If you are a fan of board games at all you probably realized a long time ago that they aren't exactly the sort of recreational activity that will get you on television no matter how good you are. Fishing might. The same can be said of darts, lawn bowling, and even poker.
However, one board game does occasionally find its way to the television screen, and that is backgammon.
Backgammon makes it to TV where most do not because of a few simple factors.
To begin with the game is hugely popular across much of the western world, so it has something of a built in fan base. The same popularity means structured championships and tournaments with players who are dedicated to the game.
The popularity comes from a couple of factors too. To start with few games are any older in historical terms than backgammon, which can trace its roots back thousands of years. It is reported backgammon may be the first game to be mentioned in written history, going back 5,000 years to the Sumerians of ancient Mesopotamia. During the 1920's, archaeologists unearthed five boards from a cemetery in the ancient town of Ur. Boards from ancient Egypt have also been recovered from the tomb of Tutankhamen.
The second thing that makes this game intriguing for many is the way backgammon combines a need for strategy from the player, but if the strategy fails, luck just might turn the tide since piece movement is dictated by the roll of the dice. And, as any boardgamer knows dice can be fickle and down right cruel at times.
The game is stunningly simple, yet addictive and challenging in that simplicity. Each player has a set of 15 pieces which they must move from their starting positions, around, and then off the board. Dice are thrown each turn, and the player decides which of his men to move based on the outcome of the roll. Players can capture each other's men, forcing the captured men to restart their journey around the board. The winner is the first player to get all 15 men off the board.
The game plays rather quickly too since the options for movement while important, are quickly understood so decisions do not drag out the contest. The quickness of the game is another key for backgammon being television fare.
For those who aren't a fan of dice rolls determining your fate, Jim Winslow and Ton Braunlich created the game No Dice in 1987. This game has a decidedly backgammon like feel, but uses a combination of board marketings and piece locations to determine how far pieces can move. The goal remains the same, to clear all your pieces around the board before the opponent. This is a very clean, and again quick variant, and should appeal to dice haters.
However, backgammon is a game everybody should try at least once. It may just be the right combination of strategy and luck to become a favourite.
-- CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper May 21, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada