Diving back to quick games: Mancala

3.5 - 5

 

Number of Players: 2

Year of Publication: 550

Creator(s): Unknown

So, having been pretty quiet for a while, I’m making a return to my quick games chain of posts, with Manacala. I’ve been playing this game my whole life, although, as children my brother and I played it as a mini game on an educational computer game we owned and it was called Mother Bird’s Eggs. I wasn’t introduced to it as a non-virtual reality game until a few years later.

The board, the pieces, and how to play!

Objective: The objective of the game is to have the most pieces in your Mancala at the end.

It ‘s a very quick game to learn, the board is (usually) made of wood, is oblong in shape and has several hollows carved into it. There will be one long hollow carved vertically into each of the short ends, so that they run parallel to the end of the board. Then there will be six small circular hollows carved into each long side of the board. Each of the circular hollows will then have three playing pieces placed in it before the game begins. Pieces could be anything, from small stones to pieces of glass, to counters you’ve borrowed from another game.

A Mancala board set up for play (with three "connect four" pieces used to make up for three missing dragon drops)
A Mancala board set up for play (with three “connect four” pieces used to make up for three missing dragon drops)

Each player plays to their right, so the long hollow on the end of the board to their right becomes their “Mancala”, similarly, the hollows on the side of the board you are sitting on, are yours – this is very important – you are not allowed to move pieces from your opponents hollows.  Before play begins you will determine who plays first and they will then choose one of their hollows, and move the pieces from it. To move your pieces, you pick up all the pieces from the hollow you’ve chosen and place one in every subsequent hollow (including your Mancala if you have that many, but excluding your opponents Mancala) until you run out. You may find, when moving pieces from a hollow containing a lot of pieces, that you place pieces in all of your hollows and then have to continue round to those of your opponent. This is often irritating, as you are providing them with the opportunity for more pieces, but is sometimes unavoidable.

A game in mid swing.
A game in mid swing.

Apart from what i’ve already described, there are very few rules to this game. If a player  is moving their pieces and, in placing them in the hollows, manages to place the last one in their Mancala, they take another turn. This can be both advantageous and disadvantageous as your opponent may have strategically stockpiled some of their pieces in one hollow, and, to force them to move it, you are trying to stall, by moving as few pieces in each turn as possible, so you would not want to be giving yourself extra turns if you can avoid it.

Taking Pieces:

Players may also take their opponents pieces. If, when you are moving your pieces, your last piece lands in one of your hollows, which is empty, and your opponent has pieces in the hollow directly opposite it, you take these, and place them in your Mancala.

Ending the Game:

The game ends when one player runs out of pieces in their six hollows. When this happens anything that remains in their opponents hollows is added to their opponents Mancala, and the number in each is counted. The winner is the player with the most pieces stored in their Mancala.

Someone quite obviously won that one!
Someone quite obviously won that one!

Due to a lack of photos of us playing the game (this has now been amended), this description has been pretty wordy, however, I hope it makes some sense and is even a little interesting. If you’re bored of game play info, keep going down to find out a little of the history of this very old strategy game!

History and Things (my 10ish interesting points):

  1. This is the only ancient game surviving in the world with an Arabic name – the name does not apply solely to this game, but to this family of games.
  2. It is possible that this is the oldest game in the world, one of the reasons for this being that it is simple and can be played using whatever materials are to hand – tribes in Africa would scoop out hollows from the earth and play on the ground with pebbles.
  3. Although there is now a generally played version of the game, with six hollows for each player and three pieces per hollow, the game can be played in many different ways as it has been played for thousands of years in Africa and the Middle East. Here each tribe would have a slightly different way of playing the game, varying from the number of pieces used to how many “ranks” (rings) there were around the board.
  4. Mancala is the most widely-known (at least in the Western world) name for the game, however, there are many others, a small sample here: Wari, Warri, Ware, Walle, Awari, Aware, Awaoley, Awele, Oware, Owari, and Wouri.
  5. The game is, and was, played for recreational purposes, but there are also some areas, such as the West Indies, that have associated it with religion. It was played in a house of mourning in the belief that the soul of the departed would be amused until burial.
  6. Despite its primitive origins, the game is completely mathematical, and some of the more complex versions of it have as much standing as Chess.
  7. Two-rank boards have historically been found North of the Equator, whilst the four-rank boards are found South of the Equator.
  8. Stone Mancala boards found carved into temples in Memphis, Thebes and Luxor date the game in Egypt back before 1400BC.

