Backgammon was a popular game in my house growing up. So it was an early game that we picked up for the Atari 2600. Released in 1979, and programmed by Craig Nelson, Backgammon is a fine port of the 5000 year old board game.
Playing it back in the day vs. today, I am reminded of one thing. I need to buy better paddles. That is right, Backgammon for Atari uses the good ol’ paddle controllers. It is a really smart use of the controller, the button and rotating action is very intuitive for cycling pieces around the board. They allow the game to move at a nice pace, especially when you have two experienced players. This is a nice change of pace from other Atari board game interpretations. Yeah, I am talking about you Atari Chess!
It is a good idea to find a human to play with, because playing against the computer is a mixed bag. The game has some play variations, but only one difficulty level. I was able to win on my first attempt against the “computer” opponent, so replay is limited there.
As you can see the board looks great. It is colorful and looks like a Backgammon board. The dice, which you see at the top of the screen, also look like proper dice. Sound, as you might guess for a 1979 title, is extremely underwhelming. Still, the game moves at a good enough speed that anything more engaging than the occasional blip, would probably become distracting.
One of the weird quirks I noticed while playing the game last night was that I rolled a lot of doubles. Originally I chalked this up to randomness, but it is was happening way too often. So I believe what I am seeing is some sort of programming decision or limitation that makes the game slightly less random than a proper game of Backgammon.
Atari has released a good number of board games over the years. They appear simple, but they are often a lot more complex when you dive more deeply into them. Backgammon as a two player game, makes a lot of sense as an Atari game. It is well suited to the paddle controller and its geometric symmetrical board is reproducible using the systems graphic capabilities. While it might not have great AI to play against, it is bundled with some game variants. Which unlike the mess that is 3D Tic Tac Toe, do not render the game unplayable.