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Human Chess
I like this kind of chess!note 

Storm: I propose a game of strategy.
Galactus: I accept.
Ant-Man: Aw, man. I know where this is going.
Storm: Knight Ant-Man, move to King's Bishop 4.
Ant-Man: I knew we were going to be used as pieces.

The favorite pastime of every Chessmaster and Evil Overlord. Chess played with actual people, sometimes to the death.

A subtrope of Variant Chess. Expect somebody to go into Evil Overlooker mode at least once.

For a higher scale of this, see Cosmic Chess Game.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Apos in Mnemosyne is frequently shown playing chess with rather... kinky pieces. It is later revealed that he wasn't so much playing, as tracking down the Immortals' movements throughout the series.
  • Miyukichan In Wonderland has the Fetish Fuel Les Yay version of the Alice in Wonderland chess game where pieces are slapped (sometimes with a whip or riding crop) and lose their clothing forcing them to flee from the game board naked.
  • Weiß Kreuz had an episode where the villain/target of the episode was responsible for running what were referred to as "human chess games" for entertainment purposes. However, it wasn't so much actual human chess as it was one-on-one combat on a chessboard-patterned floor.
  • Umineko no Naku Koro ni has an incredibly elaborate version of human chess. The entirety of Rokkenjima on Oct 4-5, 1986 is the chess board, and the pieces include members of the Ushiromiya family and servants, and demons summoned straight from heaven and hell. The players exist in the meta-world and are witches and sorcerers. As to exactly who is what kind of piece, beyond piece Battler being white king, no one's really sure...
    • There are some theories. Maria is the Black King, and the third arc suggests Eva, and maybe the other siblings as well, are pawns.
    • The anime version even comes with a chess motif, and both the anime and visual novels are filled with chess references.
  • Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle uses this trope during the Infinity arc. Fetish Fuel ensued.
  • In No Game No Life, Sora and Chlammy serve as the Kings for their game, which functions like a real-time strategy game and the pieces attack each other. If a piece is too scared or unmotivated, it will not move. Sora uses a Rousing Speech and charisma to motivate his pieces, and seduces Chlammy's Queen to get her to switch sides. Chlammy uses fear and intimidation to motivate her pieces, and uses mind control to steal some of Sora's pieces. Eventually, one of Chlammy's pieces gets fed up with her and "assassinates" her.

    Comic Books 
  • Used in a Marvel Adventures issue. The chessboard is presumably gigantic to accommodate Galactus, who plays against the Avengers with his Herald Silver Surfer as King. After this ends in stalemate, they play baseball... in a human-scaled stadium... but it's okay, Rule of Fun fully applies. After that failed they try Texas Hold 'Em and then end up in an Infinite-Star Restaurant.
  • Countdown to Final Crisis shows Darkseid looming over a chessboard with pieces of the heroes, for reasons that are never fully explained.
  • A variation appears on a recent cover of New Mutants with Cyclops looming over the chessboard.
  • An older comic involved a witch capturing a mermaid's friends and family, turning them into statues, making those statues chess pieces, and then challenging the protagonist to a game chess with the pieces. Unlike a lot of examples, it showed that the pieces were very heavy.
  • The pornographic version occurs in Alan Moore's Lost Girls.
  • A non-villainous version appears as a one-page gag in The Smurfs comic book story "Smurfery".
  • In Prince Valiant, the usual deathtrap is foiled by the (nearly as) usual stalemate defense (= nobody wins, i.e. nobody dies).
  • Iznogoud: In one story, Iznogoud finds out that there is an island inhabited by two man-eating giants. He tricks the Caliph to come with him to the island, and they find out that the giants are vegetarians. Then Iznogoud asks the giants what they do to the people who come to the island. Guess what they do to them?

    Film 
  • In the Mel Brooks movie History of the World Part I, Louis XVI of France is shown playing this, although it rapidly degenerates into an orgy.
    "Knight jumps queen! Bishop jumps queen! Pawns jump queen! Gangbang!"
  • Disney's Pocahontas II had a scene where King James did this.
  • The Three Musketeers (1973) had animal wearing costumes as pieces.
  • Hercules, although it was more monster chess.
  • In Man of La Mancha, Cervantes sets this up in the prison, but it is a storytelling device rather than an actual chess game.
  • The Queen and a rich baron play this in Mirror, Mirror. There were different pieces like ships, and the pieces attacked each other.
  • The crazier inmates of the Russian jail in Born American regularly have games of chess like this, where jumped pieces get killed. One of the main characters become part of it after severe Sanity Slippage.

