Every Night Is Game Night: Backgammon


Technically, my Every Night Is Game Night: My Daily Play & Blog Challenge is over, but I missed a few days so I’m writing about other games I played during May. This is post no. 29, so I’ll write two more and consider my quest completed. What are you playing these days? Tweet me and let me know!

I didn’t learn to play backgammon until about 10 years ago, back when game night meant poker games that lasted all day and/or all night. I learned the basics online and then a few of my poker buddies and I would play games between poker hands.

Backgammon’s history has always fascinated me. The earliest known set was found in Iran and dated 3000 B.C. It’s mind-blowing to think about a game that’s been around 5,000 years! One of my relatives through marriage is from Turkey, where they call the game Tavla, and I try to bring my backgammon set whenever I know we’ll see each other. He’s a fantastic player and sees all of his moves quickly. Thankfully, he’s patient with me while I figure out my moves.

Backgammon is a racing game at its heart, with dice for movement and a little take-that as well. It’s an abstract game with no theme, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying it. The goal of the game is to get all of your pieces off the board. On your turn you’ll roll the dice and move a piece (or pieces) according to the pips on the dice. For example, if I rolled a 3 and 2, I could move one piece 3 spaces and another 2 spaces, or one piece a total of 5 spaces.

If you land on one of your own pieces, that’s fine, but if you land on an opponent’s piece, then they’re sent off the board to the middle slot. They can’t move any other piece until they’ve gotten that piece back onto the board. Think of it like jail: the game continues without you until you roll the number that will get you out.

Once all of your pieces are in the final quadrant of the board, then you can begin to bear off, or roll the dice to take your pieces off the board. First player to get all of their pieces off wins.

There’s a lot of tactical strategy involved since the dice determine your movement. Sometimes the dice seem to be against you, but other times you’ll roll that perfect number (usually doubles) that give you the advantage.

Even for a game that’s thousands of years old, I’ll never turn down an opportunity to play it. Once you get the hang of the rules and figure out some basic opening moves, games go by quickly. As long as both players know the game, it’ll only take about 10-15 minutes to play and people usually play a set of games for a match, like best of 5 or 7.




Codenames was a welcome gift and nice addition to our games library last year (by the way, I prefer library over collection  because when I hear collection, I think of a group of objects displayed for the sake of observing and admiring, whereas a library is something that is actively used. I want our games to be played, borrowed, and played some more. I’m not looking to keep everything in pristine condition and I certainly don’t want our games to be off-limits to the youngest members of our extended family. Okay, rant over). It’s one of the most popular party games ever released, one that gets love from both the hardcore gamers and the casual crowd.

Designer Vlaada Chvatil might not be a household name, but for gamers, he’s a legend. Chvatil has designed some of the most popular and respected titles in the hobby, including Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization, Mage Knight, and more. These are deep and complex titles that gamers love, but Chvatil proved with Codenames that he could appeal to the masses as well.

In Codenames, two teams are trying to uncover their secret agents before their opponents do. A 5×5 grid of cards is set up, with each card containing one word. One member of each team (blue and red) is the spymaster and has access to the key that contains the identities of all the agents, innocent bystanders, and the assassin, on the grid. The spymasters will give clues about who their agents are and the teams will guess which ones are theirs.

Easy, right? Not so fast, Mr. Bond.

The spymaster is only allowed to say exactly one word for a clue and exactly one number that tells the team how many words are related to that clue. For example, the blue team’s spymaster could say, “sport, two.” It’s up to their team to figure out what two words on the 5×5 grid are related to “sport.” The words “ball” and “bat” might be the most likely answers, but what about “plate” or “pitch?”  Team members talk amongst themselves while the spymaster remains poker-faced.

When the team guesses, they touch the word on the grid. If it’s correct, the blue spymaster will cover that word with a blue agent card. If it’s incorrect, then they will cover the word with a red agent, an innocent bystander, or worst of all, the assassin. If it’s an opposing team’s agent, then that team now needs one fewer correct guess. If it’s an innocent bystander, no harm done, but it’s the other team’s turn now. If it’s the assassin, though, you lose instantly. Game over. Good night.

It’s easy to get distracted while trying to figure out the perfect clue for your team. There’s also a timer so if you’re taking too long, your opponents can put you on the clock. I prefer playing with the clock, since spymasters can take awhile trying to find that perfect word for their teammates. The game box says the game takes a minimum of 15 minutes, but it could take much longer if the spymasters are too intense. Hence, the clock.

Although I don’t enjoy Codenames as much as others, I usually won’t turn down a match. It’s a treat to play and it’s fun as either the spymaster or as a guesser (field operative).

(By the way, compare the photo below to the one above. Is it just me, or does one of the red team’s agents look like Team U.S.A. goalkeeper Hope Solo?)


Hope Solo, soccer player and/or Codenames character

Day 153: Backgammon


Backgammon is a game I fell in love with over the last few years. I tried to play it as a teenager, but it just didn’t click with me. It was around my 40th birthday where I taught myself how to play, thanks to the excellent GNU backgammon online game and a few books by backgammon legend Bill Robertie.

I skimmed through Robertie’s  books at the library, then bought his 501 Backgammon Problems. I studied it while playing opponents via Yahoo’s free online games. However, it wasn’t until I started using GNU that my game started to improve quickly. GNU’s tutor mode is essential to learning basic moves and strategy, and I was able to hold my own against more experienced players.

My Toys R Us set pictured above is still in great shape and even though I don’t play as seriously or as often as I’d like these days, when I do, it’s a reminder of how much I love this game.