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Subject: Minimalist Games: Backgammon: Redux, Reduced rss

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chris carleton
Canada
bon accord
Alberta
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Lately, I have become quite intrigued with small games that manage alot with very little. Don't get me wrong, I still love big games with lots of bits, but as we do a lot of backpacking and cycling trips, I am always in need of small games.

This Autumn, while browsing through a geeklist entitled "The Smallest of Small," I came across the game Nannon. Apparently this game was designed by a genetic scientist, attempting to reduce Backgammon to its essentials.

If you are familiar with backgammon, you will find in Nannon one half of the dice, one quarter of the board, and one fifth of the pieces, and the doubling cube. For just under $10 it makes for a very portable, fast playing, fun little game.

Bits:

Nannon comes in a small tin box approxiamtely 4" x 2.5" x 3/4" or in cm, 10 x 7 x 2. I must have got the second edition, because mine has a crazy looking scientist on it, unlike the more sedate cover. Inside you get rules, accordian style so they are easy to put back in the tin; a board (with rules printed on the back); six nicely sized wooden checkers, two regular dice and a doubling cube. The components are of very good quality, and I appreciate how tidily all components fit in the tin container, which is excellent for travel purposes. A very minor quibble: I like the size and feel of the pieces, but the underside seems to snag on our tablecloth, even thought it feels smooth.

I will have to submit photos of my edition as it looks rather different than the one in the photo gallery.

Set-Up:

Set up is extremely quick. As you only have six points on this reduced backgammon board, two of your pieces are placed on your nearest two points and the other piece is kept off the board in your home.




Play/Rules

The game begins with each player rolling their die, with the person getting the higher roll going first and using the difference between the rolls as their first move.

Like Backgammon, you try to move all of your pieces off the board to safety, but by rolling a single die rather than two. Also unlike Backgammon, you have only three pieces, you travel in a straight line, with only six spaces to safety. If your piece lands on an opponent you can send their piece back home, but only if their piece is not adjacent to any pieces of its own colour. As pieces are always by themselves on a space, they are safe only when another piece of their own colour is adjacent.

I you can make a move according to the dice, you must; if not, then you pass. If you manage to get all your pieces off before you opponent has brought a single piece to safety, your victory counts as two games and you are to pound your fist on the table and cry out "Nannon!" (It says so in the rules, and I can't wait for this opportunity).

This is a very basic game that is made much more interesting by the doubling cube. I was surprised when I read that the doubling cube had not been introduced to Backgammon until the 1920's, because it certainly adds alot to the game, as it does in Nannon.

As Nannon plays so quickly, it should be played in match form up to 11 or 21 points, with each game worth a single point, unless increased by the doubling cube (or by a Nannon--see above). The cube has the numbers 2,4,8,16,32,64 on it and is initially placed between you with the 64 facing up. If you believe you are at an advantage in a game, then you flip the dice to the 2 and put it in front of your opoponent. If he or she concedes the game you get a point, but if the want to continue the game is now worth two points. If your opponent feels he or she now has the advantage they may pass it back to you with the 4 facing up and the game is now worth 4 points, unless you conede for two points, and so on, until somebody wins. The game is then worth however many points are showing on the cube.

You must double the stakes before you roll, and after the initial doubling, only the player possessing the dice may choose to double it again. Ties in the initial roll of the game to determine who moves first may also be used to double the stakes.

The doubling cube really makes this game.

Strategy/Tactics:

There isn't a whole lot of strategy or tactics in Nannon, but, in a game so simple, the fact that there is any is surprising.

The main decision in this game, aside from the doubling cube, is whether or not to move a piece to safety or closer to safety, or to make a prime. Forcing your opponent to pass because you are blocking him can give you a very strong advantage, especially if he or she still has a piece or two at home and you have all three of your pieces in a prime.

A lone piece can be pretty easily picked off depending on how many of the opponent's pieces it is facing.

Sometimes it just comes down to luck as when you each have a single piece on the board, and you just have to roll high to win, or low to lose.

With such a luck factor, what makes the game fun is the doubling cube. With results being unpredictable, you can pass the cube pretty early with only the slightest advantage. The same is generally true for getting the game up to four points. There is little reason to decline the cube because of the same unpredictability, so the tension builds. But the games are over so quickly that, you feel you can get the loss back in the next game.

Essentially, the doubling cube adds the "push your luck" factor to this game.

Conclusion:

I once read a legend that Backgammon was designed when a ruler asked for a game that simulated fate (the same designer was later asked to design a game that simulated reason, and thus we have Chess). With that in mind, Nannon would be Backgammon's short, hyperactive, erratic cousin.

This is not a game you are going to pull out when you want something deep, or if your not in the mood for luck to play a role. But it is excellent when you want an extremely quick (ten minutes for an 11 point match) filler, or a game to bring to a restaraunt or anywhere else you like to fill in waiting time with a game.

I give Nannon a 6.








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Almarr Ormarsson
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Thanks for a nice review. My friend and I tried Nannon once on a Backgammon board and found it a nice fast alternative to backgammonal though it's quite the luckfest. If I ever see this in a store (quite unlikely here in Iceland) I'll probably pick it up.
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chris carleton
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bon accord
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Thanks. I ordered it directly fron nannon.com. It was $8.50 US and the shipping was pretty reasonablem although it might be a wee bit more to Iceland. Luck certainly plays a big role in the game, but I found the doubling cube made it a fun diversion.
 
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Jon
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Redmond
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Reviews like this are why I love the 'geek. I never would have found this game were it not on the front page reviews!

I really like backgammon, but I have a hard time finding opponents. (After I setup a 6pt prime and won a backgammon, my girlfriend will no longer play with me.)

This looks short and sweet and has enough luck involved that I might be able to coax her into playing it.

Nice review! thumbsup
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Nathan Morse
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Powell
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ccarlet1 wrote:
The doubling cube really makes this game.
I absolutely agree!
 
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