It all started when I noticed a five mouse rating next to a little freeware item called "MacFibs". If you've ever read MacUser, you know that a rating that high isn't something to be taken lightly. Naturally, I immediately downloaded it. After playing a three round game of Backgammon against a nice lady from Romania, there was no turning back. I was hooked.
Really, it's very easy to get started. All you need to do is download a few items. Since you are reading this column, I'll assume you already have an internet connection. One caveat: You can't access these gaming sites from America Online or Compuserve (or any other commercial online service that I know of), but if you are a regular internet user (meaning you subscribe to an ISP) then you are in business.
Perhaps the easiest way to get started is to get on The Gaming Zone. Once you link to the Zone, you have the choice of getting involved in retail games or making the move that I did, which is to link to the "Classic IGZ Games" section. Once you've downloaded the software, you can play any number of games for free: Hearts, Spades, Bridge, Go, Reversi (Othello), Chess, or Checkers. While you are playing against any of several thousand people around the world, you'll also have the convenience of being able to chat with them in a handy chat box at the bottom of the screen. The graphics are good and there's a help section in case you are rusty on the rules.
Two other servers are big winners in online gaming. By downloading MacFibs, you can get on the First Internet Backgammon Server and play backgammon against some pretty challenging people. You can also get humbled in the world of Chess by downloading Fixation and joining the First Internet Chess Server.
All three of the above choices are freeware. You don't spend a penny, but you WILL spend a lot of time. And, as the popularity of this new idea grows, the game servers slow down. A few times that me and a friend wanted to team up in the spades room, neither of us could even sign on. My best luck has been when I tried to get on early the morning. Still, it's worth the aggravation. Hopefully, I'll see you in the game room. Just look for tfraz. ;)