The Best of the Bunch: Backgammon Sets

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If, as one is liable to do in the small hours of Monday morning, one lies awake and wonders how one will be remembered when one shuffles off to the Great Perhaps, one will at some point be cursing the luck of Emperor Claudius. After all, when one is preceded by Caligula and succeeded by Nero, securing a reputation for not being too bad an egg can’t have been too tough.

Of course, offing the odd senator was by the standards of the time little more than a display of poor form, probably on a par with downing a squirrel at a pheasant shoot. Other than this rather dissatisfactory predilection, E. Claudius, esq. seems to be best known for building roads and aqueducts, and generally getting things done. That – and playing backgammon.

As a game, it is up there with croquet as a game that looks innocent but is, in fact, veritable dynamite. Luck can seem like skill and vice-versa, and if one is a gambling man one very quickly begins to understand how one’s ancestors could lose a literal fortune in an evening (and that was in the days before the doubling die came into play).

That said, as the evenings draw in, as the rain rattles against the windows and one thinks about closing the curtains, lighting the fire and generally settling down for the afternoon, this 5,000 year-old game is as fine a way as any to pass the time. After all, explosions are fun.

We have, therefore, brought together three of our favourite sets so that our readers may lose their friends and fortunes in some considerable style. If one is going to buy something that will last a lifetime, it makes sense to fork out a little above the minimum.

Occasional players in the sub-Claudius set may admire the soft leather and muted clunk-click of the dice as they fall on this:

If, however, one is serious about losing fortunes or taking them off others, there’s this at around the thousand-pound mark:

Why first century Emperors would have backgammon sets built into their chariots (as Claudius was said to have done) is beyond us when we consider that smart, suede travel sets such as this can be bought for less than £70 (dice made – as was traditional - from human bones are somewhat harder to come by):