Unless you’re a veteran in the backgammon world you may be totally overwhelmed by the many different types of backgammon sets in the market.
This guide will lead you painlessly through all the options and you’ll be able to figure out what kind of board is right for you.
Your use case
There are many use cases for backgammon sets one of which is tournaments
Firstly, what do you want to use the board for? The common uses are:
- Friend- or family gatherings
- Vacation or travelling
- Chouettes (this is what a money session with many participants is called)
- A mix
- Centerpiece home decoration
- Impressing others
If you’re playing mainly at the occasional family gathering it may not be worth it for you to get a high-end board. Just take it easy with the cheap option!
If you want to take the board on the go you should consider something that fits inside a backpack.
However, if you’re interested in the world of tournament backgammon or playing seriously with friends, it will hardly be worth it in the long run to choose anything other than a nice higher end board.
The special kicker is if you care a lot about your home decoration then it may not matter what your other uses are. Many folks get great pleasure from using a nicely designed backgammon board as a centerpiece in their living room or game room.
How often will you use it?
You need to ask yourself the question if you will likely use the board only once or twice a year or many times. The more you plan on using your board you’re better off not settling for the cheapest option.
Backgammon boards come in many sizes and are often denoted in how many inches they are from top to bottom:
- small (roll-up boards, >12-16 inches)
- medium (16-19 inches)
- tournament (19 inches <)
The most important factor regarding size is how it impacts the “feel” of playing. If you have a small board with small checkers then it doesn’t feel as nice to shuffle, lift or move checkers around - there’s just not enough heft in the pieces.
However, a drawdown of really big backgammon boards is that they can be heavy to bring around and sometimes so large it can be a bit difficult to get a good overview when playing.
- Small: less than 38 mm / 1.5”
- Medium: 38 mm / 1.5”
- Large: 44.5 mm / 1.75”, sometimes you will even see 50 mm
- Note: (38mm = 1.5”, 44.5mm = 1.75”)
Let’s talk about “feel” again. You can get a decent feel with 38 mm checkers - not wonderful, but not bad. With 44.5 mm you’ll get a REALLY nice feeling when playing.
With anything less than 38 mm you’re still playing backgammon, but there’s no chance of feeling the addictive sense of moving checkers.
Checkers are the gemstones of the backgammon set. They can breathe a lot of style and personality into a set. What are the options in the market?
- Plain (uniform color)
- Marbelized plastic
- Metal rim checkers
- Fingerdish (indentation in the checker)
As you can see there are many options, but the choice is not as difficult as it may seem. Firstly, please don’t buy wooden checkers! They are too light and get smudged with use.
Secondly, most backgammon sets come with regular plain plastic checkers unless you’re buying a more expensive board. They can be just fine if the size is right.
The fun begins when you’re buying special checkers. Then it mostly comes down to taste and finding the marble effect you like! Each checker will have its own “fingerprint” due to the production method.
Metal rim checkers are mostly used when the styling material is something that cannot be fashioned into a checker piece, so that the rim is needed to hold and protect the material. Metal rims also add a whole ton of weight so they’re not good to use in travel sets, but can be extremely pleasing to the eye.
The surface material may be the most important aspect of the board since it is the most visual part of the board. It will also completely determine the “feel” when playing.
- Felt - Checkers glide smoothly
- Leather - Robust feel, but not smooth
- Wool - Robust feel, and smooth
- Cork - Vintage look and robust, but not smooth
- Wood - Looks good, but is very noisy (you will regret this option)
As an experienced player I would advise to choose felt, leather or wool. Cork should probably not be your first backgammon board, and I would never buy a wood-surface board since it is not allowed at most tournaments (and I don’t want to annoy my surroundings with noise).
My top pick, if I were to give one, would be felt since the colors are often very vibrant and the smooth feeling of moving the checkers is the best. Wool is my very close second pick.
FM Gammon and Backgammon Galaxy sell the MagFit solution where the playing surfaces can be changed easily. It’s a nice feature you should consider. There are really no down sides, though it is only an option for high-end boards.
The two common materials that are used are:
- Leather or imitation leather
There are a few determining factors when choosing the right case material:
- The look
- Scratch resistance
Firstly, the look of natural wood is a big point of attraction for many buyers. A beautiful piece of wood with a good shine that accentuates the grain can’t be beaten in terms of looks! However, this is not something you can find in a cheap board, and it is more prone to scratches. This is also why most boards, even cheap and expensive boards, come with either leather or imitation leather. With the leather option you don’t have to worry about scratches, but it comes at the cost of beauty.
Another important aspect of wood is the amazing feel and sound you get when the checkers or dice hit the frame when playing. Please note this is only nice when the surface is not also wooden, because then it becomes too much.
When choosing the case material there are no pitfalls and it comes down to taste.
The board will either have the hinges on the inside or the outside. Sometimes for high end boards the hinges will be hidden with a piece of leather.
Usually inner hinges are used for wooden cases so the outside case shows the wood in an undisturbed way.
There really is no right or wrong, but consider if the hinge color complements the main color swatch of the board.
Be sure to pick a board where the colors of the case, points, and surface are complementary with a balanced contrast.
You will be surprised how often you will find color swatches that are not very pleasant. This is because many makers of boards are good at production, while having less of an eye for visual design.
If you are unsure of what color you like it helps to see a board in real life. Photos can sometimes be deceiving so if you have the chance to see a board in a shop before buying, this is advised.
How does it feel to play a cheap versus an expensive board?
On an expensive board you want to keep playing and playing. On a cheaper board you can have a good time, but after the game you won’t get the same tingling urge to get back to the board.
On a cheap board everything feels cheap - the surface, the points, the dice cups, and the case.
On the high end board everything feels good - the surface is smooth, the frame is solid and sturdy, the checkers are big, and the sound is great.
The point of price was kept for last not to distract from finding your true preferences.
Price is obviously important to most people. If you’re rich, well then you can buy whatever you want! For the rest of us we need to figure out if the dream board is out of reach or we can save up for it.
- Below 45 usd - cheap beginner board
- Ca. 150 usd - good starter board
- Ca. 300 usd - great for the serious player on a budget
- 500-1500 usd - where dreams are fulfilled!
My guess is that if you read all the way through to here, your interest in backgammon is probably big enough to warrant something better than a cheap board.
Buying a Used Backgammon Board
If you want a good starter board, but really struggle with price you can very often find some fine used sets listed online. Most often you’ll find the used boards are still in excellent condition!
We can recommend Ebay, Facebook Marketplace or the Facebook group “Backgammon Marketplace”.
Best Luxury Backgammon Board MakersHere are some of the best board makers for luxury boards:
- Backgammon Galaxy (Our brand)
- FM Gammon
- Geoffrey Parker
Some high quality backgammon sets for the serious player at a budget:
- Silverman & Co.
- Wycliff Brothers
We have gone through all the most important elements of the backgammon board. You should now be more aware of all the possibilities when you browse the market.
Review of the Backgammon Galaxy Earth board
If you enjoyed this article you can read about our “Earth” board that we developed using all our experience and knowledge about backgammon boards: