Chess: A “Gateway Drug” into Miniature Wargaming?

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Chess is an ancient game of tactical strategy. It is one of the oldest and most revered board games you can play. Even in this modern, digital age of video games, chess remains as popular and relevant as ever. I’ve been trying to teach my daughter how to play chess. As a result several questions arose: Is chess for kids? Is there a chess age limit? How do you start teaching chess to a child or anyone really? But, I think the real reason I want to teach her how to play chess is because the game might be the “gateway” to the bigger hobby of tabletop miniature gaming.

In this article, I highlight a few cool things about chess that may entice someone to try a hobby tabletop game for the first time. Maybe learning to play chess can help someone play these other games, too, like Warhammer 40k.

Chaos vs. Chess

Life isn’t black and white, is it?

But, chess is.

Binary, black and white, no in-between. Chess is a game, but it’s more than that!

Two people enter the game, only one is victorious.

Chess is a great equalizer, attracting enthusiasts and professionals from all walks of life.

Young and old, genderless, crossing cultural and racial boundaries, chess transcends human differences and pits two opponents together for a brief while, which ends in a friendly handshake (most of the time).

I’ve always loved chess.

It was my first tabletop “war game”. Chess involves tangible pieces that represent troops and armaments on a battlefield.

A pitched battle of wit and might, as it were, and therein lies the fun. Chess is imaginary and real at the same time. Continue reading to see why.

Chess psychology: what are you made of?

Chess psych0logy is a thing.

I won’t go into the details, because other articles you can find in a Google search do a better job. But, chess is a very deep game that involves more than simple pieces on a board.

Chess requires each player to engage in a battle at a psychological level.

Take for example, you’re losing. The board state is not in your favor.

What do you do?

Chess Psychology‎ Psychology is an integral element of chess. To win a game (tournament, match) one needs to be strong not only in chess, but in the psychological sense as well. Every chess player can recall moments when he/she could not recover from a terrible loss (or draw) and kept losing points in other rounds.

Or, more importantly, how do you feel?

Sure, you may be discouraged, frustrated, or even angry.

Did you know that these negative emotion states actually make you a worse player. These kinds of thoughts, or discouraging “voices”, distract your ability to think critically.

Chess: A "Gateway Drug" into Miniature Wargaming? - 3 player chess set - tabletop gaming set
Not your typical chess board. Here’s a three player chess board. Interesting!

Chess stresses your capacity to endure mental strain within an emotional context. Your friendly opponent is for a brief moment your bitter enemy.

Now, you’re winning. Confidence floods your brain. That’s dopamine (a pleasure associated neurotransmitter), another distraction from intellecutal, rationale thinking.

Can you separate logical thought from the emotional highs and lows?

This is metaphoric experience of daily life, isn’t it?

What is chess?

It’s amazing!

Okay, seriously. It is.

Chess is a simple game. But, hard to master.

A chess championship can have millions in prize money.

If you walked into a park and saw two chess players, this is what you would see on the table:

  • A checkered board, black and white squares, 32 of each color
  • Pieces representing the different elements of a medieval army, along with the monarchy (a King and Queen)
  • If you’ve caught the players at the start of the game, the pieces would be aligned in the first two rows on each side of the board
  • At the start of every standard chess game, there would be 16 games pieces of each color
Chess: A "Gateway Drug" into Miniature Wargaming? - What is chess? Is chess a wargame for kids?
Your standard chess board setup

How do you play chess?

As I’ve said, chess is easy to learn, but hard to master.

You can watch the video below, or follow this link to use helpful tutorial for how to play chess.

How to play chess video screenshot

Here’s my simple breakdown of how to play chess.

  • Players take turns moving their chess pieces
  • White always goes first
  • A player moves pieces to an unoccupied square (how they do so, e.g., how far away, and the direction, depends on the chess piece type), or to a square occupied by an opposing player’s piece
  • If the piece is moved onto an enemy occupied square, the enemy piece is captured/removed from the chess board
  • This process continues in alternating turns, until one player is victorious

How do you win at chess?

In a standard chess game, the winner must satisfy one of several victory conditions (source).

To win or lose at chess, 1 of 3 things must happen:

  • Checkmate – This is the most common ways to win a game of chess. A checkmate is achieved when one player threatens the enemy king-piece and it cannot escape to another square, become blocked by another piece, or the attacking/threatening piece cannot be captured/removed from the board in defense.
  • Resign/Forfeit – When the opposing players realizes they cannot win, they may resign the game or surrender.
  • Timeout – In some games of chess, players may use a chess clock. Each players has an allocated amount of time to take their turn. When a player’s time “budget” runs out that player loses (if the opposing player has enough pieces to potentially lead to checkmate). If the opposing player does not have enough to force a checkmate, the game is a draw no matter what the chess board-state.
Chess: A "Gateway Drug" into Miniature Wargaming? - how do you win at chess? Victory conditions for chess
A digital chess clock is a great way to play a productive and fun game of chess!

