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When my oldest son was in Kindergarten, he started learning to play chess. We had some cheap sets around that worked, but I got to thinking about how I'd always wanted a nice set. Mind you, I'm not terribly good at the game, but I do enjoy playing. So I began looking at chess sets (nice ones are expensive!) and then thought about making one of my own. I'd always liked the salt-and-pepper sets I'd seen and the nuts-and-bolts sets are really cool (though I'm not really a fix-it kind of guy), but neither was what I really wanted. I thought about what was important to me -- my kids -- and what that meant.
All my kids love LEGO -- really, who doesn't? -- and it seemed a natural medium for putting together a chess set. I did some searching and found nothing I liked, so I designed my own.
Those who know me might laugh but, in a lot of ways, I'm rather conservative and traditional. So what appealed to me was a set inspired by the classic Staunton chess men. Over the course of about a year, I idly played with my kids' LEGO while working at home to come up with the chess pieces. I spent a lot of time -- and money -- on the independent BrickLink.com website looking for just the right pieces.
Eventually, I came up with a set I'm really proud of. And now I'd like to share it with the whole LEGO-loving, chess-playing world.
Note: LEGO® is a registered trademark of The LEGO Group. Neither I nor this project are in any way affiliated with The LEGO Group, other than as a customer buying a ton of bricks.
Introducing The Pieces
Here's a cheesy video I made with pieces running onto the field as if they were football players. It's not terribly good, but the music is nice and I like it. Give it a look to see the pieces in action, or scroll on down to see some much nicer photos.
So I don't think I'll be quitting my day job to become an animator any time soon.
The LEGO Chess Set
Each piece measures 4 studs by 4 studs and ranges in height from 10 bricks (3.85" or 98mm) for the stately king down to 5-2/3 bricks (2.2" or 56mm) for the lowly pawn. Each piece is either white or black with dark grey accent pieces.
The king stands tallest, with an additional accent piece and white/black cone to replace the traditional cross. The rook features the traditional crenelations of a castle wall and the bishop has the pointy hat so popular with the clergy. The knight maintains the distinctive horse shape, evoking the shape of the piece's move. All the pieces share a common base.
Here are the individual pieces:
And here are all the pieces together:
Here are the full chess sets ready to play:
There are a total of 394 bricks in the complete set. The pieces range from 10 bricks to 19 bricks each. I do have a couple of stretch goals in mind that would boost that by 20 and 36 bricks, for a possible total of 450 bricks.
Ezra Chimes In
When I was 3 or 4 years old, I was playing with my toy drill while my mom had tea with a friend. I wanted my drill to be just like my dad's, so I tied a string around the handle and then tied a paperclip to the end and spread it apart like an electrical plug. And then I plugged it in.
Like father, like son -- my son Ezra also made a LEGO chess set -- or at least part of one. Luckily, it's a lot safer than sticking a paperclip into a wall outlet. He wanted to show off his two-in-one chess piece and so he recorded some videos to do so and to help out with the project. I put together some of the clips into a single video.
At one point (when he was talking about my parents being friends with a couple that had a metal chess set) he was reading from the notes I had tacked up for myself, but other than that, it's all him.
And perhaps a star is born. Or at least another Marx brother.
The only time my daughter isn't performing is when she's asleep, so when I had the camcorder set up, she wasn't about to pass up the chance to record a video. So, here she is, complete with kitty ears, talking about the LEGO Chess Set. This was all spontaneous and made up on the spot by Sara.
You can find out more about Sara at her website.
I first discovered Kickstarter when a band I really like (Renegade Stringband -- you should really check 'em out and go to all their shows!) used it to fund an album. After that, I was hooked. I've backed other albums, a few photography gadgets (the Capture Clip system is awesome!), and some toys and games. I'm a big fan of the notion of empowering inventors and designers so that they can bring their dreams to life without having to produce enough profit to keep traditional investors happy.
