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In this context "Merchandising Goods" describe nearly everything that is sold with a Star Trek label, mostly overpriced. Since commerce knows no end the offered range is nearly unlimited as well. Therefore I want to describe only some of the more original items in my possession.

3D Chess

Manufacturer: Franklin Mint GmbH, Neuss bei Düsseldorf, Germany, approximately 1994/1996, Original Price: DM 495 - not available anymore, it is possible that the company does not exist any more

3D chess is a fascinating ingredient of the Star Trek universe ever since it was shown in the (second) Star Trek pilot "Where No Man Has Gone Before". Kirk and Spock played frequently and several 3D chess scenes in books and subsequent series outline clearly that it has a mesmerising effect not only on me. Right from the start there is the question: Does a 3D chess exist in reality and if so, is it playable?

This question was answered ever since the company "Franklin Mint" *) distributed "The Official Three-Dimensional Chess" around 1994. It was a replica authorized by Paramount and claims to be "the first and only authorised replica". Back then it was available for 495 DM (approximately 250 USD), consisting of metal framework with glass elements, a (German) manual and metal 32 pieces gilded resp. silvered in a cushioned box.

The "board" itself is solid with three levels. Additionally, there are four movable levels with four squares each that can be fastened at the corners of the three fixed levels. They can be moved in the course of the game.

Bild 3D-Schach von Franklin Mint Detailansicht des Schachspiels Figuren-Aufbewahrungskiste und Anleitung
The game by Frankling Mint as a whole (left) and in detail (center). In addition, there is a box for the 32 pieces and a German manual (right).
- Please click on the pictures for magnified view -

Well, back to the question whether it is possible to play 3D chess or not: yes, it is indeed possible!

And it has a very special charm. Basically, the rules of normal chess do still apply but they are extended to three-dimensionality. If a piece is located on a level where there is another one above or below the player can choose to move in a usual way or proceed "upwards" or "downwards". These extended opportunities provide the opponent with a larger target, though. That's why it is necessary to look at the game always from above to keep track of events. Of course, the whole thing gets far more difficult this way. Anyone who has got first-hand-experience with 3D chess will get a new respect for Kirk and Spock filling their leisure time that way. :-).

To say something about the quality of the workmanship, it has to be stated first, that the game is resp. was, like nearly everything connected to merchandising, far too expensive. Given the originality, the rarity and the possibility to indeed play 3D chess it is in my opinion still worth the expense. The look of the game is not exactly the same as the one of the TV series but impressive nonetheless. The positioning of the four moveable additional levels is far too wobbly, though. It is even possible to place them in an asymmetric - and completely senseless - way. So care has to be taken to avoid tearing down everything by accident. Care is also necessary when dealing with the glass elements…

The accompanying manual (in German only) answers most of the questions but leaves some room for interpretation concerning the four movable levels and the start positioning of the pieces. That way I had to "invent" some own rules. There is also an article about 3D chess in "The Official Star Trek Fact Files" which doesn't explain how to play but where the pictures can be useful. I have the German version though so I cannot tell exactly which file is dealing with 3D chess or how helpful the English version can be.

Whether the company Franklin Mint does still exist I don't know, either. I haven't seen the game new for years but it can be purchased through widely known web auctioneers. In my opinion the game is worth effort and price although a manual is really needed. Please note that the game I am referring to has a German origin so there is no English manual.

Be that as it may, the 3D chess is not only suited for collectors of Star Trek products but also for chess fans. The known rules do still apply and are extended literally for another dimension of difficulty. I am very impressed by the game despite the fragile elements, if by no other reasons than by the brilliant idea itself. It is a very innovative piece of Star Trek - in reality and in connection to the series.

added: 09/06/2008 Zelda Scott

*) The company was located in Germany - I don't know whether it operated on an international level and if so which country hosted the headquarters.

Update February, 11, 2012:

Rules to play 3D chess can be found here:

3D chess as a computer programm: