How to Make Your Very Own Fanorona Board

We decided that the best way to get a copy of Fanorona was to make one as copies seem to retail for £50+. I was quite happy with the end product so want to show you how to do it for anyone out there who wants the same but doesn’t want to spend that kind of money.

Our home made Fanorona board. Made on a chopping board using a soldering iron to brand.
Our home made Fanorona board. Made on a chopping board using a soldering iron to brand.

What You Will Need:

  1. A board – For this I used a chopping board. I was lucky enough to have recently been given an old one that I sanded down and used. However if you don’t have an old one that you can use you can buy one or any piece of wood no less than 34cm x 20cm. This will allow you to make the grid of 4cm x 4cm squares with space left around the edges. Anything less that a 4cm x 4cm square is going to be hard to play on and personally I recommend a 5cm x 5cm square (which is what I used as my board was 44cm x 39cm).

    The original scratched up chopping board I was given
    The original scratched up chopping board I was given
  2. Pieces – It is important to decide what pieces you are going to use on the board as this will affect the size of the squares you use. I would recommend Othello pieces as these aren’t difficult to come by, especially on places like eBay, or, if you already own an Othello set you can just borrow them from it costing you nothing. Also they are a nice 2.5cm in diameter which is smaller than a lot of Draughts pieces you can buy and so easier to play with.
  3. A Soldering Iron – to brand the board. I used a 40 watt Iron with a brand new pointed tip.
  4. A Metal Ruler – to keep the soldering iron straight as you brand.
  5. Pencil – for drawing the design on to the board.
  6. A Heat Proof Glove – to protect your hand when your holding the ruler next to the soldering iron. I just used a heavy duty gardening glove as the aim is not to touch the soldering iron against the glove, the glove is there just in case.

    The soldering Iron, Metal Ruler, Glove and board ready to go.
    The soldering Iron, Metal Ruler, Glove and board ready to go.
  7. Sand Paper or An Electric Sander – You will only need these if your board has been previously used or is coated in varnish or something. You will use these to remove any previous scratches or and varnish.

    The electric sander I used to remove the scratches and marks.
    The electric sander I used to remove the scratches and marks.
  8. Varnish – Optional depending on how you choose to finish your board.

Step One – Preparation:

If you have a brand new piece of wood with no coating skip points one and two.

  1. Sand the board down to remove any scratches, marks or varnish finishing.

    The board after it had been sanded.
    The board after it had been sanded.
  2. Then wipe the board down with a damp cloth to remove any dust left from the sanding process.

    Use a damp cloth to get rid of any dust.
    Use a damp cloth to get rid of any dust.
  3. Draw out the design. The board is made up of a grid of squares of eight across and four down. Depending on the size of your piece of wood the size of this board is going to vary. If you are making it with 5cm x 5cm squares you need to measure the length of the board take away 40 and divide the remaining number by two (e.g. 48 – 40 = 8/2 = 4) you then measure that amount in from each side and draw vertical lines. These are your two vertical edges. You then do the same horizontally except taking away 20 rather than 40. This gives you your horizontal lines.
  4. You then join the top and bottom lines and the left and right lines at every 5cm (if you are working to a 5cm x 5cm scale) interval until you have a full grid.
  5. Lastly you draw ten diagonals as shown on the picture bellow.

    Follow the numbers starting from the bottom left.
    Follow the numbers starting from the bottom left.

Step Two – Branding:

  1. Now comes the tedious part. You need to let your soldering iron heat up as much as possible, put on your glove and hold the metal ruler in place next to your first line, make sure it is not on top of the line as the soldering iron tip will burn next to where the ruler is.

    The ruler next to the burnt line.
    The ruler next to the burnt line.
  2. Then you apply the soldering iron to the wood. Be careful as you don’t want to burn the wood too much but it is also a slower process than you might imagine. The soldering iron cools off after you first apply it to the wood, so I found the first centimeter or so goes quite fast and then you have to slow your movement to allow it to work. Also I found pulling it across the wood rather than pushing it works much better as if you push it you end up pushing it into to the wood and just creating a large hole.
  3. This will take immense patience and is a slow going process, it probably took me the best part of five hours.