The way I see it, making a huge profit isn't what it's about; the whole point is to contribute something to the world and make your idea a reality. I'd like to be able to tell my kids (and, someday, grandkids) that, yeah, I made those LEGO chess sets and people liked them and backed my project. I may make a little money from this, but not a significant amount. (And most of it will likely go towards backing other kickstarter projects.)
I've planned an aggressive but reasonable timeline for this project. I think it's entirely doable, but my target date is early enough that even if there is some slippage, I will have the chess sets in the hands of backers before the holidays.
Here's how I see it unfolding:
Sept 1 - Project goes live
Sept 30 - Project ends
Sept 30 - LEGO parts Orders placed
Oct 15 - Funds received
Nov 1 - Orders received, Packing begins (possibly earlier)
Nov 15 - All orders shipped
I've allowed for a month for the LEGO parts to be delivered because I don't know how long it takes for orders to arrive from LEGO and it is possible that, if an amazing number of backers sign up for a full chess set, I might need to order some parts from Europe.
My project goal is based on ten backers at the king or higher level. Less than that and I likely wouldn't recoup my costs. More than that and I can start to add some stretch rewards -- I do have a few in mind. The goal includes the cost of parts to compile the sets, the printing of the instructions, and, of course, the Kickstarter and Amazon fees. Here's what I've got budgeted:
The rewards are listed on the right side of this page (assuming Kickstarter doesn't change their layout). This is some more detail about each one.
If you'd just like to contribute something toward the project, this is the level for you. Any amount will get you my heartfelt thanks and your name listed on the website at LEGOMyChessSet.com.
For a contribution of $5 or more, I will send you a custom-made postcard featuring the chess set with my thanks. I'm definitely not a great photographer, but I have taken a few nice pictures and I do have a very nice camera, so I'll come up with a cool postcard for you. You'll also get all the benefits of the Pawn level.
Bishop - Digital Only
So you just want to know how to make your own set? Here's your copy of the instructions in all its digital glory e-mailed straight to your inbox. With this and enough LEGOs, you'll have your own chess set in no time.
If you have plenty of LEGOs already but want a signed, printed copy of the instructions for building the chess set with your own pieces, this is the reward for you. You can also choose not to have it signed, but who knows -- I might be famous some day and it could become really valuable. Or maybe infamous. Either way, you'll also get everything from the Knight level plus, of course, the digital version.
If you've already got a nice chess set or you want to build it with your own parts, you might like this reward. You'll get everything from the Bishop reward plus a neat "LEGO my chess set!" t-shirt. Come on, you know you want one. It's going to be THE fashion hit of the season! You'll get the t-shirt, the printed instructions, the postcard, your name on the website, and my thanks.
Performing runs in my family, on both sides. That means my daughter got a double dose of the stage gene. She is performing non-stop, 24/7 -- my life is like a Disney musical most of the time. If that intrigues you, you can back the project at the Queen level and she will make up and perform an original work singing your praises. I will video it and you'll get the digital file, plus everything from the bishop level. You can find out more about her at her website (which she doesn't know about so please don't tell her.)
King (Extra Early Bird)
You want the actual chess set? You got it, and a super bargain price, too. You'll get the full set -- enough parts to make all thirty-two pieces: 8 pawns, 2 rooks, 2 knights, 2 bishops, 1 queen, and 1 king, each in both black and white. In addition, you'll get everything from the Bishop level, including the printed instructions.
Note: I'm able to offer this reward because I have several sets' worth of (brand new) pieces left over from when I was originally designing the set. (I bought a lot of extras.) They're all new and the same as I would get now; the difference is that they're already paid for and they're not doing anyone any good sitting on my shelf.
King (Early Bird)
If you missed out on the Extra Early Bird rewards, you can still get a heck of a deal on the full set, plus everything from the Bishop level.
Even if you missed out on both early bird rewards, you can still get the chess set. This is it! Again, you'll get the full set -- enough parts to make all thirty-two pieces: 8 pawns, 2 rooks, 2 knights, 2 bishops, 1 queen, and 1 king, each in both black and white -- as well as everything from the Bishop level.
