CIPC #242: Lego chess sets box covers

I can imagine Nintendo disappearing. I can imagine Hot Wheels disappearing. But I can not image Lego disappearing. The ingenious connecting system, the sturdy material, and the simple, modular pieces allow for limitless possibilities of combining and recombining to your heart’s content. You can make whatever you want from Lego. So naturally, you make a chess board and pieces. The Lego company has pre-emptively released a couple of sets just to satisfy the obvious demand for a Lego chessboard and pieces. For these sets, they had to come up with box art. For some of them, they just put the pieces in their starting positions. For others, they got a little more creative. That’s where I come in.

Set #40174

Our first subject is a set which was released in 2017, under the rather uninspired name Iconic chess set. The front of the box shows the pieces set up in the starting position which, if rather bland, is perfectly sensible. But on the back of the box — which the official Lego site is suspiciously coy about — you can see the pieces in action.

The reconstruction of the position posed no problems whatsoever. Here it is:1

This is nothing to be coy about. Admittedly, the back bishop on h3 looks weird, but this doesn’t look too bad at all. Okay, black seems to have played a Benoni, but that does actually happen, even among good players.

Realism: 4/5 It’s just that bishop that annoys me. Why was it not taken when it landed on h3? Was the white rook perhaps on e1? Why did the knight end up on g4? Many questions, all because of a silly bishop. That’s how schisms start.

Probable winner: White has sacrificed a pawn, but the bishop on h3 is en prise and white’s pieces are all looking very threateningly at the black king. The black major pieces seems to have lost their way and are stuck on the queen’s side. If white is to move, he can win easily, for example by simply capturing the h3 bishop. If it is black to move, which looks more likely, he might be able to save his skin by taking on g4 and hurrying his rook back to f8. In this case, the game seems to be balanced.

Set #40158

In this 2015 set, the LEGO company has tried quite a different tack. Instead of approximations of the standard, abstract pieces, they used figures2 and strange, vaguely martial contraptions. Instead of showing the starting position on the front and a more or less reasonable position, they have opted for a wrong set up (with a1 a white square) and full frontal weirdness.

I’m not going to bother giving a reconstruction of the position, as only two halve moves seem to be played: white apparently started with 1. c3  and black answered 1. … b6.

Realism: 5/5 The position on the board — modulo the rotation of the board – has appeared twelve times in the lichess database.

Probable winner: Who knows? Both player have started unconventionally, but not terribly.

Set #852293

Our third subject for today is a set from 2008 in the Lego castle range. It is much like the previous one with a little bit of the first sprinkled in: the pieces are figures and they decided to go for complete and utter weirdness, but they did make h1 a white square.

Again I will not invest time in making a diagram, because only a few moves have been played. Of course, I don’t know the order of the moves, but it seems like the game went something like 1. g3 e5 — everything normal so far — 2. Na3 — that’s less normal — h6 — that’s just bizarre3 — 3. Nc4. Probably the designers of the set were trying to evoke the legend of Orlando Furioso.

Realism: 4/5 I can see some very beginning players get this on the board, but I know no actual example.

Probable winner: Impossible to tell. We’re only a couple of moves in and both players have been doing weird things. God knows what they will still do.

1. [When it comes to diagrams, I’ve got you covered like a Lego box.]
2. [Thereby giving the original meaning back to the term ‘chessmen’.]
3. [Or something that Nakamura might play.]