A game of chess can end in a draw or a tie, which may look like the following:

  • Stalemate – In chess, a stalemate occurs when each player is not in check, but cannot move except into check (see here for more details about this draw condition).
  • Insufficient material – It is possible that the chess board may contain in sufficient numbers of pieces to lead to force a checkmate. In this case, the game is considered a draw as neither player can win via checkmate.
  • 50 move rule – In today’s chess ruleset, the maximum number of moves on the board is 50 moves. Once this limit is hit, the game is considered a draw.
  • Repetition – To avoid games continuing indefinitely, if a position arises three times in a game, either player can claim a draw. Making the same move over and over again is not a path to victory.
  • Agreement – As with any competition, sometimes you may want to agree with your opponent to end the game in a draw.

What is the basic history of chess?

How old is chess? Who invented it?

Well, let’s start by saying that chess is old.

Very old.

Chess is centuries old, and through the years its undergone many iterations.

More about the origin of chess here.

Tons and tons of people play chess throughout the world, and because of the depth of chess history, it’s not clear who invented it or where the game came from.

There are legends, myths, and educated guesses, but no one is truly sure about the true history of chess.

Trying to find out the true history of chess is like asking who invented the wheel, or who baked the first loaf of bread.

Many claims, but none for sure.

Here are some fun-facts about the history of chess:

  • Some research has shown that the chess may have originated more than 1500 years ago, starting in the subcontinent of Northern India (source:
  • Through this time period, chess spread through Asia, likely through traders and merchants.
  • Along with other cultural ideas, the expansion of the Islamic Arabian empire into and through Europe helped to bring chess from the East to the West (source:
  • For many, the emergence of the modern version of chess came about through the late-18th century.
  • The first official World Chess Championship played in the United States in New York City in 1886 (here’s a little more about the history of chess championships).
  • With the advent of the digital computer age, Chess transformed into a world wide phenomenon played across the globe.

Who is chess for?

Once upon a time, chess may have been associated with royalty, as a game played by a Shah or King (source). As such, chess is also called ‘The Game of Kings”.

Whatever the case from history, chess is a game with a reputation for those who enjoy a quiet pastime.

No yelling and screaming (well, most of the time), or arguing over poorly-written rules…I’m looking at you crappy board games and old school pre-8th edition Warhammer 40k.

Young or old, chess is for you if you enjoy a good game of strategy.

Because logical gameplay is a core feature of chess, those who enjoy studying a game before (or after a match) can do so. Deep dive into memorizing openings, mid-game, and check mate scenarios.

What is the best age to learn chess?

I’ve done some research to find out how old someone needs to be before they start learning chess. What I learned is that any child can start learning chess.

Some have suggested that a child as young as two years old can start to learn how to play chess.

Bobby Fischer, a record-setting chess master who became the youngest player to win the U.S. Chess Championship at 14, was only 6-years old when he learned how to play chess (source).

Remember how I said “chess is simple to learn”?

Though, I’m sure in order to teach a young child how to play a game of chess, you may need to approach the instruction in an age-appropriate way.

The game of chess would need to taught in bite-sized chunks, slowly teaching how each piece operates on the board, e.g., a rook can only move vertically or horizontally.

Of course, I have wondered how much chess could help my kid with other life skills. I probably won’t know until I try. Certainly, I do agree that chess has benefits for various aspects in a child’s development.

Maybe it is true what Chess Legend Tigran Petrosyan once said, “No one should ever regret the time devoted to chess, because it will help in every profession” (source).

But, ultimately, it’s about spending time with my kid in a game that doesn’t require electricity. It’ll be fun teaching her how to play a game that runs counter to our modern day digital entertainment.

Is chess a tabletop miniature wargame?

What is a tabletop miniature game and does chess fit into this definition?

Games like Warhammer 40k, Bolt Action, Age of Sigmar, Warmachine-Hordes, and other tabletop hobby games all require strategy and use tangible pieces on a “board”.

A strict definition of miniature tabletop gaming involves some form of battle space, where players oppose each other with military or non-military forces. These opposing forces are represented by miniature physical models or pieces. The piece may be exact replicas of military units, or abstract counters, blocks or pieces, e.g., checkers.

In my opinion, chess is a miniature tabletop wargame. The game of chess fits the definition of a miniature tabletop wargame, where opposing forces fight in a pitched battle.

Of course, the chess board is an abstraction of a battlefield. But, so are the miniature terrain tabletops across a spectrum of tabletop wargames, such as Warhammer.

Sure resolution of combat is performed through different operations, e.g., moving pieces versus moving and rolling dice to resolve combat.

However, at the end of the day chess is a game of strategy that involves two players fighting one another across a miniature battlefield.