You're hot stuff and you want the world to know it, but you also want the chess set? Here's your reward -- it includes an original song as per the Queen level, the full chess set just like the King level, and, of course, everything from the Bishop level. (Really, it's the King level -- which already includes the Bishop level -- plus the song.)
This one is for locals only! You get one of my mother-in-law's famous egg nog cakes. These are pretty spectacular and when she donates one to my kids' school's winter gala auction, they regularly sell for more than $60. You'll get the cake, plus everything from the King level.
This one is for locals only! A little Jewish penicillin! Actually, a lot of Jewish penicillin. It's two gallons of my homemade Chicken Matzoh Ball soup. This'll cure what ails ya. Whenever there's a potluck at the kids' school, everyone -- kids and parents alike -- ask me to bring it, and the principal always shows up to get some. Note that, unlike traditional soup, I leave the chicken, onion, and carrots in the soup, so it's really a full meal. You'll get the soup, plus everything from the King level (the chess set, etc.).
This is the jackpot! You'll get everything -- the complete chess set, the t-shirt, an original song, instructions, postcard, thanks, your name on the website, a carrying case for the chess set, and, if you're local, the soup and a cake.
Some of these rewards are limited, so if you see one you like, jump on it right away. Here's a handy little chart that sums up all the rewards:
The Project Video
Lastly, a quick note about the project video. When I started making it, I knew I was no Jimmy Stewart or Dustin Hoffman. By the time I was done, I knew I was no Pauly Shore. In addition, I am definitely not a cinematographer -- I'm expecting the Hollywood police department to show up any minute now and confiscate my camcorder for crimes against humanity. My apologies to all.
Risks and challenges
Risk: The 3676 Problem
One of the pieces in my original design -- #3676, Slope, Inverted 45 2 x 2 Double Convex -- is relatively rare. If there is greater demand than there is supply of this piece, I would not be able to complete all the sets as originally designed.
I have already secured enough of these pieces to complete at least 100 chess sets. If, however, there is greater demand, I will have to alter the design and provide alternative parts. Fortunately, I have come up with an alternative solution using readily available parts. It's not quite as nice, in my opinion, but it's still quite pleasing. If there are more than 100 backers, the early bird backers and backers at the Master level and above will get the original design first. Remaining sets will be fulfilled with the original design until I run out after which parts for the alternate design will be provided.
The instructions will include both designs.
Risk: Too Much Success
There are certainly worse problems to have. I am currently projecting that no more than 100 backers will want a complete chess set. If the project goes significantly beyond that, it is possible that orders of lego parts could take longer than expected and packing/shipping the sets could be overwhelming for my wife and I and our three kids.
In that case I have several options prepared -- I am very fortunate in that my 12-year-old son has a lot of very responsible friends and classmates, quite a few of whom have parents who run their own companies and businesses. I feel very confident that I can find additional help to deal with an unexpected success. Plus, I've always wanted to have my very own army of minions.
Risk: Cost overruns
My focus for this project is to share the chess set (hence the free downloadable plans) rather than make money.
I am definitely not rich but between my wife and I, we get by comfortably. My wife is incredibly supportive (school teachers are like that) and we can easily skip a few Burrito Nights to pay for unforseen costs, including hiring additional help to sort and pack lego pieces.
Risk: Skipping town
I've backed some projects which never delivered (*cough*Jorno*cough*) so I'm well aware that Kickstarter could be used to defraud backers of their money with no intent whatsoever of delivering anything at all.
That won't happen with this project. I'm a homeowner -- the house I grew up in -- with three kids and strong ties to the community. I'm the president of an Atari user group, on the board of directors of a local theatre company, and have been in my current job ten years. My in-laws and one brother-in-law live in San Francisco as I do; the other brother-in-law lives across the bay and we work for the same company. I'm not going anywhere and I'm committed to seeing this through.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)