Pointless maths (skip this if you don’t care):

If you consider that there are 9 vertical lines of 20cm (9 x 20 = 180cm) and 5 horizontal lines of 40cm (5 x 40 = 200 + 180 = 380cm). Then there’s 6 diagonal lines of 28.3cm (28.3 x 6 = 169.8 + 380  = 549.8cm) and there’s 4 diagonal lines of 14cm (4 x 14 = 56 + 549.8 =  605.8cm). So there’s 605.8cm of line to be branded (that’s 6 meters and 5.8cm).

Now if you consider it might take you about 3 seconds per millimeter that’s 605.8 x 10 =   6058mm x 3 = 18174 seconds. Then to make the minutes 18174/60 = 302.9 minutes. Then to make that hours 302.9/60 = 5.0483 hours.

So yeah its probably going to take you a minimum of around 5 hours.

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Step Three – Lettering and Varnishing:

None of these things are necessary to play the game and in fact I suggest you don’t varnish the board until you’ve played it a few time and are 100% happy with it and you are sure you don’t want to re-brand any of the lines or add decoration of any kind or even add something else on the other side of the board.

  1. To add the lettering you need to draw it out on the board first. To do this I found the middle point then used boxes of 2cm with 3mm gaps to space the lettering.

    The lettering drawn onto the board.
    The lettering drawn onto the board.
  2. Then brand it into the wood much like you did the lines accept you will have to do the Os free hand which is tricky and why they look worse than the rest.

    Os look worse because you cannot use the ruler.
    O’s look worse because you cannot use the ruler.
  3. Once you’re sure you’re happy with it (which I’m not at the moment, I want to add lettering the other side of the board and possibly some other things which is why I haven’t varnished mine yet) you can varnish it. Make sure you have rubbed off any remaining pencil marks and anything else you don’t want left on there. Now there are many different varnishing techniques. For the best result I recommend spray on varnish of which you need to do at least 5 very thorough coats, and then leave to harden for around two weeks. Then lightly rub the board down with some fine grain sand paper and do a final coat or two.

Now you should have a finished Fanorona board and you’re ready to play with whatever pieces you’ve decided to use.

The starting set up of Fanorona on or home made board.
The starting set up of Fanorona on or home made board.

A Final Ramble:

After all this hopefully you’re super happy with the end product, if not you can always sand it all down and go again (I wouldn’t recommend this if you don’t own an electric sander). And remember, after all that you still have a blank side to your board (unless you were super smart and already made yours on the back of an existing games board) which you could put anything else on, I’m planning to fit a Twelve Men’s Morris and Three Men’s Morris board onto the space on the other side so keep your eyes open for a post on them.

This game was first brought to my attention along with the various Men’s Morris games through the PS3 game Assassins Creed III (yes, I play computer games too, we’re not completely stone age) I am ever thankful to Assassins Creed for trying to educate me through the medium of a computer game as well as being the most fun game that can’t be played on a board out there. However I find Fanorona in Assassins Creed III impossible to win at, I dunno if it’s because I’m just super bad at it or their programming behind it is to good but even on the easiest level I can’t win. Although I also can’t really beat my sister at it at the moment as she addresses in her post on the history and game play of Fanorona here.

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Definitely a Quick One! – Fanorona! (pronounced Fa-noorn)

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Number of Players: 2

Year of Publication: 1680

Creator(s): Again, the designer is unknown, but Néstor Romeral Andrés was the artist for the modern board

It gets to be big and bold and exclamation marked in this sub-heading because it’s the first game we’ve managed to cross off our list of Games We Want, which is a noteworthy achievement in the limited history of this blog. Fanorona is also notable as having been bought to the attention of many through the PS3 and Xbox 360 game Assassins Creed III where you can play it as a mini game within the game along with Nine, Six, Three and Twelve Mens Morris.

Fanorona is currently down as the quickest game I’ve ever played, and that’s not only because I’m terrible at it (but better than my brother at the moment). It’s for two players and played on a rectangular board.

