By whatever name the modern game of backgammon has been known, it is an ancient and global game with roots deep in antiquity. Some of the earliest references can be traced back to Mesopotamia - the oldest "near-modern" version is the Persian game "Nard," from about 450 C. E. Ovid wrote of it in the 8th century.
Many games have been played on a board of 24 points that came to be known as "Game of Tables" - perhaps from the Latin "Tabula" for "tables." Variants of the "Game of Tables" that used the same initial position of backgammon appeared during the Middle Ages, with different names, depending where it was played. For examples:
* Golaka-Krida, India, 1100's
* Shuanglu, China, 1200's
* Todas Tablas, Spain, 1200's
* Nardy, USSR, modern
During the Renaissance, a variant was the most played in England, were it was called "Irish" (1500's). This variant was also played in France, called "Toutes Tables" and in Italy, called "Totae Tabulae."
The name "backgammon" appeared in 1635 in England, as written in "Familiar Letters," by James Howell. However, backgammon rules were not substantially codified until 1743, when Edmond Hoyle wrote a short treatise, spelling it "Back-gammon." The only "missing rule" was the doubling cube that was introduced in the US at the end of the 1920's.
Modern backgammon basic play is simple: a board game for two players, each of whom has fifteen pieces (also known as pawns, checkers or men), that move between twenty-four points (triangles) according to the roll of two dice. To start a game each player throws one die and the highest roll goes first, using the numbers on that rolled dice. In case of a tie, players roll again. Once the play begins, each player rolls two dice, alternately. The object of the game is to be the first to bear off - to move all your fifteen pieces off the board.
Simple enough, yes? There are strategic elements, however, as players want to get all of their pieces past their opponent's pieces. The difficulties are that the pieces are distributed, at first, and may, eventually, block or capture an opponent's pieces.
Each side of the board has twelve points, generally presented by elongated triangles of alternating colors. The points are numbered from 1 to 24, with pieces always moved from higher to lower-numbered points. The two players move their pieces in opposite directions. Each player begins with two pieces on their 24-point, three pieces on their 8-point, and five pieces each on their 13 and 6-point.
The board can be turned horizontally, with starting positions and direction of play also turned with no change of gameplay.
Points one to six, called the home board/inner board, is where a player wants to get their pieces. A player cannot bear off any pieces until all of their pieces are in their home board. Points seven to twelve are called the outer board. The 7-point is called the bar point and the 13-point is the midpoint.
As you learn more of the strategic game of backgammon, you'll learn the subtleties of this ancient board including "loosing a gammon," "loosing a backgammon," using the doubling cube, learning and using three basic strategies - the blockade, the blitz and the backgame.
Whether you're playing for the delight of the game itself or if you feel confident enough to play for money stakes, learning the history and some basic "rules of the board" playing modern backgammon brings you into a deep, rich heritage.