Other Games on the Backgammon Board
Saturday, 21st February 2015
Most board gamers know that the chess board is a versatile piece of equipment. Two games are commonly played on it in English speaking countries, chess and draughts. A whole host of other games are played on it, though, including fox and geese, a whole host of chess and draughts variants, and other games entirely. But it's not so commonly known that the backgammon board and pieces are an almost equally versatile piece of gaming equipment.
Backgammon is descended from an ancient Roman game called both alea and tabula. This used the same board of 24 points in two rows of twelve, and the same thirty stackable counters, fifteen of each colour. In the Roman game, three dice were used. It was in the middle east that the three dice were reduced to two, the special properties of doubles compensating for the loss of the third die.
Today the game has evolved into many different variations on the basic backgammon theme. The differences are many: some games still use three dice instead of two. Some have the players racing in the same direction, rather than in opposite directions like backgammon. Some vary the starting layout. Others have no starting layout at all, but have the players enter the pieces by the throw of dice, a kind of opposite process to bearing off. There are far too many to list here, but an interesting example is Plakoto, played in Greece.
There are some simplified versions of backgammon too. Some have the pieces piling up and bearing off only, with no movement in between. These, and some other games, have play restricted to half or even a quarter of the board. Many of these games are intended for younger players. Paumecary is one example from 14th century England.
In the other direction, there are more complex games played on the board. In France in about 1500, trictrac was invented. In trictrac players win not by bearing off first, but by scoring the most points. Points are scored by such actions as taking blots, or doubling up on strategic playing spaces of the board. Its Louis XIV-era refinement, grand trictrac, is a form of tables still popular in France.
In some countries, games have been developed which are not races at all. In Iceland, að elta stelpur is a "running fight" or battle game, somewhat like a backgammon board version of tâb or puluc. Pieces circle the board not attempting to to reach a finish point but to capture as many enemies as possible, the winner being the player who captures all of the opponent's pieces.
Games on the backgammon board are vastly underrepresented on this site at the moment, something I hope to address in future. In the mean time, you might like to search out some of the games I mention above, and maybe do a bit of wider research.
As an aside: draughts and many other games make good use of the backgammon pieces on a chess board. But are there any games that do the reverse? I know of no traditional games using the chess pieces on a backgammon board, but, given that so many modern sets combine chess and backgammon, perhaps someone in modern times has been inventive.