Our home made Fanorona board. Made on a chopping board using a soldering iron to brand.
Our home made Fanorona board. Made on a chopping board using a soldering iron to brand the markings into the wood.

History and Interesting Things: 

This is where I organize all the interesting stuff I found out about Fanorona, if you don’t want to read about the history of the game, skip down a bit and see more pictures of us playing and a bit about the rules and how to move!

10 Things I Found Most Intriguing:

  1. Fanorona is a strategy game, but, like Go, it’s considered a one-off. Not part of any other family of games.
  2. It is believed that it was developed from the game Alquerque, which is most commonly played in Arab countries and may date back more than 3,000 years.
  3. Fanorona comes in three varieties – Fanoron-Telo which appears to be identical to Three Mans Morris (another on the list of Games We Want) – Fanoron-Dimyand the board for which is identical to Alquerque – and Fanoron-Tsivy, more commonly known as Fanorona and the most well-known version of the game.
  4. It’s the national game of Madagascar and is so important there that they have a National Committee for the Coordination of Fanorona and an International Fanorona Society.
  5. The only recurrent story I can find involving Fanorona is the following about a King called Ralombo. He was sick and trying to decide what would happen to his Kingdom when he died, he did not want to divide the Kingdom between his two sons, so he sent for both of them. He reasoned that the son who arrived first was the most loyal to him and should therefore inherit the Kingdom. His oldest son was engaged in a game of Fanorona when the messenger came and was in a situation called telo noho dimy, a very difficult situation involving three pieces against eight. He was so absorbed in the game that he sent the Kings messenger away. He did not arrive at the castle until the following day, by which time his younger brother had already inherited the throne.
  6. I reach point six and find that, given the limited history that is known about Fanorona, I have nothing left to write, so pretend that this is ten points, and keep reading to find out about the rules and game play!!

Game Play:

Black and white playing pieces are used for this game, they are set up as shown in the picture below. There is one space left empty in the middle of the board, which allows white to make its first move. These pieces  we stole from a copy of Reversi (more commonly know as Othello) to go with our home made board.

The starting set up of Fanorona on or home made board.
The starting set up of Fanorona on our home made board using Othello pieces.

Anyone who’s familiar with Draughts will understand when I say that the game progresses quickly due to the compulsory taking rule. Also like Draughts, taking moves can be linked. A player can continue to take pieces with the piece they initially moved that turn for as long as there are legal moves available. The nature of the game is sacrificial, for the game to progress each player must lose a large number of their pieces.

To take a piece in Fanorona a player must move one of their pieces either towards or away from the piece(s) they wish to take on a horizontal, vertical or diagonal line. The player then removes the pieces they have taken on that line up to the point where there is a gap between pieces.

The starting position of a taking move.
The starting position of a taking move.

 

The white piece then moves forward to take the black piece in front of it
The white piece then moves forward to take the black piece in front of it.
It then moves to the left to take the line it moves away from and that is the end of its move chain.
It then moves to the left to take the line it moves away from and that is the end of its move chain.

Initially the game should progress very quickly, with each player taking multiple pieces each turn. When the board begins to empty, the rate of game play should slow as each player will have more options to choose from and cannot afford to be reckless with their remaining pieces.

The remaining pieces on the board after only a few minutes of play.
The remaining pieces on the board after only a few minutes of play.

The objective of the game is to either eliminate your opponents pieces from the board or force them into a situation where they cannot move.  If either of these situations arises you win the game. If you reach a point where neither player can move or take another players piece the game comes to a draw.

Once you’ve played maybe, twice, the game becomes easy and can be played in well under 20 minutes. After grasping the initial rules about moving and taking it is then only strategy that remains to be developed by anyone wishing to play regularly.

The game close to the end as black finds itself backed into a corner.
The game close to the end as black finds itself backed into a corner.
White is the winner having removed all of the black pieces from the board.
White is the winner having removed all of the black pieces from the board.

There will be another Fanarona post going up in the next few days where my brother shows you how he made the board and how you can make your own if you like. Considering that buying copies of this game appears to be rather expensive.

For anyone interested, I read about the history of the game here.