A Duel

Posted on Aug 11 2012 by pomomojo in Uncategorized

If I’m in the mood to move some checkers around a board, am I bringing out a backgammon board or a checkers board? A ridiculous question, no doubt, but one not that unlike my usual thought process as I contemplate my ever-growing game collection. With so many games I inevitably find that I need to make precision distinctions between games in order to decide the perfect game for the particular group or situation. So indulge me as I seriously contemplate whether I want to push my checkers across a board made up of squares or triangles.

First, both games share some common attributes. The selling point for either game is the simplicity of setup and play. Both games basically involve a relatively small board and a set of checkers. Set the checkers up in their starting positions and you are ready to play. Backgammon does add a couple dice, but otherwise both games share the same gaming footprint and setup time. Both are also two-player games, making them ideal for a game over lunch with a coworker or a relaxed evening at home with the spouse.

So how is one to decide between the two? Let’s dig a little deeper. Both games are about positioning. In checkers your goal is to block your opponent from jumping one of your checkers and, just as importantly, from reaching the end of the board and being kinged. In backgammon you want to block your opponent from making his way across the board and bearing off the checkers from the board. In backgammon you win by being the first to remove all your checkers while in checkers you win by eliminating all of your opponent’s checkers. This is a subtle difference but might matter. In backgammon your goal is to execute your plan while slowing down your opponent. In checkers your goal is to protect your pieces while jumping on any holes in your opponent’s defense. It seems to me that checkers, then, is a bit more aggressive. Blocking your opponent from winning is not nearly as confrontational as physically eliminating their pieces from the game, making backgammon a better choice when playing with the spouse.

I mentioned those dice a little while ago. They don’t take up much more space on the table but they do play a significant role in the gameplay. In checkers every game is basically the same. You start the same and the same options are open to you. In backgammon you always start in the same position but the numbers that show up on the dice completely change the course of the game. This means two things. There’s no luck in checkers so the better player should always win and one will have to think on their feet a bit more in backgammon. You can’t start a backgammon game with a plan and expect it to work.

So now we have our distinction. Checkers will be familiar since each game plays out the same and there’s no luck involved, just a battle of foresight. Backgammon let’s a good die roller sometimes beat a good strategist but offers a wildly different experience each game. With this analysis in mind we can start to consider what type of gaming experience we want and choose the best game for the situation. Strangely, for me, this act of choosing what game to play has almost become as much fun as playing the games themselves.

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