Backgammon (DHTML)


MikeBackgammon (DHTML)We've reviewed the gamut of casual online games here at Jay is Games: everything from invertible, dual-overlay, monochromatic puzzle-platformers to 3d off-road dinosaur racing bonanzas. But sometimes you want something simpler. Sometimes you just want to play one of the world's oldest board games in your browser without any fancy plugins, addons, or other third-party paraphenalia. Good news! Developer Thomas Weibel has a simple but spiffy DHTML version of Backgammon that uses nothing but what God and Cupertino put in your browser on the day it was compiled.

The game assumes you are familiar with how to play backgammon, so novices might benefit from a quick tutorial (more complete instructions may be found here). You control the white stones. The object of the game is to move all your pieces from the top-left corner of the board clockwise to the bottom-left corner, and ultimately off the board entirely, while your opponent does the same in the opposite direction. Click on the dice to roll, click on a stone to select it, and again on a game space to move it. Each die result tells you how much you can move one piece, so if you roll a five and a three, you can move one piece five spaces, and another three spaces. Or, you can move a single piece three spaces, then five spaces (or five, then three). Rolling doubles means you can move four pieces, each a number of spaces equal to the value on the die. You can't move to spaces occupied by two or more of your opponent's pieces, and a piece that occupies a space without at least another ally is vulnerable to being captured. For these reasons it's important to try to keep two or more of your pieces on a space at any time. The strategy comes from attempting to block or capture your opponent's pieces while advancing your own quickly enough to clear the board first.

The game features all you need to play backgammon, and nothing more. The visual presentation is serviceable, but this being HTML, there's no music, no sound, no animation to sully its bare-bones approach. While some additional features, like in-game instructions, or a way of highlighting available moves, would be nice, the game doesn't really need anything more than what it offers. It's a solid bit of programming, with just the occasional hiccup or bug; and while it could just be that I'm a lousy backgammon player, in my pride I'd rather conclude that the opponent AI is pretty darn sharp. Overall, Thomas Weibel's Backgammon is fun, challenging, rock-steady, and doesn't suffer from its super-simple presentation.

Play Backgammon (DHTML)

29 Comments

I would say the AI is average after easily winning my first game. It made a number of silly mistakes but it isn't completely stupid.

There needs to be some way to end your turn voluntarily, or it needs to detect when you can't make a move better. I got it in a situation where I'm currently moving my pieces off the board, but I was able to trap the AI's pieces in my home board. I rolled such that I can't my any pieces exactly off the board, and my only move on the board is onto the space that my opponent holds in my home board. At this point I should be able to pass, but it's not letting me.

You are right, MdB - my computer player isn't really good. Yet, the game core is a tiny 55kb Javascript (where real Backgammon software needs dozens of MB), and it should not play too bad at least.

I've just managed to Backgammon the AI but unfortunately it doesn't say anything about it apart from that you have won.

Thanks for the suggestion MdB - I just added a Gammon and Backgammon detection. The game still won't cheer frenetically, but it will tell you you're a pro. :-)

For 55kB of JS, your game engine is very good. However, if you can improve it at the cost of a larger download then that would be great as an option.

(oh and I'm sure your RNG is biased towards the computer - grumble, grumble, grumble)

Thanks for the backgammon / gammon update - I'm sure I'll never be able to repeat it to test this out.

Can't say I loved this one... I play A LOT of backgammon... some online, but mostly in the real world. In the one game I played, I saw the computer AI make at least one extremely questionable move (left itself open when not necessary or beneficial. Also, the lack of a doubling cube ruins a lot of backgammon's strategy, in my opinion. No way to play against online players? I understand that maybe this is some kind of programming feat, to play this game in browser, but there are so many much better flash/java/downloadable versions out there, I can't see really why this was featured. As the reviewer said, someone new to the game would be lost since it doesn't highlight your moves. I hope I am not sounding like I am bashing the game. To offer some constructive criticism, if the developer is reading this, one thing that I think would help is to change the color of the dice to the color of who's turn it is... otherwise it's somewhat confusing whether or not the play rolled the dice or not.
Again, don't mean to bash the game, but I am really and truly a HUGE backgammon nerd. I do play a couple of friends for cash (a dollar a point, using the cube), and more times than not come out ahead.

i regret saying that can't see why it was featured... that reads much more harsh than I meant it to sound

I love to see more javascript/dhtml games out there. With the amount of optimization going into this area with browsers, I hope we see a lot more of it.
As others noted, the AI is quite easy to beat, but for such a tiny amount of code it is remarkably well done.
I think the interface could use some work, though. I'm using Safari on a Mac and the whole screen flashes quite a bit while moves are being made. Also, I think the whole thing would feel smoother if one could also drag pieces around the board. And I don't know how complex it would be, but it would be great to let the user use multiple dice in one move (as in move 7 at once with a 2+5 roll rather than moving 2 then five). This could also include moving stacks of pieces at once on doubles. These are small matters but would add a lot to playability.
In any case, great work by the developer, and thanks JIG for featuring it.

