Eskgammon (d10gammon)

A pic of the d10 dice (basically 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0)

Rules you need to know are written in bold/italics - you can skip the rest until you get questions.

 

Background:

For years I've felt backgammon has lost some of it's appeal with the computers teaching us how badly we really play. Sure, there are some variants like Nackgammon but I needed something different. Something that also addresses the needs of casual players, effectively making play as much fun and rejuvenated as when they first learned to play. In the end I tested out one simple change that I thought would generate more than the changes it did, in fact, almost none. The end result is basically one rule change and a few clarifications.

Goal:

To create a variant of backgammon that is easily playable and still different enough to both be fun and thought inspiring. It is important to notice that the goal is not to create something very different to backgammon but to keep the changes to an absolute minimum.

Requirements:

1  d10 dice (dice with 10 sides instead of 6), preferably per player

Rule changes (with comments):

A player rolls one 1d6 and one 1d10 dice.

At start both players roll the 1d6 dice.

Your home still consists of 6 points.

Bearing off is not allowed until all your men are in your home.

Coming in from the bar is only allowed into your opponents home.

It is still possible to get low doubles (11-66), they are just less common.

It is now possible to get "long longshots" (13-16).

Normal backgammon notation still works (no need to change it as 10 is the only one that looks weird as it’s shown as a “0” on d10 dice but you get used to it quite fast).

Because of the huge swings happening in Eskgammon it's quite suitable for money play. As far as tournaments go the preferred/most suitable tournament style so far has been a swing tournament (or that's what they were called in GammonEmpire/Truemoneygames). League play also works well (everyone plays everyone once). One reason normal tournaments like double elimination aren't common (yet) is because no one has a clue about doubling windows and other fun stuff yet.

Swing rules

Youtube reference game (3+3+7p matches, 1.30h, timed positions for a fast have-a-look)
Youtube reference game (5p, several basic gotchas, 0.30h, timed positions for a fast have-a-look)

Goal revisited (or WHY on earth is this variant so groundbreaking compared to any other variants)?


At the risk of pissing people off, let me start with a bold statement.

Eskgammon will transform the field of Backgammon in a manner similar to the widespread usage of the cube, at least short term.

I told you it would be a bold statement :). If the cube transformed the field 100% for those that adapted it, Eskgammon should create a similar effect, maybe on the scale of 25-50%.
With minimal reasoning (because I could write a book about it already and those that get trapped, seem to stay trapped and the conversion percentage is higher than 90% currently).

The change to the game is minimal, all rules stay the same and only one dice is converted to a d10 dice.

Compared to other variants this transforms the entire game even if not apparent at first.

No bots! Or at least no bots yet (and there is a plan for that). This is one of the main benefits (1) which results in...

Playing is FUN again! Players actually discuss moves and cubes again and virtually no one would bet their life on anything. In other words, I haven't had this much fun in a decade.

Players leaving backgammon because every bot trained shark in the world beat the living crap out of them... are now playing again. Another main benefit (2).

Most opening moves are out the window, seriously.

Having 60 rolls instead of 36 rolls makes calculations fun again (ok, for some people).

The cubing is STILL totally unknown territory. So far there are only two loose predictions about cubing and cube windows. People are still learning the basics after 7 years which means no one has decided it's worth their time to investigate things at this stage. Sure, basic cubing strategy still works but when you are in serious trouble already with the take point... I think anyone reading this catches the drift.

The amount of  'I never saw that one coming' rolls is much higher, even after 7 years of play, trust me.

You feel enlightened when you figure out some of the new common traps (I had one last weekend, after playing this for 7 years - I don't even remember when I got exited last about a new discovery in Backgammon).

Eskgammon seems perfectly suited for Swing tournaments (see above for rules)). This is actually huge for Tournament Directors. In short, today you have a problem with people travelling far to a live tournament and drop out just after a few matches. There are lots of fixes but none are really good (and I know people will disagree here but it is a problem). Swing tournaments have a guaranteed speed (typically around 2h for a dozen players) so people coming to a tournament might get to play at least 3-4 games in 3 separate tournaments in just one day. No more going home fast. No more having to play side games all evening. The benefit here is actually huge enough to be a main one (3). To simplify, players are more likely to come to tournaments and more likely to enjoy themselves (not getting bot killed). In essence, what a lot of backgammon communities on their last breath really need today.

Online server

The software can be downloaded from Piranha's site:

Piranhazone client download

When installing, just ignore any comments Avast or virus protection softwares give. Just be patient while it installs. Especially Avast gives a dozen notifications about Deepscan tests and that's just because Piranha's stuff consists of 7-8 separate executables.
If you want to have fun playing right away, please do so in the Eskgammon room. It might just be a bit hard to find players online at the same time. If nothing else helps you can always mail me and I can play a game or two some day. I can also sign you up for a tournament which is a great way to get to know other players.

