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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The Art of Backgammon and 40k

If you have ever played backgammon then you are probably aware that the game has quite a few common characteristics shared with 40k... Namely both use six sided dice - that is both games are based upon both skill and some degree of luck. Also both are games designed for two players. If you don't like to be adversely affected by luck then checkers or chess might be a better choice... Well maybe. :p

I first started playing backgammon when I was an undergraduate in college. It took me around a week to learn the basic strategies of backgammon. Later that year I came in 3rd place in a large tournament played over the course of several weeks in my dormitory. This was my initial introduction to the fickleness of dice and luck. I was the only player to go undefeated heading into the finals then my dice rolling went a bit cold... Oh well.

A Brief History and Explanation of Backgammon
Backgammon can be a relaxed game played while drinking beer and it's quite popular in pubs over in the United Kingdom. Backgammon is one of the oldest board games for two players. The playing pieces are moved according to the roll of a pair of six sided dice, and players win by being the first to remove all of their pieces from the board. There are many variants of backgammon, most of which share common traits.

Although luck is involved and can heavily factor into the outcome, strategy should play a more important role over the long run. With each roll of the dice players must choose from numerous options for moving their pieces and anticipate possible counter-moves by the opponent. Players may also raise the stakes during the game using a six sided doubling cube. There is an established repertoire of common tactics and occurrences.

Matches versus Single Game Play and the Doubling Cube
Often players will play a series of matches such as the best out of seven or the first player to win a total of five games. A player can win a match more quickly if the doubling cube is used - that is every time the doubling cube is turned over the value of a single game is doubled - for example if the doubling cube was turned once then that game would count as two wins. A player cannot use the doubling cube again until after their opponent has also turned it. I have found that versus a computer simulation (see below) typically the doubling cube is only turned once per game.

The advantage of playing a match versus a single game is that luck tends to even out between the two opponents over the course of several games. Note that a player can resign from a game and not accept a doubling, which is a very important consideration when playing a match.

Computer Simulations
This is where it gets interesting for me - like chess, backgammon has been studied with great interest by computer scientists. Owing to this research, backgammon software has been developed capable of beating world-class human players. Recently I have been playing a lot of backgammon versus a computer simulation known as Backgammon NJ HD. I quickly progressed to the expert level then suffered a rather major setback losing game after game. It was a frustrating experience and it just seemed like the computer simulation always got the exact dice rolls needed to win... That might sound a bit familiar if you ever play online.

Enlightment and 40k
I stuck with it though and finally it dawned upon me how I could consistently beat the computer simulation. When I say consistently I mean winning roughly 50 percent of your games.

There are lots of various strategies that have been developed to win at backgammon but I'm not going to spend a great of time delving into all these tactics. What I will say though is to win a lot at backgammon you need to have a good opening game and moving your pieces in a manner that is both offensive and defensive at the same time are the two main keys to winning on a consistent basis. What you want to do is to reduce the favorable odds for the computer simulation as much as possible - that is to force the computer simulation to play purely defensively. This style of play brings me back to 40k, which is the main intent behind this article. This manner of winning which I have just described reminds me of playing two of my favorite armies in 5th edition - Blood Angels DoA and dark eldar - both armies are highly mobile and are very offensive. You can inherently force your opponent to play defensively if you bring a very strong offense. If you can force your opponent to play defensively then at best they can only play for a draw.

If you are a competitive 40k player then the question I pose to you is as follows:

Is it worth your time to play backgammon so as to improve your play in 40k?

I'll let you answer that yourselves. I play a lot of backgammon anyways so it's a moot question for me. I simply thought I'd share my observations with you.

: )


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