    Literature 
  • Billy and the Bubbleship had a regular chessboard - with frozen people mirroring the actions on the larger board. As lost pieces (for one side) are used as food for the monster, Billy wanted to complete the game without losing any pieces, and figured the Queen of Mordra played against an opponent who just let her win. The solution was the four-move scholar's mate.
  • The first Harry Potter book uses something like this, where Harry and friends direct the pieces and it's not clear while they're playing what happens if the pieces they control lose.
    • In the book, the "eaten" pieces (and Ron) were dragged out of the board, unconscious. In the movie they were destroyed, though they had the decency to aim at Ron's horse rather than Ron's body. The ones left simply left the board after the game was over.
  • Played seriously in the Lymond Chronicles novel Pawn in Frankincense where the hero is forced to play such a game with both his friends and enemies being pieces.
  • Most of the plot in Through the Looking-Glass, but probably better known for being in Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland film .
  • The John Carter of Mars novel Chessmen of Mars uses the to-the-death variant, where "chess" games are a form of gladiatorial combat.
  • Likewise for the climatic scene in In The Courts of the Crimson Kings, a homage to John Carter of Mars.
  • The Squares Of The City by John Brunner.
  • The Emperor in Interesting Times used live chess pieces. Less pieces were live at the end of a game.
  • The Star Trek novel The Final Reflection, by John M Ford, starts with Klingon children preparing to take part in live klin zha. And since we're talking Klingons, you've already guessed that this is a gladiatorial version.
  • The second Gentleman Bastard novel Red Seas Under Red Skies featured a cartoonishly evil scene, with nobles playing a Variant Chess with people. The catch was that whenever a player lost a piece, the opposing player could inflict ANY punishment besides death on the piece.
  • All the King's Horses by Kurt Vonnegut. Also adapted for TV in a SF anthology series with a twist that made the villain more sympathetic. He didn't really execute the lost pieces, just pretended to to make a point. The Sadistic Choice he faced still cost the hero his family.
  • Carrion Comfort, by Dan Simmons. The mind vampires (pretty much in name only, they are simply people who can control minds) in the novel are seen doing this on several occasions. In the first instance, holocaust victims are used as pieces (to the death, naturally). The plot of novel runs like this as well, as the two puppet master villains play a game corresponding to the events of the plot. The book is even divided into "beginnings" "middle game" and "end game".
  • Adam Wiśniewski-Snerg's short story "Anioł Przemocy" ("Angel of Death") involves a woman forced to take part in one of these. It's a game played by two computers where the pieces are mind-controlled humans that kill each other. (It turns out to be a virtual reality simulation, though.)
  • A variant of this is seen in the children's book Soonie and the Dragon, a collection of Irish folk tales. The heroine Soonie, in one of her adventures, is captured by the King of the Fairies, who wishes to marry her. She refuses, so he offers to let her go free if she can beat him in chess. Day after day she loses, and can't quite figure out why... until she accidentally discovers that the pieces are actually live pixies and they've been cheating on the king's behalf.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Prisoner, in the episode "Checkmate".
  • The Land of the Giants episode "Deadly Pawn". The castaways are forced to play the pieces in a game of chess for their lives.
  • A fourth season episode of Lexx involved a human chess match between Kai and Prince.
  • True Jackson, where Max challenges his fashion rival to a game.

    Tabletop RPG 
  • Judges Guild Revised Guide to the City State. In the Bloody Tusk Banquet Hall the PCs can hear a rumor about Bandares the Thinker, a sorcerer who plays chess with real fighters.

