So, we recently covered The Queen’s Gambit, the hottest Netflix series of the year. I expressed confidence, contrary to other assumptions, that chess popularity is alive and well within geek culture; we just don’t talk about it as much. Well, that’s certainly changed! The show has created buzz around the gamer community we haven’t seen for a board game since Google DeepMind cracked Go.
For those of you just picking up renewed interest in the most classic board game ever invented, you’re in fantastic luck. If you’re in the market for a chess set, you don’t have to settle for the standard old boring set design. Pay homage to your geeky roots while you plot those brilliant plays on these exotic themed chess sets.
Super Mario Chess
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way. You can not ask for a more colorful chess set! This set makes the game positively psychedelic. Team Mario has Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Toadstool, and a set of mushroom pawns up against Team Koopa and his minions. So I can’t remember the name of each one, let’s see you do better? If you can, that just goes to show that this chess set was made for you! If you think a Super Mario chess set is a weird moment in the Mario universe, you ain’t seen nothing yet!
This one’s called “Battle for Middle Earth,” and it’s the last word in classy chess sets! Chess takes on a whole new dimension in this fantasy setting. This is also one of the most fitting themed sets. You’ll notice throughout Tolkien’s works that conflicts take the form of mental and spiritual battles more often than physical fights. On this board, Saruman and Galdalf vie to outwit each other, Golum and Frodo grapple with each other, Galadriel and the Nazgul wield their opposing influence, and Aragorn and Sauron face off. The sculpting on this set is lovingly detailed, sure to make a conversation piece even when you’re not playing.
Chess fits the theme of Batman, one of the most intellectual superhero comics ever conceived. The dark, brooding psychological themes of Batman, especially when squared off against his arch-nemesis the Joker, bespeak a conquest taking place in the mind before bodies ever meet. The way this board is designed, it looks just like the Joker setting yet another trap for Batman to think his way out of. Come to think of it, has there really never been any scene where Batman plays chess? There was one silly trap in Batman: The Animated Series, where Batman is on a life-size chessboard and has to hop like a knight to survive, but outside that I can’t recall.
Of course there’s a Star Wars chess set! Heck, we took awhile to pick one of them. This one is within reasonable price range, as opposed to the hand-carved pewter sets we’ve seen. The detail in this one is stunning as well, with Sith facing Jedi with lightsabers drawn, and Han Solo and Boba Fett each leaping into action with blasters out. The dark and light sides of The Force have never clashed like they have here!
At least you can say one practical thing came out of the merging of the enormous Marvel Cinematic Universe: It gave us enough characters for a full chess set. This set pits Team S.H.I.E.L.D. (Iron Man, Captain Marvel, Black Widow, Captain America, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Hulk, and Thor) against Team Hydra (Thanos, Hella, Kingpin, Red Skull, Killmonger, Venom, Loki, Ultron). Yes, it’s a bit of a stretch with this pecking order, but the pedestals keep the files straight. For True Believers only!
Of course, chess makes a great game for wizards, and for once we have an in-universe canon model to go by. Here again, the pieces are well-defined and beautifully sculpted. They just don’t get up and whack each other across the chops with their throne like in the movie. What did you expect for this price? In any case, there’s a few Harry Potter chess sets out there, we just went with this one because it’s less expensive. But if you feel up to a splurge, don’t let me stop you.
Bonus Section : If you like The Queen’s Gambit you might also like…
Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993) – Has a great performance by a well-cast Ben Kingsley. Not at all realistic to the real life Bobby Fischer, but a nice drama about a young chess prodigy who struggles with his own fame, competitive spirit, and need to balance life. It’s almost a companion piece to The Queen’s Gambit already.
The Seventh Seal (1957) – Probably the most famous use of chess in cinema, and certainly one of the first and most innovative. Playing chess against Death Himself raises the stakes just a teeny bit, with the Black Plague setting fitting in with our current pandemic times.
Blade Runner (1982) – Even though it’s a minor part of the story, there is the remote chess game ongoing between Tyrell and Sebastian, which even becomes a minor plot device. The game is a replica of a real-life international tournament that took place in 1851, called “the Immortal Game.” Even though this smacks perfectly with Blade Runner‘s themes, the producers insist this was an accident.
Black Butler (anime series) – The show uses many chess motifs for metaphors of character’s interplay, even if nobody sits down to an actual game. The manga illustrates conflict between characters with the occasional chess visual as well, just for chuckles.
Through the Looking-Glass (novel) – Nobody seems to remember this now, but Lewis Carroll wrote a sequel to Alice in Wonderland and something like half the book takes place in a chess-themed dream. Nowadays, people get passages from the two mixed up, even Disney. For instance, Tweedledum and Tweedledee were never in Alice in Wonderland, they were in the Looking Glass.