set for a few dollars or just make one out of paper.  Of course, you can spend many hundreds of dollars on some very nice sets — and may want to if your kids really get into the game.  But what if you want something in between — something nice and interesting but without spending an excessive amount of money?

There are plenty of fanciful chess sets available, from the Simpsons to Star Trek, from Harry Potter to Hello Kitty.  You can get giant chess sets for either indoor or outdoor use.  If you’re handy with woodworking tools, you can carve your own set, but even if you’re not, you can still make your own chess set.

Salt-and-pepper chess sets have been around since I was a boy and aren’t too expensive if you have a good discount restaurant supply store — or a good thrift shop — nearby.  I must admit I thought about this, but ultimately decided that it wouldn’t be as cool to my kids as it would be to me.  A couple of nuts-and-bolts sets have cropped up lately and, again, I thought about these, but ultimately decided against them for basically the same reason — my kids wouldn’t be that into it.

So I started thinking about what my kids were into and I think I’ve found the perfect medium for a kid’s chess set: LEGO.  Naturally, my first step was to hit the internet for inspiration but, surprisingly, found very little.  I came across a giant chess robot made with the LEGO Mindstorms system and a tiny 1×1 set where each square on the miniscule board is one single stud.  While very clever, the latter has got to be unplayable for someone as fumble-fingered as I am.  LEGO has sold some chess sets, of course, but they consist of themed “minifigs” — the little LEGO people.  That wasn’t what I was looking for at all.  So I designed my own set.

  • The LEGO chess set -- The black pieces

    The LEGO chess set -- The black pieces

    The complete set of black pieces, arranged as they would be on the chess board.

  • The LEGO chess set -- The white pieces

    The LEGO chess set -- The white pieces

    The complete set of white pieces, arranged as they would be on the chess board.

  • Sample Chess Pieces - Black

    Sample Chess Pieces - Black

    One each of the black pieces

  • Sample Chess Pieces - White

    Sample Chess Pieces - White

    One each of the white pieces

  • The LEGO chess set -- The Two Kings

    The LEGO chess set -- The Two Kings

    The two kings

  • The LEGO chess set -- The Two Queens

    The LEGO chess set -- The Two Queens

    The two queens

  • The LEGO chess set -- Two Bishops

    The LEGO chess set -- Two Bishops

    One white and one black bishop

  • The LEGO chess set -- Two Knights

    The LEGO chess set -- Two Knights

    One white and one black knight

  • The LEGO chess set -- Two Rooks

    The LEGO chess set -- Two Rooks

    One white and one black rook

  • The LEGO chess set -- Two Black Pawns

    The LEGO chess set -- Two Black Pawns

    Two black pawns

  • The LEGO chess set -- Two White Pawns

    The LEGO chess set -- Two White Pawns

    Two white pawns

Each piece is built on a base four studs by four studs (or 4×4 in LEGO parlance) and the set ranges from 5-2/3 bricks high for the pawns to 10 bricks high for the king.  The set is black and white with dark gray accents; I had originally considered other color combinations, but some of the pieces are outrageously expensive or simply unavailable in certain colors.  After I put it together, refining the design as I went, I found someone else who had built a true LEGO chess set and is selling them on Etsy for nearly $1200, way out of my price range.

In the end, I think my set turned out pretty nice — nicer, even, than the $1200 set, to be honest.  If you’re interested in building a set, go for it — make the pieces however they make sense to you.  Start by sketching out your pieces on paper, using the free LEGO Digital Designer software, or just dive in and start building them.  If you need pieces you don’t have, you can order just about any LEGO piece ever made from Bricklink.com.  Most importantly, though, have fun with it.

Note: If you like the set I designed, I plan to publish instructions on how to build it along with a parts list in the near future.  If you’re really desperate to have a set, (or want one to give as a gift,) I went a little overboard buying parts while designing it and now have a couple of extra sets.  I am making them available for $125 each.  If you’re interested, just hit the “Contact” link in the upper right.

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