One of the world’s oldest games takes a few moments to learn, a lifetime to master.
It’s a game that involves equal parts skill and luck. It’s been played by emperors and peasants, in seedy taverns and gilded palaces. And now you can make backgammon a part of your life, with this deluxe backgammon set created exclusively for Vices.
Backgammon is one of the oldest known board games, its existence being traced back at least 5,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia. It was one of the most popular games in the heyday of the Roman Empire, played by everyone from emperors (who were said to gamble extraordinary sums on a game) to the general populace. The game was known as “tables” when it was written about by the likes of Chaucer (in The Canterbury Tales) and Shakespeare (in Love’s Labours Lost) — some time in the 17th century it took on the name we know it by today, backgammon.
Popular among the upper crust in both England and America during the 19th century, it gained a new lease on life in the 1920s with the advent of doubling (you’ll find a doubling cube in this set) and with it the birth of backgammon as we know it today. Still going strong after several millennia, it’s played all over the world, with top players competing annually at the World Backgammon Championship in Monte Carlo. If you already play backgammon, you might want to take this opportunity to open up your new set and start playing.
If you need a refresher course in the basics of backgammon, or are learning for the first time, read on!
Playing Backgammon: Getting Started
Each player in the two-player game has 15 chips of their own color. The board contains 24 narrow triangles, called points, which are grouped into four quadrants of six points each. The points are numbered for either player starting in that player’s home board. The outermost point is the twenty-four point, which is also the opponent’s one point.
The initial arrangement of chips is: two on each player’s twenty-four point, five on each player’s thirteen point, three on each player’s eight point, and five on each player’s six point (diagram on the next page). Each player starts with their chips arrayed around the board, with the goal of getting them all into their home quadrant and then getting them off the board — while preventing their opponent from doing the same. Both players get their own pair of dice to determine each move, along with a dice cup. You’ll also find a doubling cube (with the numbers 2-64), which can be used to raise the stakes if wagering is involved.
Once both players’ chips are set up for the start of the game, roll the dice — whoever gets the higher roll goes first. Both dice are rolled using the dice cup. You can move two chips based on the roll, or one. In other words, if you roll a 4 and a 2, you can move one chip four points (triangles) and another chip two points, OR you can move one chip four spaces and then two spaces, or vice versa. The catch is that the landing space for the four and the two must both be open, meaning that the other player can’t have more than one chip on the point where your chips land. Using this rule strategically can help you block your opponent from moving their chips forward.
Rolling a double (e.g. both dice come up 5s) means you get four moves of five points, rather than two. There will be times when you can’t move a chip the number of spaces determined by one or both of the dice. In this case, you can move one chip the number of spaces determined by one of the dice. If you can’t move any chips, you lose a turn.
A point occupied by a single chip of either color is called a blot. If an opposing chip lands on a blot, the blot is hit, taken off the board, and placed on the bar. Any time a player has one or more chips on the bar, their first obligation is to re-enter those chips into the opposing home board. A chip is entered by moving it to an open point corresponding to one of the numbers on the rolled dice. For example, if a player rolls 3 and 6, they may enter a chip onto either the opponent’s three point or six point, so long as the prospective point is not occupied by two or more of the opponent’s chips.
Once you’ve moved all 15 chips into your home board, you can begin bearing them off the board altogether. The player who gets all their chips off the board first wins. A player bears off a chip by rolling a number that corresponds to the point on which the chip resides, and then removing that chip from the board. Rolling a 4, for instance, permits you to remove a chip from the four point. If there is no chip on that point, the player can make a move using a chip on a higher- numbered point. If there is no move on a higher point, the player may bear off a chip from a lower-numbered point — a rolled 5 can bear off a chip on the 3 for example, if there is no chip on the 5 or 6 point.
Now that you know the basics, it’s time to start mastering backgammon — a task which can take a lifetime, but we guarantee you’ll have a lot of fun along the way.