Backgammon has been around for thousands of years — Wikipedia clocks it at around 5,000 — and it is still a favorite of board-game players around the world. We can see why: The classic game doesn’t require much setup, often comes in a case that is easy to take anywhere (including the beach, as one toy-store owner told us), and is available at every price point. “There are backgammon sets you can find in Sears or Target that are low end and then there are sets on Madison Avenue or Rodeo Drive that are made of the most expensive leathers,” says Tommy Kunu, president of Bello Games. “At the end, they are all the same — meaning you can play on them, but some you might want to leave out on your coffee table or in your game room as a showpiece.”
One of the first things to consider when buying a backgammon set is the size, according to the game-store owners and backgammon-set manufacturers we spoke to. How you plan to use it will help you choose the right size, according to Mike Kilbret of the Compleat Strategist, who says to consider whether “you will be traveling with it a lot or just using it in the house.” Kunu equates choosing a backgammon set to picking a TV screen, explaining that “you can watch a program on a 15-inch TV screen and also on a 38-inch screen, but it’s just better and more fun to watch TV on a larger screen — same with different sizes of backgammon.” Beyond size, sets come in many different materials, such as wood, cork, and leather, to name a few, some of which are more popular among certain types of players, according to our experts. Read on for a variety of sets, including some you can take on trips, one that will give you a touch of European sophistication (maybe), and even one that’ll make you look like a pro who plays in New York City parks.
Best overall backgammon set
Several of the experts we talked to recommended backgammon sets with corkboard, which make for a quieter game as you roll the dice and move the checkers around. “Professional players, especially Americans, prefer a quieter game, so the playing field of choice is either felt or leather or cork,” says Imad Khachan, the owner of Chess Forum. Quentin Turner, president of Your Move Chess and Games, says, “Here in the States, people tend to not like the ‘clang’ noise of the dice on wood, while it’s preferred in Europe.” This board is from Crisloid, a backgammon-set manufacturer that Khachan calls a “brand of choice” and says “makes excellent quality sets with a vinyl exterior but a cork playing field.” Turner also mentioned Crisloid, calling it “high end.” We reached Jeff Caruso, the owner of Crisloid, to hear more about the cork that makes his sets so popular; he told us that it “functions as a little bit of a springboard, and it helps give more action on the dice.”
A travel set
Khachan says that people often come into his store looking for smaller, travel-size backgammon sets. “There are nine-inch magnetic sets, and these are ideal for backpacking or to carry to the park or to a bar or a restaurant. They are mostly vinyl, and the prices are under $30,” he tells us. This nine-inch set zips shut, ensuring it won’t pop open while you’re on the go, and is from the brand Wood Expressions (WE for short), which Lauren Bilanko, owner of Twenty Sided Store in Brooklyn, calls “high quality.”
A set to look like a regular player at New York City parks
Khachan says that the favorite set for serious players who are not playing at the tournament level is a 21-inch black vinyl attaché set (which, as its name suggests, folds up into a briefcase). “It’s also the most popular amongst New York City parks backgammon hustlers,” he adds. “It’s big but not too bulky or too heavy to carry around everywhere and everyday, and it is in the professional size so each player can easily see what’s happening on the board. And it has good contrast because the playing field is gray and the points are black and white.”
A (less expensive) black attaché set
For a set like the one that Khachan describes, you could also try this one from Middleton Games, which has a similarly gray playing field with black and white points.
An (even less expensive) red attaché set
“The basic attaché sets with the felt interior and stitched-on points are the option that almost everyone recognizes as that backgammon set lying in their closet from the ’70s or ’80s,” says Turner. If you want to embrace the retro aesthetic, try this maroon set, which feels very ’70s living room to us.
A European-style set
While players in the U.S. tend to prefer a felt- or cork-lined board, it’s much more common to find backgammon players using a wooden set in Europe and the Middle East, according to the experts we spoke with. Jon Freeman, founder of the Brooklyn Strategist, told us that when it comes to a wooden backgammon set, ones with mother-of-pearl inlays on the exterior and interior are often the most popular among those who want a wood set and are willing to pay more than you would for a typical leatherette set. “These are really fantastic to look at and have an old-school vibe about them,” Freeman says. He didn’t recommend a specific wooden set, but this one we found is made of wood, features mother-of-pearl inlaid designs, and costs less than $60. It also has inlaid points, which Turner says can make for “really nice and smooth” playing and might appeal to more serious players who want to move their checkers quickly.
A set for playing more than backgammon
Louise Simon, the owner of Brooklyn-based store Toy Space, told us about this 3-in-1 backgammon set when we asked her to recommend some good games to bring to the beach. We included it on this list because we felt its multi-game design — which also allows you to play checkers and chess — rounded out the other straightforward backgammon-set recommendations. It’s also magnetic, so should you decide to play at the beach or anywhere else outdoors, you don’t have to worry about any of the pieces getting blown away.
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