7 Fun and Funky Vintage Chess Computers

We found some of the most interesting and weird vintage chess computer devices ever made, from tiny Disney Castles to machines that move pieces by themselves.
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7 Fun and Funky Vintage Chess Computers

If you’re like me, you have an older brother who loves chess. As you were growing up in the 1980s, you watched him play game after game in the back seat of a Dodge minivan against tiny electronic chess computer boards made by Radio Shack.

Thirty years later, you grew up, became a professional journalist who wrote features for PCMag and wondered: What other cool chess computers are out there?

Well, my friend, you’ve come to the right place. In my travels on the internet over the last few years, I have been collecting examples of some of the most interesting and weird vintage chess computer devices ever made. We’re going way beyond Tandy and Radio Shack and getting into machines that move pieces by themselves (whether by arm or “ghost”), strange video game consoles, and even tiny Disney Castles.

When you’re done reading, I’d love to hear about some of your favorite chess computers of the past in the comments.

  • Novag Robotic Adversary (1982)

    Novag Robotic Adversary (1982)

    Chess computer manufacturer Novag introduced one of the industry’s most novel variations in the Robotic Adversary, an electronic chess board with a robotic arm that could move the computer player’s pieces. Unfortunately, the complex mechanical nature of the device backfired, and they are known to break down easily. With only 2,500 units produced, the Adversary is one of the most sought-after chess computers, and it fetches a high price—if you can find one.
  • Mattel Computer Chess (1980)

    Mattel Computer Chess (1980)

    In 1980, toy giant Mattel released Computer Chess, a lower-cost, consumer-friendly portable chess computer with a battery-friendly LCD and no pieces to lose. But it was no slouch in the brains department: It reportedly beat several competing chess computers handily at the time of its release. Mattel hired chess master Bruce Pandolfini to promote the device, and his photo is on the box.
  • Videomaster Star Chess (1979)

    Videomaster Star Chess (1979)

    You’re looking at one of the most unusual video game consoles of all time: the Videomaster Star Chess. It’s a small device with two remote controllers that facilitates a modified game of chess for two players (no single-player AI) on a TV screen. Instead of the traditional chess pieces, you move space ships, and if you’re in a right spot, you can even fire missiles at your opponent!
  • Commodore Chessmate (1978)

    Commodore Chessmate (1978)

    Many people know Commodore from its series of personal computers—the names Commodore 64, VIC-20, PET, and Amiga all likely ring a bell. But few know that Commodore also created a dedicated chess computer device in 1978. Players used their own chess board and input/read out moves from the computer.
  • Boris the Talking Chess Computer (1977)

    Boris the Talking Chess Computer (1977)

    As one of the world’s first chess computers, Boris feels primitive today. But it packed several amazing features into a small package, including a fold-out chess set in a handsome wooden box and a segmented LED display capable of displaying messages to the player. The player’s moves were entered via the keypad on the unit, and players would read out Boris’ moves from the display and move the pieces accordingly.
  • Disney Magic Castle (1988)

    Disney Magic Castle (1988)

    It’s a small world after all. In 1988, Novus introduced this ornately detailed Disney-themed game computer that could play not only chess but also checkers, tic-tac-toe, and bingo. Best of all, it included a miniature princess castle attached to the board and all of the playing pieces were shaped like classic Disney characters (Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, et al.)—by far one of the most unique and interesting chess computers ever produced.
  • Milton-Bradley Grandmaster (1983)

    Milton-Bradley Grandmaster (1983)

    If you’ve ever wanted to see what playing chess against a ghost feels like, hunt down the vintage Grandmaster chess computer by Milton Bradley. Using an electromagnet mounted to a movable arm under the board, the chess pieces could move as if by magic. Spooky!

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