Backgammon is one of the oldest games in existence, dating back thousands of years, and although in modern society it’s overshadowed by more popular timewasters like chess, it’s managed to find a home on the PlayStation 4 and its accompanying handheld, the PlayStation Vita. It’s true that in some instances the classics are best left alone – especially where an Alien movie is involved – but bringing this favourite into the digital age may yet prove a blessing for the ancient pastime.
Backgammon Blitz is split into two modes: one is the classic game of old, while the other is a re-imagination filled with eccentric power-ups to boot the title into the 21st Century. The original option is flawless; truly, it’s cleverly designed to be playable by total novices or veterans looking to hone their skills. For those of you that don’t know, the activity plays a little like draughts, but with the aim being to get all of your pieces to the other side of the board in a left-to-right fashion by using a dice to determine the amount of spaces that you move. The instructions included in this version are clear and concise, meaning that you’ll get a grip of them in no time, though the more complex strategies will take some time to master.
If you’re not new to the game, then the computer proves a worthy adversary – or you can take your talents to the PlayStation Network in order to face off against other Backgammon enthusiasts. It’s also worth noting that while the console and portable iterations are not cross-buy, they do support cross-play, meaning that you’ll be able to compete against the same pool of opponents regardless of whichever platform that you select.
As already alluded, the Blitz mode maintains all of the same rules as the Classic option, except that it adds several power-ups to the mix. These are designed to alter the experience, giving you the upper-hand by freezing pieces in place for several turns or adding an extra dice to the next roll to name but a few. These items can be purchased using the in-game currency of Bullion, which can be earned by winning games or purchased via microtransactions through the PlayStation Store. Much like any similar model, things can often get unbalanced online, with some players opting to use the most expensive goodies available. Fortunately, the game caps the use of any power-ups to three per round, helping to minimise the risk of a thrashing at the hands of a wealthy board game enthusiast.
In terms of visuals, the title looks crisp on Sony’s next-gen console with fluid movements and vibrant colours. This isn’t a hyper-realistic shooter standard of graphics, but the image is still sharp with neat little additions such as steam, which atmospherically rises from the coffee cups bookmarking the sides of the board. Sadly, the handheld port doesn’t stack up quite as well. It makes sense that the textures may not be quite as sharp on the pocketable platform, but the drastic drops in frame-rate are pretty inexcusable – moving a piece can often feel like a stop-frame animation accident. Worse still, the small screen can result in some patterns getting cluttered, such as the stone board, for example, which is almost unplayable because of it.
Of course, that being said, the mobility that comes with the Vita version is a resounding success. Matches – especially multiplayer ones – can last for days, and being able to bring the experience along with you is excellent. A quick game of Blitz does work well on the PS4, but a hotly contested battle of Classic is far better suited to the portability of the Vita. It’s perhaps unfortunate, then, that developer VooFoo Studios didn’t include a cross-save option to allow you to switch between systems swiftly.
Still, at least there’s local multiplayer to enjoy in addition to the aforementioned online face-offs. The console version employs two DualShock 4 controllers, while the Vita version uses a hot-potato method – both of which work fine. Local multiplayer is slowly being phased out in favour of Internet-based communities, so it’s refreshing to see an experience as homely as Backgammon maintain its legacy with a couch-based competitive component for families and friends.
Backgammon Blitz isn’t going to steal away any Game of the Year awards, but it’s a faithful recreation of a quintessential board game that should prove enjoyable to newcomers and enthusiasts alike. The superior graphics of the PS4 version make it the better option, though the portability of the Vita is recommended for more long-winded battles of will. Given the success that VooFoo found with its Pure Chess franchise, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the future of board games no longer exists on a board.