Game Review: Backgammon Blitz (PS Vita)

Backgammon Blitz PS Vita

Backgammon Blitz is a sports board game available for download from the PlayStation Store for the PS Vita. If you are not already familiar with the game of Backgammon, then you are in luck as Backgammon Blitz aims to teach you the ins and outs of how to play the game as though you were playing it professionally.

The learn to play feature is were you will most likely begin as it provides a comprehensive tutorial in how to play Backgammon that will work perfectly for anyone who is yet to experience the game. There are ten areas within the learn to play mode including: three moving pieces tutorials that show you how to move your pieces around the board; the taking opponent’s checkers tutorial shows you how to manoeuvre your way into taking checkers from your opponent; the throwing a double tutorial shows what happens when a double is thrown; the two bearing off tutorials show how to bear off and how to improve upon the technique; and the three doubling cube tutorials show how to use the doubling cube and the special circumstances involved regarding the use of the cube. I have never played Backgammon before and I can guarantee you from having played the tutorial that before the end of the ten step tutorial you will have formed a picture of exactly how the game is played as the overall tutorial is presented very professionally with a great level of accessibility that is clear of any jargon and is purely straight to the point of teaching you how to play the game.

The traditional game mode allows you to play Backgammon with any of your customised rules, while the Blitz game mode has the same fundamental structure with your customised rules, but provides further layers of tactics and strategy by allowing the use of various power-ups.

There are eight Blitz power-ups that can be used during the Blitz game mode, which are initially all locked with each power-up having particular requirements for unlocking them. The eight Blitz power-ups include: bodyguard which protects a blot for one turn resulting in your opponent being unable to take it; one die which results in the opposition only getting one die for the next turn; switch which switches one of your nips with one of the oppositions nips, amongst others such as knockout; frozen; overload; the joker; and on fire. Each power-up can be naturally earned by playing a certain number of games or can alternatively be purchased for a certain amount of Bullion.

The currency of the game is called Bullion, which is earned by removing your opponents’ checkers from the board, pairing up your checkers to protect them from being removed by your opponent and moving your checkers into the counter at the end of the game board. Bullion is usually rewarded at five Bullion per reward and can be spent on power-ups in the Blitz game mode.

Before you play a game of Backgammon; there are four themes to select from for the type of game board that you wish to play on. The four themes include: wooden; workshop; leather; and stone with each having their own detailed description informing you of the materials used to craft the game board.

The game settings allows you to customise the game to your preferences with the basics including the points target ranging from five and increasing by five at a time to thirty or unlimited, which colour each player plays in and the difficulty level ranging from beginner to master. Beyond the basics there are also a variety of rules that you can enable or disable too including: doubling cube; beaver rule; raccoon rule; murphy rule; jacoby rule; and crawford rule. The fully customisable nature of the game settings is a very wise design choice as it opens up a wide audience for the game as it lends the game to being able to be played by anyone, regardless of whether you are a professional at Backgammon or a rookie with no experience whatsoever.

The stats screen is quite a helpful feature that allows you to assess your performances with analysis covering everything from the number of games you have played, won, lost and your win percentage against AI and online opponents to your total number of moves, captures and dice value with a total of eleven in-depth statistics available.

The controls are well mapped with a combination of a face button and touch screen control scheme. The combination of the face buttons and touch screen control scheme consists of pressing X to roll the dice, selecting the piece you want to move and were you want to move that piece to; pressing triangle to display the power-ups menu while playing the Blitz game mode; pressing square to double the cube; pressing O to deselect a piece allowing you to change your mind and make a different move instead; pressing up, down, left or right on the d-pad allows you to switch between which piece you want to select and were you want to move your selected piece to or alternatively changing the direction of the left analogue stick; changing the direction of the right analogue stick moves the camera closer to the board, further away from the board and tilts the camera to various positions around the game board; and pressing start to display the pause menu, while the touch screen can take the place of the X button to select the piece you want to move and were you want to move that piece to, alongside replacing the d-pad in regards to switching between which piece you want to select and were you want to move your selected piece to.

VooFoo Studios are no stranger to developing graphically impressive games having already worked on Hustle Kings and Pure Chess, while Backgammon Blitz is certainly no exception to their rule of stunning life-like graphics. The surface of the board that the game is taking place on, the checkers and even the surrounding environment around the board are all stunning to look at and have had a lot of attention to detail implemented in areas were you would otherwise not necessarily think of adding graphical flare.

