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Subject: UMCR reviews Backgammon: Is this ancient game any good? rss

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Nick Van Dam
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Backgammon was one of those games that was always around when I was growing up. I played a lot of chess and checkers growing up, and on the opposite side of the board there was this strange game. It looked so complicated and alien at the time and I never got around to learning it, until about a month ago. We had some friends come over that absolutely love the game and they offered to teach it to my wife and me.




Components

- The board is a series of spaces that are designed with elongated triangles. The board we have is more of a deluxe board with felt like material on it, like you might find on the shelves of many a thrift shop.
- Checkers or Men - each of the 2 players have 15.
- dice - 2 standard 6 sided dice and 1 points die
- 2 cups used to roll the dice.

Game Play (not meant to be a full rules explanation)
Each of the 2 players are attempting to get all of their checkers home. This is accomplished by rolling dice and using the pips on the dice to move their checkers. A player will roll and can use the the two dice either together or splitting them to move their dice around the board. If the opposing player has two or more checkers on a space you cannot finish your move there, and are blocked from that move. If you land on 1 checker of your opponent you sent that checker into the center and they must exit back onto a space on the start of the board. Players travel in opposite directions around the board. Also if you roll doubles you get to play them as if you had four of that number instead of two. There is also an advanced scoring system with the third die, but we did not play for those kind of points.

Our Experience

Given our familiarity with other games this one was not too difficult to understand. Simple tactics of blocking opponents and defensive positions made for an interesting game. I was able to win over the expert/competitive player in my first game, and my wife managed to eek out a win too. It was a mixture of luck and tactical play with educated risks that colored the play.


Pros
- The game is easy to understand and play
- It offers tactical play but the kind of luck that levels the playing field.
- Backgammon is readily available, if you don't already own it because of checkers, you can find a nice copy in many thrift stores, or big box stores.
- Because of the level of complexity and the randomness this game can play quickly and while having a conversation at the same time.

Cons

- Randomness in dice rolling can determine the winner.
- There is no theme other than it is the most basic racing game.
- With blocking it is possible to totally put destroy the opponent but still have a long series or rolls to play out before the game is over.

Responses to the Cons

- This kind of randomness is the trade off you make for a game that provides everyone regardless of age a real chance of winning.
- It is an abstract game, this may be a con for you, or may not.
- The simple solution to the foregone conclusion is for the losing player to resign. We did this a few times, otherwise it is a bit tedious.

Final Thoughts
Backgammon, according to BGG, is the oldest game design in my collection. (our friends kindly gifted us the set after the games) It is a fun game that is the kind you can bring out for any age group and not get too serious about. Even if you are highly competitive and good with dice probabilities some luck can force you to tip your hat to a 6 year old. This makes it a game that is perfect for very casual play, and since our good friends enjoy it, it will remain in rotation. In complexity and accessibility it reminds me of a little lighter version of Jaipur. For a similar game with a little more theme and complexity I prefer Um Reifenbreite. For me this game is the perfect kind of simple distraction game I enjoy on the phone along with base carcassone, that I can play in a few minutes while I'm killing time.

I rate Backgammon 6/10

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Nicholas Hjelmberg
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toothpickman wrote:

Cons[/u]
- Randomness in dice rolling can determine the winner.
- With blocking it is possible to totally put destroy the opponent but still have a long series or rolls to play out before the game is over.
I had the same impression of Backgammon and rated it as an average game. Then I learned about The Back Game Strategy and other interesting strategies. I even managed to defeat an app known for cheating by reverting to this risky but powerful strategy.

In a single game, luck may determine the winner, but in a series of games (particularly if you use the doubling cube), the strongest player will most likely win.
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Craig Duncan
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The use of the doubling cube can also give a player who is behind extra incentive to resign. So it helps avoid those tedious play-outs.

Thanks for this review.
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dsco bee
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You should give it another try with the doubling cube and also playing several games in a match, with first to seven points the winner - I reckon you will start to see why the same people are at the world championships each year There's a lot of skill involved in backgammon, as well as a dose of randomness.
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Michael Melen
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I'll echo the sentiment: backgammon blossoms when you use the doubling cube! Of course, you need to be wagering for the doubling cube to be meaningful, but even a penny per game wager will make the doubling cube interesting. We played for a quarter a game in college, which means that when you double, the stakes jump to 50 cents for that game if the double is accepted. And so on.