Victories are won through tactics, luck (may be less so in chess), and sheer experience and skill of the player.

Is chess a “gateway drug” into miniature gaming?

A gateway drug is an “entry” drug that entices a user into the wider-world of drug-use, and often leads them toward “hard-drugs” that have more powerful effects.

Marijuana is a gateway drug, because often users of weed end up move to abusing harder, more dangerous substances, e.g., crack, heroine (source).

Did you know chess is addictive?

Like a drug, many chess fans suffer with chess addiction (chess could be bad for you). They log into online chess matches like chain-smokers on a cool Autumn (bad) day.

While my metaphor may carry a different connotation, I think chess is one of those games that could make a person more interested in trying other tabletop strategy games.

Chess and Warmachine-Hordes share some similarities. There are a single piece that needs to be captured/removed/killed to win the game.

Players setup across a tabletop board, and fight turn-by-turn until there is a winner. Even a chess clock is used in both games!

I suppose the point of this is to say that if you can’t get a friend to play your favorite miniature tabletop game, try diving into chess.

You can play chess, enjoy it, and slowly pull them into other miniature tabletop games.

Yes, sneaky, I know.

You could always gift someone a starter box of your favorite miniature game, but you can “salami slice” your way toward your goal, too.

Invite them to a quiet evening of chess….you may end up sticking with it, or moving on to “harder” games.

What’s the difference between chess and other tabletop miniature wargames?

The difference between chess and other tabletop wargames is primarily in two gameplay concepts:

  • Combat resolution
  • Symmetric versus asymmetric scenarios

Combat resolution

Combat resolution in chess is based on moving your piece into an occupied enemy piece. There is no defense other than the opposing player’s tactical placement of their pieces on the board (e.g., board control).

In contrast, miniature wargames use a variety of rules to resolve combat. Depending on the game, pieces may have statistical values associated with their presence on the table.

These “stats” along with the use of dice rolling to resolve combat adds a level of random luck (e.g., a game of chance) into these miniature wargames.

Certainly, the randomness of dice adds to the additional excitement (and consternation) of miniature wargame players.

Symmetric versus asymmetric scenarios

Symmetric versus asymmetric scenarios refers to the tactical board state that each player starts with in chess or other miniature wargames. Chess is a symmetric game, whereas most miniature wargames are asymmetric.

In chess, players start with white or black pieces, each having the same “powers” as its mirrored image of the other color. This is a symmetric gaming scenario. Each player starts off with the same gaming material.

On the other hand, a typical miniature wargame is played in a pitched battle scenario where players may command a very diverse set of military pieces. A piece on the tabletop may not have its exact reflection in the opposing army.

This is an asymmetric scenario, and it is possible that a player may start the game with a slight advantage (or disadvantage).

A part of the asymmetry comes from the idea that these miniature wargames reflect the uncertainty and unplanned nature of real military battle scenarios.

This kind of gameplay is especially evident in historical wargames, where each side may not start with the same combat prowess, either through equivalence in resources or terrain advantages.

In games like Warhammer 40k, matched game scenarios may use army points or values to help players initially setup a game with equivalently powered armies.

However, games like these are truly equivalent or balanced at the start. There are too many variables to account for.

For example, unlike chess, the battlefield isn’t setup in a grid. Movement may occur at an infinite umber of distances and directions, which has all sorts of downstream effects.

The emergent gameplay elements in typical wargames is more evident than in chess, which makes a wargame’s outcome less predictable.

8 reasons why you should play chess

  1. Easy to learn, hard to master
  2. Tests your analytical thinking capacity
  3. Hones your patience
  4. Metaphor for many aspects of life (philosophically valuable)
  5. Adds to business acumen (source)
  6. Classic gaming beloved by many
  7. Great for those 2-200 years old
  8. Quiet, counter-culture pastime, e.g., typewriters and fountain pens

Where do I start to play chess?

You’ll need a chess set with pieces.

My first foray into chess was with a starter set purchased at a toy store brand that no longer exists.

My brother and I played with that chess set for months until we upgraded to a better set.