Match report, statistics and tournament server

We really like people to report all matches they play on our statistics server as we plan to use ELO's (or something similar) for match making at some time in the future.
You can look at the statistics by going here
Statistics server
Login as guest and password guest (but you won't be able to do much). You can get a real username and password by mailing me which gives you match posting and tournament access.

Strategy changes:

Since this is a new game I'm sure there are lots and lots of new things to consider. It is might be more fun to discover them for yourself as well. But I will still list a few things worth looking out for (regardless of how you intent to solve the new situations).

It is now much harder to make your home board points. Those high rolls really make life difficult. Slotting might be needed a lot more to successfully make your home board.

Blitzes fail a lot more often (partially because it's much harder to get your home done properly). People sometimes also escape all the way into "safety" (past your midpoint).

Primes help but are not game killers as much as before.

Connecting your men (having points or blots spaced max 6 points apart) now seems less important.

Having men on your high points (like 11) is important for coming in properly, both for pip waste purposes (rolling 9-1 standing on your 8 point won't get you home this turn) as well as for jumping over holding points (if you are too close high rolls won't let you jump over with both men).

Making points gets a lot more fun. As an example, an opening 9-4 is an easy case, you will see other new possibilities soon.

Odds and probability tables some people have in the heads become obsolete (at least for a while). This is nice for people that like casual play and not a fight to the death.

The luck factor seems to go up as you now have a chance for some really low chance events.  As it seems harder to make your own home points and as it’s also harder to come off the bar those lucky small doubles getting more men out really swing things at times. This should suit casual players better.  More fun (and/or more cursing).

Eskgammon specific terminology:

Long hit: The direct hit in backgammon where one of the dice hits has resulted in a similar nickname for a two dice hit in Eskgammon (where one dice is highm i.e. 7-10). Difficult but oh so common.

Short bear off: Rolling one dice too low and one one too high (7-10) when getting your last man into your home. Common beginner mistakes are having your men too close to home so that a roll like 1-9 only advances your last man one and the high roll is wasted. Bluntly put, in Eskgammon your 10 point is very important.

High bear off: Leaving 3 or 4 men on your top most point during bear off is quite different from normal backgammon. Doubles are more rare but rolls like 6-high are so common 3 men on your top point is quite dangerous often resulting in a "high bear off" problem.

Yellow split: The banana split (splitting creating two blots in your home while your opponent is or will end up on the bar) is so often a valid tactic in Eskgammon we had to name it differently. Yellow is good replacement for banana and the double meaning certainly does not hurt.

If you thought Eskgammon is easy the terminology alone should give you a hint you should reconsider :D.

Ad warning :)

Although I hate ads I decided to put in a few. Several Eskgammon players play in one of these and all returns go into promoting Eskgammon. Your choice.
If you click on one of these and sign up, please please please email me about it so I can verify the linking got done correctly (the suckertest email can be found at the end of this page).
Warning! If you go and look at the site first and then click on the ad, linking will fail.
So if want to help, it is actually preferable if you contact me and I'll do the signing up for you. And you can get some info on tournaments at the same time.

Text ad (in case you have disabled ads):
MrGreen (international play)
24hBET (international play)
And since some adblockers even remove text links here is a link you can copy MANUALLY for MrGreen: http://ads.mrgreen.com/redirect.aspx?pid=3072082&bid=8443&lpid=1586

Tekstimainos (mikäli sinulla on mainosblokkeri):
MrGreen Eskgammon Suomen rakeback
Kolikkopelit Suomen rakeback
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Ja koska jotkut adblokkerit poistavat tekstilinkitkin niin tässä KÄSIN kopioitava osoite MrGreenille: http://ads.mrgreen.com/redirect.aspx?pid=3072082&bid=8443&lpid=1586

Open questions:

Q: Why not use two d10 dice?

A: Because we don't want to shoot ourselves in the foot this early? Well, this was considered but there will be many more aspects that need to be carefully examined if we go to extremes like this, namely the board as such might not be suitable anymore. By now we have considered one d8 or  d12 dice etc instead. d10 is for most purposes optimal. We haven’t actually tried to play using two d10 dice as there are so many known problem areas this would generate and we have been able to identify them clearly already while doing game development discussions.

 

Q: Can you come straight off the bar into position 9?

A: No. This is an interesting question since it would fundamentally change many aspects of the game like the blitz. At this point the consensus is that this would break the game too much so the answer is still No.  After lots of games under the belt the consensus stays the same.

