It's not easy to improve on an age-old standard, so when we downloaded Hardwood Backgammon from the Xbox Live Arcade, our expectations were measured. To achieve greatness in its class, Hardwood Backgammon would have to not only play brilliantly on Xbox Live, but also dazzle us with some cool graphics, nifty animations and clever online innovations. And it did that. Sort of.
Hardwood's Xbox Live integration makes finding human opponents easy, plus voice chat lets you get under their skin and dominate them on the game board. Hardwood Backgammon also throws in the usual collection of Xbox achievements, most of which are easily attained in your first dozen games. If you just want to raise your GamerScore a hundred points without much effort, you can set the play level to Easy and brutalize the computer for 10 games straight.
In an attempt to justify its high-definition nature, Hardwood offers a selection of 14 wallpapers, but it's mostly a matter of finding the one that bugs you least. And, as with many Xbox Live Arcade titles, the background music grows annoying within the first few minutes. Thankfully, the sound effects are realistic and compelling - ah, the clatter of a real dice roll.
For the low price of 400 Microsoft Points (about five dollars), it's hard to find fault with Hardwood Backgammon. Strategy fans will dig this game's effortless online experience, which alleviates the need to travel around town with a small vinyl briefcase full of checkers and dice, looking for fresh backgammon challengers. If nothing else, it's worth the five bucks to avoid the embarrassment.