When I was a kid, there was this weird board on the backside of my checkerboard; I had NO idea what it was there for. As it turned out, it was almost perfect for a game called backgammon. I never learned it, though, until I was in the latter stages of college in the mid-1970s. I went to a bar in New Paltz, NY, appropriately named Bacchus, and saw a bunch of people playing this game. I eventually befriended one of the players, a townie named Anne, and ended up playing a lot of the game.
I discovered that backgammon is an ancient game, certainly invented in some form in southwest Asia, perhaps Persia, before A.D. 800. A version from the game spread from India to China and Japan. It was introduced to Europe by the Arabs. From BOARD and TABLE Games from Many Civilizations by R.C. Bell: “Early in the seventeenth century, a new variant appeared…the old game enjoyed a tremendous revival and swept through Europe, being played in England as backgammon, in France as tric-trac…in Germany as puff, in Spain as tablas reales…”
It is a simple game, at least in concept, where one rolls a pair of dice to move the checker pieces around the board. In the board above, the white pieces move around the board to get all its pieces into its inner board (the lower right quadrant) while the black pieces move around the board to get all its pieces into ITS inner board (the upper right quadrant) before bearing off. The clash occurs when an opposing piece wants to land on your space. A space with two or more checkers is safe, but one with only one checker is vulnerable to be hit and have that piece to start all over again.
All of this is laid out quite well in this rule book.
A lot of the calculation in backgammon involves probability. The odds of getting hit, specifically. Above are all the combinations of two dice. Say you have a piece that’s six unrestricted squares away; it’s quite vulnerable to a throw of 1/5, 2/4, 3/3, 4/2, 5/1, but also 6/1, 6/2, 6/3, 6/4, 6/5, or 6/6, or even 2/2, since throwing doubles means you get four of the number. In other words, there’s an 12 out of 36 chance of getting hit. Whereas being 11 away, there is only a 2 in 36 chance (5/6, 6/5) of being hit.
There is a doubling cube, whereby one raises the stakes of the game, but it can be played without using it; probably sacrilege, I know. I play at least once a month, and I enjoy it greatly.