The presentation of the game is solid with a great touch screen based user interface across various menus such as the main menu, learn to play menu, my profile menu, options menu and gameplay menus with support for navigation via the left analogue stick, directional pad and face buttons, although it does not include support for navigation via the right analogue stick and rear touch pad, although that is not an issue considering the other methods of navigation that are available. The background of the menu screens consists of close up pictures of the game board that change every few seconds.

The audio consists of a variety of music, sound effects and voice-overs. There are four genres of music that you can individually enable or disable to set your preferences between classical, jazz, smooth and upbeat music. The sound effects are used for essential events during the game, such as the roll of the dice; the selection of checkers before they are moved; and the movement of checkers as they are moved around the game board, while there are brief and occasional voice-overs that comment upon certain events during the Blitz game mode.

The trophy list includes thirteen trophies with nine bronze trophies, three silver trophies and one gold trophy. All of the trophies range from easy to fairly easy and obtainable within 25 to 50 games of Backgammon, although there are some noticeably easier trophies, such as the Like the Olden Days bronze trophy for playing five local multiplayer games; the Learning the Ropes bronze trophy for completing all ten steps of the tutorial; and arguably the easiest gold trophy in history for Mixing It Up gold trophy for simply winning a game on each of the four available game boards, which should be particularly easy if you set it to five game points on beginner difficulty level. I would estimate depending upon skill, your basic understanding of the easy to follow ten step tutorial on how to play Backgammon and a good trophy guide to provide some helpful tips that it would take around two to five hours to 100% the trophy list.

There are three difficulty levels including: beginner, intermediate and master. You can choose from any of three difficulty levels before you face an AI opponent in a single player traditional or Blitz game. The difference between the three difficulty levels is that the AI opponent will be more effective and efficient with their moves in a more aggressive strategy to remove your pieces from the game board to delay you in your attempt of winning and attempt to win the game in the shortest number of moves possible.

There are extensive online multiplayer features and online leaderboards. The online leaderboards focuses on your score and top scores with each leaderboard containing each player’s rank; nationality; name (PSN ID); the ELO skill level; the total number of games played; the amount of games won; and the amount of games lost with the positioning of each player based upon the ELO skill level score, which is a very clever way of deciding the positioning of players on the online leaderboards as it genuinely makes you want to improve your performance to be able to climb the leaderboards and there is no way of doing so without really being on top of your game.

The online multiplayer features cross-platform multiplayer, so if you do not know any friends who own the game for the Vita, but you have a friend that owns the game for the PS4, then you can challenge that friend to an online multiplayer match. The multiplayer features also contain the ability for two players on the same Vita to play a multiplayer game by taking turns, which is a huge bonus in the case that you have a friend that you would like to play the game against that does not own a Vita or PS4.

The replayability of Backgammon Blitz stems from the accessibility of the game in regards to how easy the game is to learn once you have progressed through the ten step tutorial and as with any board game or sport; the unpredictability of the result is always a factor that will have you returning to the game time after time.

Overall, as someone who has never played Backgammon before this game; I found Backgammon Blitz to be a thoroughly entertaining experience and education in how to play the game. Not only will it teach you how to play the game with an in-depth ten step no jargon tutorial, but it will provide you with plenty of customisable options, cross-play multiplayer for Vita vs PS4 and local multiplayer for two people to play on one Vita and stunning graphics. The only criticism that I could actually level at Backgammon Blitz is that the game is not cross-buy with the PS4 version, but considering how much enjoyment and replayability you get for the low price of £4.99; a lack of cross-buy functionality is certainly forgivable given the otherwise outstanding attributes this game possesses.

Jason Bonnar

At A Glance

  • Title: Backgammon Blitz
  • Publisher: The Fyzz Facility/VooFoo Studios
  • System: PS Vita
  • Format: PSN Download
  • Cross Buy: No
  • Cross Play: Yes (Vita vs PS4 Online Multiplayer)
  • Online Multiplayer: Yes (2 Players on 1 Vita/2 Players with Vita vs Vita or Vita vs PS4)
  • Memory Card Space Needed: 153Mb

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