Backgammon is a game of skill with a dash of luck... in the long run the better player will win.
Using artificial neural networks, computers and their programmers have found ways of winning regularly even against the strongest of players. But the technology doesn't take the enjoyment out of computer play.
This review will rate top backgammon freeware by sheer entertainment value and their potential for learning. Money play is outside the scope of Gizmo's Freeware, but if you're looking for a concise, independent comparative review of the best free backgammon software that's currently available you're in the right place.
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GNU Backgammon houses the all powerful GnuBG neural network engine in an ambitious freeware project which should delight all backgammon enthusiasts. Getting used to the slightly quaint ways* of this open-source program takes a while. However, the documentation is extensive and there's an excellent tutorial. On my system, the current build works fine in 2D but not in 3D.
There's a wealth of advanced options and capabilities. The "Analyse" features give you fascinating insights into the game and how the GnuBG engine is thinking (by getting a feel of the Temperature Map, for instance). The program logs moves to the right of the screen, so you can click back and forth to review the game. There's a "Hint" button" and a "Tutor" option that will give you GnuBG's expert feedback on your moves and mistakes.
If you find GnuBG's unfailing expertise as an opponent a bit too much of a good thing, you can adjust its playing level in various standard or user-defined ways. You can set the program to use the Crawford and Jackoby rules, and GNU Backgammon also supports Nack Ballard's challenging Nackgammon starting position, as well as the simplified hypergammon variation. GNU Backgammon will open and analyze game files saved in a wide variety of formats.
In short, GNU Backgammon is a highly enjoyable powerplay program that repays in-depth exploration - a must have for anyone with more than a passing interest in the game.
A portable version of GNU Backgammon has reached prerelease testing phase: the main game features seemed to work just fine on my system. The 2D interface benefits from a quick tweak (I switched the appearance to "Wood 1"). Highly recommended
Quick Backgammon is a tiny portable (this time for Windows XP/Vista/7). It allows you to enjoy quick games against a decent engine, though not a neural net; playing levels can be set to "good", "average" or "poor".
Despite the relatively unsophisticated interface, Quick Backgammon has a few advanced features and provides handy assessments and statistics. Suggestions are possible. Forced moves are automated and sound effects are good. Games can be saved as .pos files.
With all these functional features efficiently woven into a miniscule 256 Kb download, QuickBackgammon is a good addition to any backgammon freeware collection and a clear choice if you just fancy a lightweight portable to have a whole load of fun on.
Best free online backgammon applet:
Motif is a backgammon Java applet which lets you play against a computer from within your internet browser. True, the engine isn't nearly as strong as GnuBg or Jellyfish, and there's no doubling cube. It does give a pip count on the left side of the board.
Motif can be seen as an intelligent time waster for free moments online. Or as one more way of enjoying backgammon...
- HepYek is a fun standalone program to play Tavla, a Turkish variant of backgammon with the same basic rules but without the doubling dice. Although not a powerful engine, HepYek has a nice interface and discreet Turkish background music, if you so wish, for relaxing play (Windows only; 2.5 MB).
Other interesting backgammon freeware:
- Monte Carlo Backgammon sports a neural network engine, but the dated interface and splashy sounds do not make for a particularly engaging experience. However, lovers of backgmmon variants may enjoy the Play-2-Lose version of Monte Carlo Backgammon. Designed for Windows 95/98/NT (but it worked for me on Vista); not portable.
- TD-Gammon runs the ground breaking neural network backgammon engine. A 1995 version of TD Gammon can be downloaded as freeware. You'll need one of the older Windows platforms (95 only?) to run the program and the interface is far from state-of-the-art now. But, hey, TD-Gammon contains a small piece of computer programming history.
To be reviewed:
- FIBS (First Internet Backgammon Server) lets you play other humans straight from your browser via their basic java fibs app; try logging in as a guest to play or just watch.
- Backgammon galore is a good source of information, including indications about other sites with free backgammon Internet servers.
- For gameplay tutorials, go to Backgammon Village Magazine.
(NB: Review of backgammon freeware programs like 3DFIBs Backgammon which advertise (or provide) "play for money" facilities on Internet servers would conflict with our site rules.)
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