I was trying to play for several minutes, unable to figure out why it kept telling me I was trying to make invalid moves. Finally, looking at the Rules page linked in the review, I noticed that little note saying "An alternate arrangement is the reverse of the one shown here, with the home board on the left and the outer board on the right."
So, I guess it's valid, but I have never played with this layout before, so was getting incredibly frustrated. I was seriously close to ragequitting. Might be nice to include labels or a direction of play notation of some sort. Flipping it around to the "right" way would be even better, but I'm open-minded.

Also, joemomma, doubling cubes are totally an optional rule, not standard.

Two more things that have come up.

I have found myself in the same situation as Bizarro: trapped three of the enemy's pieces in my home board, started moving my pieces off, rolled double fours and moved the one piece off that could move. Everything else is either less than 4 spots out, or blocked by enemy pieces. Thomas, am I correct in thinking that it only checks for impossible positions at the beginning of the turn? That would certainly explain my situation, since I had an available move at the beginning of my turn.

Secondly, it would be great if the dice would change to indicate having been used. I've found myself a couple times forgetting to roll and trying to use the enemy's dice.

@Nemo - no, the game checks for the need to pass after every move. If this happens again (and there is no other move possible), a screenshot would be helpful. And as to the dice - thanks for the suggestion: I'll add that feature in the next couple of days.

why, oh why, would you write the game to play upside down and backwards?

Put the homeboard down in lower right where it belongs....and No, don't tell me that it's because of some programming limitation.

Renders it unplayable.

great game. i must be a bad player for I lost three out of four games. very enjoyable.

Home is always lower left for me ;-)

I guess it depends on how you were first taught. Both arrangements are given in various online rules.

Looks nice enough, but for playability, the UI gets in the way. I used to play BGBlitz daily. I could play a game--even a 5-point match--in a few minutes. I want to play fast. This, like so many other BG versions just slow me down.

IMO, neat example of DHTML, but still a bit away from great.

@Nemo - as to the dice indicating having been used or not: feature added (dice used slightly shaded), feedbacks welcome.

@JustMe - why? Backgammon can be played in any direction, no matter where the home and outer boards are. 20 years ago I had a pocket Backgammon computer (Texas Instruments I think) playing the way my game does. And I haven't played against a computer AI since.

Update @Nemo - frankly, I didn't like the shading. Dice size now indicates whether it has been used or not.

I understand that Backgammon is a classic game that most people know how to play, but I have forgotten how in the many years since the last time I played. Quite simply, I disapprove of a developer not having instructions somewhere in his game and instead directing the player to wikipedia.

The computer plays very safe on this one. No (or hardly any) "hunters" left around the board to be able to strike me out or block a spot.

And it's strange to have home on the lower left.

What's worse; it threw 5 and 6, then moved 6 two times and suddenly froze. The "5" die stayed big while the "6" was small.

I've just learned to play Backgammon with this program. It wasn't too much trouble to check the rules on Wikipedia. I found it remarkably easy to pick up and perhaps too easy to win. Despite regularly beating the computer, I'm still frustrated by the fact that the dice are skewed to compensate for the (understandably) limited AI. It often gets that double six it desperately needs to escape my homeside trap. I think I'll be moving on to humans to learn to play properly - but this has served as a really good, simple introduction.

I have an issue with the AI, and it's only been like this recently.

Just a second ago, the AI rolled a 4 and a 1, then moved one of its checkers to a space right before a tower of my pieces, and then it tries to move it once forward, but because the game won't let it, it just keeps trying.

@hespetre, @Waggles: By unleashing the AI (making it a little bit more offensive) I omitted a condition, which was the cause for the error. Bug removed.

This game is buggy! It wouldn't let me finish the game...

Just played a few games, and had a couple of issues. In the first instance, I rolled 5,6 and was only able to use the 5. The game would not recognize that I needed to pass. I had to start a new game to get around the problem.

The second issue was at the very end of the game. I had only 1 stone remaining, an the 1st point in my home board, so any roll would play in off. The AI had 6 stones remaining. It rolled, and played off two stones, then, when I rolled, it said I couldn't play, and it rolled again. It played off two more stones, and I rolled again. The same thing happened a second time, and the computer 'won' because it would not let me play off my last stone.

@John, @June - fixed: The faulty auto-pass function has been replaced by a pass button.

Thanks for the answer, I didn't see it until now.
The game is improved, yet still makes a few odd/bad decisions (like playing overly safe, then suddenly leaving itself unnecessarily exposed towards the end of a match). Allows me to feel smart, then, I suppose :)

First of all: the game uses loaded dice. Look at the actual code for the game if you don't believe me.

Second: Waggles' comment of Oct. 1 and John's of Oct. 6 refer to an issue which I had feared when I read the game code. I do not believe that the setTimeout function should be used with different delays to produce actions in sequence. Rather, I would introduce a state variable, and let each function in sequence provide the setTimeout for the next.

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