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When it comes to board games, chess has one of the longest histories. Today, the two-player game is still played by millions, from beginners to advanced competitors, around the world. It's also a compact game that's perfect for road trips, camping, and backyard fun.
If you’d like to try your hand at the game, here are the best chess sets for all skill levels and needs.
Best Overall: Mark & Graham Chess Set
Looking for your next favorite chess set? This customizable chess set from Mark & Graham is a great option. Made of a sturdy beach wood, its red-and-black color scheme has a modern feel that will suit many different styles. The 34 square pieces come in different colors, sizes, and symbols to denote different characters, and the board itself is 15.75 x 13 inches. For an extra special touch, customize this set with a laser-engraved monogram.
Best 2-in-1: MoMA 2-in-1 Chess & Checkers Set
You'll never have to choose between chess and checkers again with this colorful set, which gives you the option to play either. Made of sustainably grown rubberwood, the set includes 32 chess pieces and 24 checker pieces, along with a reversible game board which also doubles as a lid for the storage box. A bright pastel color scheme makes gameplay extra fun.
Best Design: Urban Outfitters Acrylic Chess Game
This acrylic chess set from Urban Outfitters easily doubles as a work of art—but don't worry, it's still completely functional! While both the board and pieces are transparent, thoughtful details ensure successful gameplay.
The acrylic board is printed with a white checkerboard pattern, which adds both a modern and a practical touch. Each of the 34 pieces come in different shapes and shades, with rich aquas and ceruleans denoting one side and light lavenders and dark maroons denoting the other. An acrylic lid fits on top of the board, easily housing everything for next time.
Best Wall: Wall Chess
Wall chess is great option if you don't have the time to play an entire game in one round (or just want to save space). This oak set is designed to hang vertically, with each of the pieces locking into place after every move. A special marker keeps track of where you left off, so you can pick your game up again whenever. It's made in Huntsville, Alabama and comes in two different sizes—small (12 x 12 inches) and large (18 x 18 inches).
Best Value: Cardinal Game Gallery Chess & Checkers Wood Set
If you're looking for a true value, check out the Cardinal Game Gallery Chess & Checkers Wood Set. The standard chessboard doubles as a checkerboard, and it comes with all of the pieces you'll need to play both (32 wooden chess pawns and 24 wooden checkers).
Despite its low price point, this set delivers on both looks and quality. All of the components are made of wood—no plastic here—and the pieces are sturdy and large enough for even little hands to grasp. The board itself measures 15.75 x 15.75 inches, and folds for easy storage.
Best Splurge: Jonathan Adler Acrylic Chess Set
There's no denying it: this set is an investment. But, if you're looking for a piece that will serve not only your chess needs but your decor needs as well, it's a great option.
Both the chess board and pieces are made of acrylic, lending the set a retro vibe that's only accentuated by its oversized construction. Depending on the look you're going for, you can choose between an electric orange and yellow or smoke and clear color scheme. Each of the 32 pieces are screen printed with their character silhouette (Kings are given a cheeky mustache, while the slightly smaller Queens have a clearly defined pout).
While you'll surely want to leave this work of art out on display, if you do choose to store it, you can do so in the included box.
Best for Beginners: Winning Moves Games No Stress Chess
If there’s any downside to the game of chess, it’s that there’s a definite learning curve. It’s not the type of game you pick up and can do with your eyes closed in no time. It requires knowledge of the game, skill, and strategy.
The good news: game sets like this one make learning a little bit easier. Kids and adults alike will appreciate helpful teaching features, like “action cards” that detail illustrated the rules of the game and helpful hints, including the way each piece can move. The double-sided game board itself is also illustrated to help remind a new player where to position pieces during play.
What you sacrifice with this particular setup is refinement. The board and pieces are cardboard and plastic, respectively. But it’s a price many learners, particularly those with children, are willing to pay, as they say, it really does make learning a breeze.
Best for Kids: The Noble Collection Harry Potter Wizard Chess Set
For kids, choose a game set with a little more whimsy to hold their attention through long rounds of chess. This set mirrors the traditional-style sets, so they’ll learn the rules of the game and have no problem switching to a more traditional game board once they get older, but will better capture their interest for the time being, as it’s a highly detailed miniature recreation of the wizard chess set depicted in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
The game, which is officially licensed by Warner Brothers, looks just like it does in the movies. Though hard molded plastic, each two- to four-inch game piece is expertly and intricately designed for the most realistic look. If there’s any downside, it’s that, because the pieces are large and intricate, they tend to crowd the board a bit. At the end of the day, this shouldn’t bother novice and recreational players, but it is a consideration for anyone engaged in more serious play.
Best Novelty: Ian Flood & Chris Prosser NYC Skyline Chess Set
Fans of architecture will love this option from British designers Ian Flood and Chris Prosser, which transforms the Flatiron Building, Freedom Tower, and other noteworthy pieces of New York's skyline into a picturesque chess set. Once you get used to the difference, gameplay is surprisingly the same. Each of the 32 pieces are double-weighted to keep your moves extra secure, and have felt bases to ensure that the metal board stays scratch-free. The board itself folds in half, making for easy storage—that is, if you ever want to take this handsome set off display.
The best overall chess set is the Mark & Graham Chess Set (view at Mark & Graham), which is modern looking, well-made, and monogrammable. However, if you’re new to the game of chess, we recommend the Winning Moves Games No Stress Chess Set (view at Amazon). It comes with 56 “action cards” that detail the rules of the game and provide helpful hints to make chess less intimidating to newcomers.
This roundup was written by Brigitt Earley. She has written and edited hundreds of gift guides and articles about consumer products for various publications over the course of the last 10 years. Though not an avid player anymore, she learned to play chess at a very young age.