 

Q: Can you bear in from 9 pips away with your last man outside the home or do you need to have everyone in your home first?

A: You have to bring in everyone into your home first although this is as debatable as the previous problem. Bringing in your last man directly would not break the game as much but interferes with keeping the rules simple (bearoff can begin when all men are in your home). In addition one of the complex strategy changes presented in Eskgammon depends on not being able to play high rolls as easily. So having your last outside man on your bar point and rolling 9-2 means you first have to come into your home using the 2 after which you can use the 9 to bear off. Since only having one d10 dice in use guarantees you a chance to come in, eventually, this does not break anything. This is also the current consensus. And again, after lots of games this seems to have been the correct game design decision.

 

Q: So you can get stuck with your last man trying to get home if you roll 9-1 and your opponent is standing in front of you?

A: Oh yes, this is one of the fun aspects. When you normally would get stuck only with a 1/1 roll you now have plenty of rolls (1/1, 1/7, 1/8, 1/9, 1/0) that can make your easy path home messed up. We also feel that if we allowed you to bear in from outside your home board we pretty much would have to let you come off the bar outside of your opponents board as well.

 

Q: No, seriously, if I roll 10-1 from position 10 with my last man on board I could only move a 1? And if I then roll 9-1 etc...

A: Yes, bearing in (fast) with your last man is not as certain anymore. Generally you are moving faster which saves a lot more gammons but you also have the opportunity to have the luck element really screwing you at times. Again, this is the current consensus and this just might be annoying enough for enough people to get changed in the future :). And no, this wont be changed (easily). This seems to be a fundamental thing needed to be grasped when playing Eskgammon and allowing bear in with your last man from outside your home takes away the fun.

 

Q: But if I have 2 men on the 7 point and roll 9-6? Can I then bring one man in and bear off the other using the 9?

A: Still no. The rules say you have to have all pieces in your home board before bearing off. This is by design (without going into details) and yes, it really sucks when it happens to you (been there, done that :).

 

Q: Wouldn't it be possible to roll the 1d10 dice at the start of a game?

A: Yes, but for now we feel the starting roll then gets too many pips and thus too much of a headstart for the winning player. And rolling two d10 dice is just a bad idea so this won’t be considered further anymore either.

 

Q: But but, maybe a player may chose with which dice to roll at start?

A: No. We even considered that (I promise) but it would become Spacegammon then.


Q: The d10 dice sometimes get stuck even though the roll is completely readable.

A: Ah, the "bad board" problem, which is rare. This one requires some explanation (and I will not add pictures).
d10 dice are obviously slightly more prone not to land flat. With a good board this really isn't a problem and you can figure out if the dice are laying straight or not by pressing them down (like you would test dice playing regular backgammon). It is quite rare that d10 dice end up next to the board sides or a checker so that the dice would move if you remove the checker next to it.
However, with a bad board (one where the surface isn't flat, the triangles are slightly higher than the surface etc) it sometimes becomes difficult or even impossible to say if the dice are straight or not, especially if the d10 dice land on an elevated triangle AND next to the board side. Pressing on the dice will then shift the dice slightly, but often just because any dice would move if the triangles are higher than the surface on the board. It is just more apparent with d10 dice.
For this purpose, there is an optional rule in Eskgammon, agreed beforehand:
If the d10 dice are clearly readable, they are usable as such.
This rule speeds play on lower quality boards, provided your opponent is sensible.
If you are playing for money, your opponent or you are drunk or your opponent (or you :) ) are known for always arguing until the outcome is favourable, don't use this optional rule.
With a sensible opponent you never argue about 0-30 degree slightly off dice (which actually then reduces rerolls, for d10 (!) dice). 45 degree obviously should be rerolled anyway so maybe you have one debatable reroll per night.


Copyright and other mumbo jumbo

We are always happy to hear if you have been trying this out and actually had fun. So far even reluctant stubborn super-conservative players have converted in a few hours (mean they will continue to play this at least occasionally).
Since we have some sort of rating system going on we might want to tie you into our website, at least IF this becomes popular enough to start getting played at (international) tournaments.
No rights reserved for casual play.
If used for gambling online or in live tournaments we reserve the rights to  1% of the rake/registration fee, at our choosing. Obviously we  don’t care unless this becomes hugely popular in which case we might want to have certain aspects of the rating system we use in effect for as many players as possible. If we go public with that part it would be nice to get the server costs covered.
We can be contacted either through Eskimo/Peter Bäckgren (whose contact details can be found using a little googling) or by mailing suckertest  A…T hotmail.com (and yes, it’s my spam account but I do check it regularly).

 

And finally a pic of a position you don’t want to end up in (or more precise, a roll you don’t want to roll in a position like this).