Backgammon games for PocketPC

I’ve been playing backgammon for a long time. Never seriously on tournament level, but I’ve played a lot of games.
The first game I looked for when I got a new PDA was a good backgammon. This is the result of my search. But first;
please note that these comparisons mainly concentrate on usability and not that much on the game play it self.

Testing that takes a long time and my first wish was to find a game that I actually wanted to spend a long time with.

KSE backgammon 3.0

The first thing that strikes me about KSE is that it’s rather ugly. It doesn’t natively support vga, the scoring font is to small and the background templates are not exactly stellar. The backgrounds are better than the ones in BGLight, but that’s not saying much. When using a program like ozVga to force the ppc in vga mode KSE scales the board and the checkers to use all of the screen, which looks rather good, unfortunately it doesn’t scale the scoring board or the dices, leaving them rather small.

You have to role the dice for both players and to move you have to drag them all the way. Possible destinations are marked only when the checker is moved over them, and the marking is rather weak (just a small triangle). Checker movement is animated and animation speed can be set to either off, slow, normal or fast. Nice. Bars over (and under, when double) the dices indicate unused dices, nice but could have been bigger.

I’ve played two games on the highest level “worldclass”, and it didn’t make any mistakes that I could see. It did take rather long thinking about it at times, the longest I counted was about ten seconds (on a 623mhz Dell v50x). Especially annoying in the end game, when it really doesn’t have to think that much a head. Small note: I’m not saying it cheats, but it did manage to throw three double sixes and one double five, within seven throws. If a human did that I would probably call the person a lucky bastard.

KSE Backgammon with menu/icon bar on the bottom, with, menu, "newgame", "hint", "undo", "dice stat", "double" and sound controls. Notice bars over the dices indicating unused dices

During movement of one of the white checkers, notice the small markers under two of the bars, indicating possible targets.

Down scaled hires version from running under vga (with ozVGA). Click on image for full screen vga version.

With the screen turned and another background and checker color. I kind of miss the pip count.

BGLightCE v.0.9.5 – beta

Try as I might I can’t find anything nice to say about the graphic design of this game. There’s five different boards included and a ton of different checker, but I didn’t seem to be able to make it look good no matter what I did. (the screen shots below is the default combination). Don’t work in vga, not even with ozVga. The checker movement isn’t animated and there’s no indication of used dices.

Ah, finally a game that allow automatic movement of the checkers. Click on a checker and it moves as the first dice. Click the next checker and it moves as the second dice. Click an icon to swap the dices. That’s how a backgammon program should work. No stupid drag and drop, which is just about the most imprecise user interface ever devised. This functionality is worth a lot of points in it self. But not as many points as the stupid dice control system in this program drags it down. You not only have to click an icon to both role your and the computers dice, but you have to click two different icons, which in them self don’t make any sense. One to role your dices and one to role the computers dices. Arg!

Well, maybe I could live with the bad bit about the dice role icons if it wasn’t for the fact that this game played the worst game of them all. Take a look at this series of screen shots:

I just accepted it's double and then it took out two of my (red) pieces, without defending its own home checkers!

So I get out and take out three of it's pieces. Takes a bit of luck, but no human (or half decent computergame) would have taken that risk.

Well, at least it knew it when it was beaten.

Ouch. There’s nothing more annoying than playing idiots. But I’m a forgiving person, so I play one more game. The first thing I notice it that it doubles the first time it’s a bit ahead. And then it does the exactly same thing, leaves to many pieces unprotected. But by blind luck (or maybe it just have a very special playing style?), it manages to box me in and it would actually have gammoned me, if it hadn’t gone of and done it a third time – it went out of it’s way to take out one of my pieces, even when it meant that it would have to leave a piece unprotected and even though it was way ahead. We can all make mistakes, but there’s a limit and mine was reached right here. I’m not wasting more time on BGLightCE. And, yes, it was set to its highest level; “expert”.

Avantgarde Backgammon 1.1
Freeware/Adware by Avantgarde Digital
A very simple interface with very few options. In fact, all the Tools menu contains is “about” and “exit”, the Game menu allows you to switch colors and select between “Beginner” and “Intermediate” level. New simply starts a new game. So there’s no double cube, no backgrounds, no statistics and no score keeping. But a fifth of the screen is taken by an ad. Doesn’t work in force vga mode and doesn’t work in horizontal mode.

Very simple layout

Roll and undo buttons appear when needed.

This is what av-backgammon does best.

Uses normal drag’n’drop functionality with clear indication of legal drop targets. You have to roll for both the computer and your self. Undo only works until you’ve rolled and given the dice to the computer. Luckily the computer is quite fast, for for some stupid reason the dices roll for between 2 and 10 seconds each time they roll. At first I thought it was a clever way of hiding that the computer was rather slow about making up it mind about it’s next move, but it also does it when it’s the players turn. Very annoying!
Gammoned it in the first game, after it made some rather big mistakes. It doesn’t seem to understand the concept of protecting it’s own pieces. If it had played a somewhat average game or if the dice roll hadn’t been so slow, I may had given it one more chance, but … no, I don’t thing so, I’ve better things to do.

