Sunday, December 31, 2006

XBLA review: Hardwood Backgammon (3/10)

The Hardwood series is a nice little set of games for the PC: I have Solitaire and a couple of the multi-player card games. Hardwood Backgammon is one of three games they have for the 360 (the other two are card games, Hearts and Spades), but unfortunately, there really isn't much to this offering.

Backgammon itself is a pretty straightforward game, so a solid backgammon game will offer different variations or game settings. Hardwood Backgammon doesn't really do that. All you can do is play a local or live game from 1 to a preset number, with or without the doubling cube.

Worse yet, it doesn't even provide basic features like a Resign Game function. When you're down 100 pips and your opponent has borne off 12 men, there's really no point in playing it out. Also, it assumes you want to use the lower die first, rather than the higher one, which makes playing quickly more difficult and can also create problems if using the dice in a different order gives you different results (say with men on 2 and 1, you roll 3-1. You should be able to bear off both men, but if it picks the man on 2 and lets you move him 1, you won't be able to). Finally, it doesn't force you to use both dice when possible. (I forgot one more thing: when you roll to see who goes first, not only does it not let you use that roll, which is an informal custom, but it doesn't even show you the roll. It basically decides "behind the scenes" and you just have to take it on faith.)

Control is somewhat simple, but it feels as though the joystick bounces around too much from point to point.

The AI has four different settings: at the lowest setting, it's easy for anyone with even a little backgammon experience to beat. At the higher settings, you'll get a challenge.

The achievements are mostly offline, but vary in strength more than the rewards do. You get 20 gamerscore for a backgammon, but also for winning 10 consecutive games. Keep in mind that you can earn this playing the computer on Easy and can quit a game you're losing. Also, there are no leaderboards for offline play (unlike games like UNO), so you can't tell how close you are to earning the streak or total games achievements.

Overall, this is a pretty lame offering. If you have to have a backgammon game for the 360, this will do, but there isn't much to it, so keep your expectations appropriately low.

zlionsfan's rating: 3 blots out of 10. (Sorry, I had to deduct another point. When you're playing on the higher levels and you find yourself falling victim to a combination of the AI's hyper-aggressive play and remarkably good rolling, there's no reason to play out the game, other than to get one closer to the 100-games-played achievement, and of course you can't tell how many you need because they were too dumb to put that basic info somewhere where you could see it. You're up 120 points and are bearing men off while I have two on the bar and have moved exactly three of my other men. I concede, you win, next game.)
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