I think that once you play with the doubling cube, you'll rarely play without it.
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Tim Koppang
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mjmelen wrote:
Of course, you need to be wagering for the doubling cube to be meaningful, but even a penny per game wager will make the doubling cube interesting.
That's a misconception I see tossed around. No gambling required. All you need to do is play a match to a set score (e.g., first to seven). A doubled game counts two points, etc.
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Andreas Kortegaard
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Modern competitve backgammon makes heavy euros look like first grade math. You can't compare it to chess and similar abstracts without considering the doubling cube and match play.
At it's core it's dice-based and thereby luck-influenced at all levels of play, but with the backgammon bots currently in use, there is a increasing focus on mathematically correct play.
If you like risk-management style games more than deterministic games in the modern boardgame scene, backgammon is the abstract life-style game for you. If you're more into social deduction play poker
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Nick Van Dam
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robertflatt wrote:
Modern competitve backgammon makes heavy euros look like first grade math. You can't compare it to chess and similar abstracts without considering the doubling cube and match play.
At it's core it's dice-based and thereby luck-influenced at all levels of play, but with the backgammon bots currently in use, there is a increasing focus on mathematically correct play.
If you like risk-management style games more than deterministic games in the modern boardgame scene, backgammon is the abstract life-style game for you. If you're more into social deduction play poker
Nicely said Andreas!
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k henri
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Nick, I think the more time you spend with backgammon, the more you'll find there is a steep learning curve. While I understand how you might arrive at your conclusions based on games played against fellow amateurs, I would urge you to play against a bot like GNU Backgammon. It offers several settings from Beginner to Grandmaster, and a tutor mode as well. In a 7 game match against GNU in Grandmaster mode, you will get smoked. So much so, you'll think the dice are stacked against you. In that case, you have the option of entering your own dice rolls. Guess what? You will still get smoked! Back off to Advanced, put into tutor mode, and you'll learn a few things after a 1,000 plays.

I once felt the same way you did about backgammon, but have crossed over to the dark side.devil

Honestly, it's a great game, but in my experience, not a great couples game as the objective really is to pummel your opponent into submission. It is cruel and brutal, but hey, some couples are into that sort of thing!

http://www.gnubg.org/xml-rss2.php?itemid=22
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Russ Williams
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Sir Cricket wrote:
Honestly, it's a great game, but in my experience, not a great couples game as the objective really is to pummel your opponent into submission.
FWIW many couples enjoy competitive games. My wife and I often play Backgammon.

(Indeed the first night we met she suggested playing Backgammon.)
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k henri
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russ wrote:
Sir Cricket wrote:
Honestly, it's a great game, but in my experience, not a great couples game as the objective really is to pummel your opponent into submission.
FWIW many couples enjoy competitive games. My wife and I often play Backgammon.

(Indeed the first night we met she suggested playing Backgammon.)
Yep, a generalization colored by the fact that my wife's husband is a jerk.
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Alan - Son of Hett
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 "…and in the darkness bind them / In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie." …gives me goosebumps every time, even all these years later.
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I do not like games of chance or gambling (which probably explains part of why I do not like the doubling cube), but I will play Backgammon over and over again. As mentioned, it is more a game of risk/probability assessment/management than of pure chance, the former diminishing the effects of the latter.

I do not have a gaming partner for Backgammon, so I play via an app on my tablet. It is a useful tool to gauge my (lack of) skill, because I can view the various pip counts (dice rolls versus moves needed to clear home (by the loser)). Generally, in the few games I win, I win by a small margin — the computer opponent has, say, 8 moves/pips left to clear — but my dice roll count is much higher, say, 30 pips more; so it becomes apparent that had the dice been more even then I would have lost.

Also, marginally related, I do not know why Backgammon continues to be lauded as the oldest game still played. I am pretty sure Go holds that position. The roots of Backgammon might be older, but Senat or the Royal Game of Ur bear only a passing resemblance to the modern game of Backgammon.
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Michael Swallow
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If dice roll randomness bothers you you could try Domino Backgammon http://www.bkgm.com/variants/DominoBackgammon.html
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Tim Koppang
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Irondell wrote:
If dice roll randomness bothers you you could try Domino Backgammon http://www.bkgm.com/variants/DominoBackgammon.html
You might also check out No Dice:
https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/5459/no-dice
 
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Bill Eldard
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toothpickman wrote:
Final Thoughts

I rate Backgammon 6/10
I concur.
 
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Juha Korppi
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For a long time I thought I was a good backgammon player because I could win all my friends most of the time. That was before I downloaded GNU Backgammon on my computer and got absolutely destroyed by it. There's a huge skill gap between a beginner and an intermediate and between an intermediate and an expert. The game has incredible amounts of depth. But it's also really fun and the dice adds a lot of excitement in the game. Sometimes the game can get pretty annoying if you are dancing on the bar while your opponent is bearing off her checkers or when you watch your home board collapse when you are trapped behind a prime. But if you are that other player, victory is very sweet. But revenge is even sweeter when you manage to play a successful backgame.

Some people might get the wrong message that all of the skill is in how to use the doubling cube and that's just wrong. The game is better with the doubling cube but there's absolutely nothing wrong with the checker game itself. It has survived the test of time for a few thousand years and books have been written about the checker play alone. For example Paul Magriel's classic book Backgammon is almost completely about the checker play.
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Rob Tregidgo
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hello. here is an old story, from an old book of games (a few hundred years) that is one of the oldest written rules for chess, backgammon and a few other games. it has been a long time since i heard it...the

once, there lived a sultan, who loved to play games. one day he summoned his wisest advisors and set them a task, as ancient kings are want to do.
"find me a game" he said "that represents life". so the wise men went out into the world.
the first to return bought the game of dice (the story isn't very specific about the game, probably something like craps). "dice" proffered the wiseman "is the game of life. if the gods grant you favour you will succeed. if fate is against you you fail. your destiny is not yours to command".
the second wiseman produced chess "this" he said "is the game of life. if you plan well and work hard you will succeed. if you are lazy or complacent you will fail. your destiny is in your hands"
the third presented backgammon "this" he said "is the true game of life. the diligent are rewarded, the shortsighted are punished. but always be aware that no matter how clever you are, no matter how hard you work or how many plans you have in motion, without luck you may still lose"

the third wise man won. to summerise the lesson of backgammon, "the better man should win, but life isnt fair. learn to recover from your bad rolls, and capitalise on your good luck"
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Freddy Dekker
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I've recently dug this up again and played it with my youngest.