If you’re looking to get started into chess, here are a few inexpensive options I would recommend:

Fun Family Chess Set for Kids & Adults 

Chess: A "Gateway Drug" into Miniature Wargaming? - Best chess sets for kids learning how to play chess
A fun, easy way to learn chess with friends and families with young kids
  • This set is great for teaching chess to young kids or adults who want to get started right away
  • The system uses color-coded instructions that take you slowly into the game
  • Step-by-step players will learn how a game of chess is played and have fun doing it, too!
  • The chess board doubles as the gaming surface as well as a storage box that folds closed and locks up your pieces

WE Games Best Value Tournament Chess Set w/ a Green Roll Up Vinyl Board

Chess: A "Gateway Drug" into Miniature Wargaming? - Best starter chess sets - travel and portable roll up chess set
This is similar to my first chess set that I had when I was younger
  • My first chess set was a portable affair with a roll-up board
  • This roll-up chess set is similar and comes with a carrying case for all the pieces
  • Take your game of chess where ever you go.
  • This is actually my first choice if I were to ever purchase a new chess set again

Chess Armory 15″ Wooden Chess Set

Chess: A "Gateway Drug" into Miniature Wargaming? - Best wooden chess set inexpensive and cheap
  • This is the classic wooden chess board with a collapsable board to store your pieces
  • Wooden construction and finish make this a handsome chess set for yourself or as a gift
  • As a first chess set, this has all nice things to get you started
  • Simple and inexpensive is why chess continues to be popular today

Chess Clock Digital Chess Timer 

Chess: A "Gateway Drug" into Miniature Wargaming? - Best chess clock for playing - inexpensive, portable and cheap
  • A standard game of chess may use a chess clock to ensure a game progresses
  • A chess clock adds an additional win-condition in a game of chess, and forces players to think efficiently about how they will play
  • This clock is simple, easy-to-use, and inexpensive
  • Although unnecessary for those starting to learn how to play chess, a chess clock is great for keeping players on their toes

Final Thoughts

Just do it! Chess is fun and leads to simpler way of gaming.

The rules have been refined by history. So, entrenched and established are the rules, in fact, that you can study chess and actually get better at it.

For those of us who enjoy miniature tabletop wargaming, chess is a refreshing change of pace, or a way to engage other people into our gaming hobby.

For my kids, chess will likely be the first board game I will teach them to play. We are skipping over Candy Land.

Thank you for reading and happy tabletop gaming!

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7 thoughts on “Chess: A “Gateway Drug” into Miniature Wargaming?”

  1. Another interesting read, thanks.
    I learnt to play chess at an early age, around 6 or 7, and went on to play at a reasonable level.
    But I found that as I advanced it became less of a game and more of test of memory, as you make statutory opening moves or compare positions to past encounters. At this point I lost a lot of interest in the game.
    I tried teaching my daughter – she’s a pretty mean checkers player – but unfortunately, she just didn’t take to it.
    I wrote a post myself, last year, about how chess has stood the test of time, and what would its impact be if it were only just being released now. I concluded that, when compared to todays tabletop games, it wouldn’t fair too well. After all, it is a rather drab looking abstract game in comparison to what is on the market today.
    Once you get playing, though, it does, as you say, have its addictive qualities. It also teaches forward thinking, as well as the tactical use of differing units, which are certainly transferable to the miniatures games we play today.
    Unfortunately, chess is a game that has tended to be taught by parents to their offspring, but this has slowly faded away, and I’m amazed how few people I come across nowadays who can play the game – sad really, as you can learn so much from it.

    1. Yeah – it’s a legacy game and I’m not sure myself how it fits in this modern age. But, I still find it fun and unlike other tabletop games it’s simple and straightforward (but deep). Can you link to your post about chess? I’d love to check it out 🙂

  2. Pingback: Chess: A “Gateway Drug” into Miniature Wargaming? — Tangible Day | Ups and Downs of Family History V2.0

  3. Traditional chess is what you have described here. However, there are chess variants that can expand chess into the broader wargaming area that can really make it transitioning a “gateway” into miniature gaming.

    Combat Resolution: If you change the combat resolution of chess from just taking a piece into fighting for a piece, you have expanded the game. One can keep the movements the same as traditional chess, but give each piece a statistic. Allow for hitpoints and dexterity. Assign them damage ability. Give each type of piece its own unique stat. Then, when you enter an enemy square, fight for it using dice and the statistics. That will put some randomness into the game.

    Semi-Symmetrical: Its true that a chess board is standard 64 squares of alternating colors, and the set up of both sides is standard. And that you can’t share a square. But something that could help make the rigid squares a little more flexible is allowing multiple pieces into a square. If you could move your queen into her pawn’s space, that would open up the rigidity of the table and make it a bit more asymmetric.

    Miniatures: There is no reason you couldn’t take your Warhammer miniatures and put them on large wooden cubes, mark an identifier on them (“P1” for Pawn One, etc) and on down the line for your front row and your back row. Do that for all your Space Marines on one side and your Eldar on the other and you have a miniatures chess set.

    And since they have statistics of Hitpoints and Dexterity and they can cause damage, you are on your way to blend miniature wargaming with chess.

    So this really could be the gateway drug to get your miniature wargaming player into chess. But probably not. Because once they learn this style of chess, the traditional way might be too bland?

    1. Very interesting points. True I was writing about traditional chess as that is the entry point into tabletop gaming for many. I noticed your site, it seems like we have a similar preference for tactical and thoughtful type of gaming 🙂

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