Adding something new to a familiar game isn’t easy. Recall, for example, the sustained outrage when they tried putting that harmless blue halo on the puck during hockey telecasts. You’d have thought they were trying to swap out ice skates for roller blades. And in much the same way, I’m sure that a whole bunch of people in funny outfits were positively scandalized when, at some point during the 15th century, someone suggested tweaking the rules of chess so that pawns could move two squares, not just one, from their initial position. Now, of course, we can’t imagine the game any other way. And while Orr Kislev’s redesigned chess set doesn’t propose anything nearly as audacious as a full-on rule change, it does succeed at bringing something new to each game. Essentially, it shows how that game has played out.
The set, which the designer calls Capture, is comprised of simple aluminum-milled pieces that are plenty handsome on their own. But they’re also designed to stack on top of one another. The idea is that whenever you take an opponent’s piece, instead of casting it off the board, you simply stack it under your own. As the game develops, the most effective pieces grow taller and taller, adding a new layer of data to the board. Basically, Kislev’s pieces let players visualize a small but not insignificant bit of their match’s history by stretching into the z-axis.
The project was born out of an assignment at the Holon Institute of Technology, in Israel, where Kislev is an industrial design student. The only constraint was that the class had to do something in metal. At first, Kislev planned to go down the well-traveled road of simply overhauling the game’s pieces—an exercise purely in form. But then it occurred to the student that there was another, more challenging route he could take. One which considered the function of those pieces, too.
The idea for the stackable set came quickly. Chess is fundamentally a mental game, Kislev points out, with the board serving as "a kind of 'visual aid’ for you to keep track of everything." So it wasn’t a huge leap to pursue a design that just simply kept track of a little bit more. The biggest challenge, Kislev says, was making pieces that looked like something other than chintzy shot glasses.
Most of the final designs are variations on a theme—the rook taking its characteristic notched top, for example, and the bishop sporting a stylized slit—each designed to fit neatly under any other. Except, that is, for two hourglass-shaped pieces that purposefully deviate from the formula. Climbing on top of a defeated king would be in poor taste.
[Hat tip: Moco Loco]