Fairly simple game but I couldn't figure out the whole doubling cube thing. Maybe it was badly explained in the rules or I'm a twit, but...

From what I've read here I don't seem to be missing much by not using it.
 
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Robert Hahn
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sagitar: we have threads on BGG talking about the doubling cube that may help. Here’s one.
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Jeff Binning
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sagitar wrote:
I've recently dug this up again and played it with my youngest.

Fairly simple game but I couldn't figure out the whole doubling cube thing. Maybe it was badly explained in the rules or I'm a twit, but...

From what I've read here I don't seem to be missing much by not using it.
The doubling cube makes this the very best two player gambling game in existence. If playing without gambling, the cube makes the game far more interesting when playing for points. I can't imagine playing without it.
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Russ Williams
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sagitar wrote:
I couldn't figure out the whole doubling cube thing. Maybe it was badly explained in the rules or I'm a twit, but...
The basic concept is simple: if I think I'm ahead, I can propose doubling the value of the game, so that if I win I'll earn 2 points/dollars/whatever instead of 1. You can accept that doubling of the value (e.g. if you're feeling lucky, or you think I've misassessed the situation), or resign and just lose 1 point/dollar/whatever.


(Note that this idea is really nothing specific to backgammon; in principle you can do this "double or nothing" betting with ANY game (Chess, Go, Squad Leader, Caylus, whatever), but for some reason it's become an entrenched part of backgammon culture, yet is not used in most other games.)

Quote:
From what I've read here I don't seem to be missing much by not using it.
Some people swear by it and insist that backgammon is no fun without it.

Other people (including me) don't play with it and we enjoy the basic game fine.
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Juha Korppi
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In the beginning the cube is in the middle and both players can use it on their turn before they throw their dice. When somebody doubles they give the cube to the other player who can either take it and play for higher stakes or drop it and lose immediately the number of points that were on the cube before doubling. After taking the cube only this player can double again. There's 3 types of wins: 1) Normal, worth 1 point, when both players have bore off checkers from the board. 2) Gammon, worth 2 points, when the loser hasn't gotten any of his checkers off the board. 3) Backgammon, worth 3 points, when the loser hasn't gotten any checkers off the board and still has checkers in the opponent's home board or on the bar.

You multiply these points with the number that is on the cube to see how many points you win.

There are slightly different doubling rules for money and match play.

Common rules for Money games
Jacoby rule: If nobody has doubled during the game, gammon and backgammon wins give no extra points. Every win gives only a single point.
Beaver: The player who accepts the double can choose to immediately double again (Beaver) without having to give the cube back to the opponent. The other player can choose to either accept the beaver or drop the cube and forfeit the game.

Rules for match play
The match length is always and odd number, like 5, 7, 9, 11 and so on.
Crawford rule: When the other player has reached a score that is one point away from winning the match (like 8 points in a 9 point match), the next game is called Crawford game, where doubling cubes can't be used. Gammons and backgammons still give extra points.

It's fun without the cube but even more fun with it. Using it might not be very easy, especially at the beginning, since you have to be able to read the whole board pretty well. You have to look at things like who's leading the race, who has the better home board and so on. You also want to have some threats that would force your opponent to drop the cube next turn if they came true. You want the opponent to have a really tough decision to make. Before you double you can think about the Woolsey's Law that states: Put yourself in your opponent's shoes and think about whether you should take or drop the cube. If the answer is "Take", you shouldn't double. If you're unsure of what your opponent should do, then you probably should double.
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Freddy Dekker
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Thanks.

Sofar we've been able to resist playing a series of games and just stick with single games, but good to know how it works, should we ever feel the urge.
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sagitar wrote:
Thanks.

So far we've been able to resist playing a series of games and just stick with single games, but good to know how it works, should we ever feel the urge.
My kids and I track wins and loses on a note pad up to a predetermined number of games/points. So even if we wait a week between games, our record of wins is maintained until someone reaches the designated number. That way we are still only playing one or two games at a time, but still having the added fun and strategy of the doubling cube. Also the doubling cube speeds up games, because if the person denies it, the game is over (no drawn out bearing off phase). So you will find yourself more often playing consecutive games.

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Tom Swider
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Within the past year, I have taught two wargamers how to play Backgammon. It was interesting to see how long it took them to make moves that I make with little thinking due to experience. Played at a "normal" speed, I think a single game played with doubling cube can take an average of 10 minutes. Some tutorials or playing with a computer version can help improve the beginner's learning curve.
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