Pocket Gammon 1.4 (Regge)
PostCardware by Jens Regge
Works by default in landscape mode and doesn’t react if you try and turn in into portrait mode. Doesn’t use or work in vga mode. It comes with a wooden and a gray and gray board layout, which I both found way to bland and low contrast. The board fills all of the screen, which is quite nice, if you can live without the pip count (I like it before I take doubling decisions). There’s a very nice statistics screen and a very clever option top have “hit probabilities” show on the board. Every now and then a nag screen reminding you that this is postcardware will pop up – during the game.

Showing the probabilities of either the human or the computer hitting bars. Nice.


Indicating possible moves, by coloring the target bars

You have to tab the dice icon to roll the dices and you move by drag’n’drop. As the only game this one doesn’t allow you to make double moves during drag drop (if you roll 3/4 you should be able do drag 3, 4 or 7 bars). The possible target bars change colors to indicate usability, which is about as clearly as you can indicate it (but I didn’t really like it, seemed a bit to much). There’s no animations, but the source and target bar will flash a few times before the computer makes it move. Works, but I must admit that I found it a bit annoying. Undo works until you’ve give control/dices over to the computer. There’s no automatic roll. There’s no indication of used dices.
Backgammoned it in first game, won the second one and got badly beaten in the third. The playing style seems to be brave bordering on reckless, which works well, when the dices are on your side. Could be fun playing.

Pocket Gammon 2.1 (Regge)
Regge-EDV 30 day trail, 19.90us$/?14,90 to buy
(See the review of the old postcard version above for reference). The bad news is that Regges Pocket Gammon is no longer free, but will cost you 19.90us$. On level with most other payware backgammons, but still a lot more expensive than a postcard. The really good thing is that Regge actually read my wish list and added some of my wishes – not all of them, but good enough for now. The new things are a pipcount, auto roll, double move (move both dices in one move), move indicators, free choice of drag’n’draw or tab move and more themes (one of which I actually like). Cool stuff that really helps with the usability and makes Regges one of the nicest ppc backgammon games. I would really have liked to see VGA support and a few other things on the list, would have been nice (mainly “used dices” indicators), but I guess that just leaves room for a version 2.2 or 3.0.

Regges PocketGammon using the Flame theme.

Movement indicators showing how the computer moved. Really helpful. My favourit theme: Spheres

Option screen with brain slider

As already mentioned, you have a choice between drag’n’drop or tab move in this version of Pocket Gammon. There’s not single tab (move first dice, then
second). You have to tab the small dice icon to end your round and to end the computers round. Legal moves are indicated by highlighting legal targets – I find the default color a bit to much, but that can be changed on the skin pager under options. There is no movement animation, but the pieces does flash back and forth between source and target and you can set how fast. But this isn’t really needed as Regge has implemented something I think is first among the Pocket PC backgammon games; movement arrows, showing how the computer moved it’s pieces. Undo works until you give control back to the computer. As also mentioned VGA support would be nice, and I did find that it refreshed the screen a bit to often, which can be a bit annoying.
Gamesplay: Doesn’t have playing levels like most of the other backgammons, but has a ‘brain’ slider that goes in ten steps from ‘Defensive’ over ‘Balanced’ to ‘Aggressive’. It starts of on ‘balanced’ and I’ve played it on that. It’s not only balanced, it also very strong – it beat me the first
seven games, until I got the hang of it (or got lucky, if you will). It didn’t manage to gammon me, but took just enough chances to create the openings it needed, and then carried the victory home as safely as possible. If you find that boring, you can use the slider. I’m impressed. I havent played that many games in the old version, so I can’t say how it compare, but I asked Regge and he told me that no major changes has been made, but he had “…tuned it for some special situations.”

PocketGammon 1.0 (MS2K)
Megasoft2000 – 7 day trial, 14,95us$ to buy.
The first thing you notice when you start this game is that you have to start of by selecting between to gametypes. Normal backgammon and Narde (read about it in the manual), which is a nice addition to the normal game. The board is a nice wooden design and the pieces are blue and yellow and that can’t be changed. PG MS2K uses the top portion of the screen for pip count and to indicate who’s turn it is (the piece is blinking), which is nice as it give more real estate, but on the other hand it makes it a bit more complex if you suddenly want to start another application (use menu->game->minimize) – it doesn’t help that MS2k have disabled the hardware buttons on my machine. Why? The extra screen space could have been used for a take out area.

Automove! Autoroll! Wow!

Starting the game. Notice the used 3 dice.

Nice flashing indicators show where you can move the selected piece (also flashing). Also notice that I'm getting killed again.