    Video Games 
  • You fight a Puzzle Boss in Karazhan in World of Warcraft by controlling the chess pieces. And your opponent cheats!
    • This may be based on a popular Warcraft III campaign (a recreation of Warcraft I), which had a chess piece encounter within Karazhan, where you were required to keep the two sides as equal as possible so that when one side won and attacked you, you'd have as little fighting as possible to do.
    • He cheats very badly, it should be noted. He'll frequently set fire to squares occupied by his own pieces.
  • Mortal Kombat Deception has a chess mode, where even if you get "captured" you can fight back, to the death.
  • The action/chess hybrid Through the Looking Glass pits Alice against a set of life-size chess pieces. Each side is confined to legal chess moves (with Alice given the choice of which piece to play as), but can make them continuously, without waiting for the other side's turn.
  • Devil May Cry 3 has you fighting a demonic chessboard at one point. You can destroy the entire board at one go by killing the king, but until you destroy the rooks he'll switch places with them when hit (a nod to castling).
    • In fact, all of the pieces have nods to their actual chess counterparts. The Pawns take small steps (though they can change direction) and attack not only to the front, but to the back diagonally (as a reference to how a pawn attacks diagonally and the move "en passant." They can also be promoted. Knights can jump over the pieces and attack by landing on Dante (other pieces will try and fail to move through other pieces). The King can only attack in his immediate area. And the Queen can move diagonally and horizontally the full length of the board (though, ironically, this, along with the cackle she makes when she moves, allows her to be the most easily avoidable). Rooks and Bishops also only move and attack along their normal counterparts' paths.
  • On one level of Durlag's tower in the Baldur's Gate expansion Tales of the Sword Coast you end up on a large chess board with a full set of hostile chess pieces bearing down on you. Since The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard, they all move at once. Although they adhere to some appropriate rules; any pawns that manage to cross the board without getting killed (and the pieces are tough) will turn into queens... with spellcasting ability.
    • The computer even cheats double: the other pieces scurry about like crazy, but if your characters don't stick to the apropriate movement (and there's no reminder of who's 'playing' what piece) they get zapped by columns of fire from the ceiling.
  • The old Battle Chess computer game was a comedic version of this, with animated scenes when one piece took another: The elderly king pulled out a gun and shot the knight, the rook turned into a stone-golem and ate the pawn, and so on.
  • Archon was a fantasy version of this, with pieces like dragons, genies, goblins, and knights, who fought over the squares.
  • One battle in the Sega Genesis RPG Shining Force 2 takes place on a chess board against chess pieces, though it's rather unconventional because the pieces can move however they like and are quite hard to defeat. It's one of the hardest battles in the game.

    Web Comics 
  • In one Spiky-Haired Dragon, Worthless Knight, the titular knight saw an ad for "knight". He answered it, but found out that it involved being the chess piece. He took the job anyway, as he really needed money.
  • Homestuck has an entire PLANET of chess people fighting a never-ending war.
  • In ClockworkAtrium, the school organizes a yearly game of human chess with selected students deemed to need the challenge. No need to worry, however. Only 2 out of 10 of the deaths are intentional.

    Western Animation 
  • One episode of The Simpsons has a gag where Mr. Burns goes away and part of his human chessboard escapes... and then the opposing pieces beat up the now-unguarded king.
  • In Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?, Carmen Sandiego challenges the two detectives to a game of Human Chess in which she's the black king, and the detectives are the white king and white queen. (The other pieces are priceless artifacts that she stole during the episode.) She promises to turn herself in if they checkmate her. Zack takes her up on it, but Ivy only plays along until she's in a position to take a more direct approach.
  • In Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, the series Evil Overlord Darkstorm plays with on an oversized board with actual humans. When "captured", the person is dunked by trapdoor into the moat. (This becomes an escape route later on.)
  • The Smurfs episode "The Grouchiest Game In Town", which had a villain named the Game Master who forced people to do this in a game similar to chess. Losing meant being turned into a piece for his ever-growing collection. Fortunately he had a rule "wizard takes all" which Grouchy took advantage of when he used Papa Smurf (who is both a Smurf and a wizard) to remove all his opponent's pieces from the board, thus freeing all the people who became game pieces.
  • In an episode of ThunderCats, Snarf is taken hostage by a race of tiny people. To pass the time, Snarf and the people's leader play chess with tiny people as the pieces.

    Real Life 
  • Often a (pre-choreographed) feature at Renaissance Faires.
    • Shows up at all sorts of other conventions, often with thematic house rules.
  • Occasionally public parks will have chessboards drawn into the ground for this purpose; usually not the fatal version, though.
  • A typical feature at anime conventions is "cosplay chess" in which cosplayers become chess pieces on the board and act out fight scenes when one piece has to take another.


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