This game has Autoroll! Wow! Unfortunately the undo function doesn’t work once you’ve given over control to the computer, making the autoroll function rather dangerous (once you’ve done your last move, there’s no going back). I recommend setting autoroll to “human”, which means that you have to roll the computers dice, but you keep the undo function. The moves are animated, but even on “slow” they are a bit to fast. When you’ve used a
dice it becomes “ghosted” which is a nice indication of used moves. You roll the dices by tabbing them. You move the pieces by tabbing the piece you want to move and then the target – I like this mode of movement better than drag’n’drop, but I like automove better. There is an automove function in the game, but all that does is move pieces when there’s only one option (roll the dice and if there’s only one thing to do, it will do it for you). I found that kind of annoying and turned it off. Doesn’t accept screen taps until is ready, which is kind of annoying. You can’t go tap-tap-tap-tap and then watch it move your two pieces, you have to go tap (pick up), tap (place) and then wait until the piece has done moving before you can move the next one. Eps. annoying when you a moving a lot of pieces or taking out.
Nice well balanced and fairly strong game. It actually beat me the first four games, until I got the hang of it, but since then I’ve won around two thirds of the games, which I think is a bit to much. Could be better.

ChromaGames v1.8 Backgammon
Astraware (19.95us$ nagware)

Also includes a Chess and a Checkers game in the same program. I haven’t tried these two games and have no idea as to how they hold up. The game
looks nice, but I rather miss a pip count and there’s no option to change the theme. There’s no setting or options, the only thing you can do is switch colour from white to black or vice versa. Crashed the first time I tried to exit the program in mid game, but it haven’t happened since. You can start it in vga mode, but it makes no difference to the way it looks. A bit much screen estate gets lost to the bars and “wood panels” around the dice area – I would have liked a bigger board. But it does look nice. The checkers could have been prettier, but that’s not important.

Checker target highlighted by square.

Lots of screen estate taken by things other than the board

Gamecontrol: You have to role your own dice, but not the computers. You can move by either drag’n’drop or by clicking on the piece you want to move and where you want to move it to. The drag’n’drop definitely works best. There’s no animation and it can be rather hard to see, what checkers the computer moved. You can see how many of your moves you have left, but not which moves (the checkers shown in the lower right corner, indicate moves
left). You can’t move a piece both dices at once, which can be annoying, especially in double situations.

Played three games and won them all – didn’t catch it in any really bad moves, it just wasn’t good enough to protect it’s own pieces making it easy to take it out. Again and again. Probably a good offer, when you remember that there’s a Chess and a Checkers games in this program as well. If you really, really want these three games in a simple and easy to use package, this may be it, especially if you don’t like to lose to much…

Conclusion: All in all I’m quite disappointed about these games. None of them have all the features of a StandAlone Backgammon or Agushka Backgammon on the palm (and they had them years ago). I badly missed the automove function (or Single Tab Moves as StandAlone calls it) and the move indications from Agushka (small arrows show how the computer moved).

KSE and Ms2k PocketGammon may come close to the strength of Agushka (which would kick my ass two time out of three), but I’ll have to play them a bit more to really know. Regges PocketGammon may be better than Auguska, but I can’t say for sure.

Non of them made good use of the vga screen of the x50v, but hopefully either KSE (which already have some support) , MS2K or Regges will get better in that department in the near future. With the new version 2.1 Regge gets my money. It plays better and has a better user interface even with out VGA support. MS2K and KSE comes in second and third, but doesn’t really offer anything special that would make you want them instead of Regges.

Just to recap, what I would like in a backgammon game:

  • Autoroll,
  • unlimited undo (needed when autoroll is on),
  • automove (Single Tab Move),
  • move indicator arrows,
  • tab dices to roll (you want to roll the dice, what would be the intuitive ting to click?),
  • strong play,
  • double dice,
  • pip count on screen,
  • game statistics,
  • dice statistics (not that important),
  • clear indication of used dices,
  • clear indication of who’s turn it is,
  • take out area (so you easily can see how many you’ve taken out)
  • Autofinish (automatick takeout)

Here’s hoping…

p.s. Please let me know if I missed a backgammon game…

8 thoughts on “Backgammon games for PocketPC

  1. TC Post author

    As already mentioned, PocketGammon 1.0 (MS2K), plays Narde, not sure if it’s a good one, but it’s there…

  2. Albert Silver

    Thanks for the overview on the various PocketPC programs. Your evaluation on the strength is off, as clearly attested by your review of BGLight, but you clearly said you weren’t a tournament player so it’s no big deal. Just so you know, BGLight is actually the strongest PocketPC program around by far, others don’t come within a mile of it. It is based on GNU Backgammon (, which together with Snowie4, is the strongest BG program period, and is used by by the world elite as a study tool. As to the boards, you should look again as it now comes with a very nice wood skin.

  3. TC Post author

    Dear Albert,
    Have you actually played BGLight? It’s based on the BG Light enigne is not the same engine as GNU Backgammon. From the linked page:

    "BG light is loosely derived from GNU backgammon, however it is completely rewritten in C++, uses a different cube decisions model…"

    It maybe strong, but I beat it two times in a row, and not because I’m an ace, but because it did something stupid (and actually did it three times during those to games).

  4. Glenn

    RE: BGLight

    I’m not a strong player, but am better than average. I find that BGLight makes a high number of risky moves that expose checkers, only to get incredibly "lucky" on player rolls that miss. Also, I’ve noted that, when my home is completely blocked and it has checker(s) on the bar, it does very well on re-entering play (often 1st available roll), which is definitely not true for human player in identical situations.


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