I made eight points, that’s not bad going. 10 may have been slightly ambitious of me…

For anyone interested I found a selection of my interesting history points here, and here! Happy reading and hopefully there’ll be some more regular posting going on from now on!

A Fairly Quick Game – Nine Men’s Morris!

3.5 - 5

Number of Players: 2

Year of Publication: -1400

Creator(s): Designer is unknown and Dieter Zander is the Artist

Having taken a quick break from this chain of posts to write about Elixir, I’m back on fast games! This one’s all about Nine Men’s Morris. Another very old game, a board for which was found cut into a wall in the temple at Kurna, Egypt, that dates back to 1440 BC (although there is doubt as to whether this is an accurate dating of the carving as Coptic crosses were also found carved here that could not have been put there by the Egyptians at the time). Anyone who’s played Assassins Creed III might be familiar with this game – it’s one of the mini games available within the game. Variations of it are also Three Men’s, Six Men’s and Twelve Men’s Morris. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have copies of the others, so this post will mainly (but with some references to the others) be focused on Nine Men’s Morris.

A Nine Men's Morris board and pieces before a game begins.
A Nine Men’s Morris board and pieces before a game begins.

It’s a very easy game to learn, each player has 12 pieces in either black or white. The board is comprised of three squares inside each other, each with intersecting lines midway down each side. White plays first and you take it in turns to place pieces on the corners of the squares or the midway points created by the intersecting lines. The objective is to create lines of three, either horizontally or vertically, called mills. Once a player has created a mill they are then allowed to remove one of their opponents pieces from the board. If a mill is created whilst players are placing their pieces the player who created it is still allowed to remove one of their opponents pieces.

A game where all the pieces have been placed just before the moving phase begins.
A game where all the pieces have been placed just before the moving phase begins.

After all the pieces have been placed players take it in turns to move. Each turn you may move one piece one space. You cannot move, or create mills on, the diagonals. A player who has achieved a mill or two when placing their pieces is going to be in a stronger starting position than their opponent, as they will have more pieces left to manoeuvre round the board.

When a player has lost so many pieces that they have three or less pieces left on the board they are then able to move their pieces anywhere. They are no longer restricted to moving one piece one space. They can move one piece from any space on the board to any other space. This makes it considerably harder for their opponent to continue to make mills. Once a player has lost all of their pieces, or both agree that a point in the game has been reached where neither player can win, the game ends.

The end of the game and black is the winner having reduced white to less than three pieces.
The end of the game and black is the winner having reduced white to less than three pieces.

History Things:

These first five points are all about Three Men’s Morris, not Nine!

  1. In line for “oldest game in the world” – with Go, Backgammon and Chess.
  2. Noughts and Crosses or Tic Tac Toe are the same as the variation of Three Men’s Morris that involves the use of the diagonals for making mills.
  3. According to Thomas Hyde the Chinese played it in 500BC.
  4. Ovid mentions it in “Ars Amatoria” – the Romans played on wooden or stone boards, although occasionally more exotic materials were used.
  5. Three Men’s Morris was widely played in England 1300 AD – boards can be found carved, by monks, into the cloister seats in Norwich, Canterbury, Gloucester and Salisbury Cathedrals, and Westminster Abbey.
  6. Other Nine Men’s Morris boards have been found in Ceylon – carved in the reign of Mahadithika Maha-Naga (9-21AD), and European boards have been found in places like the first city of Troy, a Bronze Age burial site in Ireland and at the Acropolis in Athens.
  7. The game reached peak popularity in Europe in the fourteenth century.
  8. In old England the game was played with black and white pebbles on a board that was drawn out on the village green using a trowel, or drawn onto a pub or tavern table with chalk.
  9. Shakespeare references it in A Midsummer Nights Dream in Act II, Scene I – “The Nine Men’s Morris is filled up with mud!” ~Titania – this must be what happened to the boards drawn on the green whenever it rained!
  10. A version of the game called Morabaraba which is played using the diagonals on the board is still very popular, and played to a competitive level, in South Africa.

Because the game was popular in Medieval England there has been some speculation as to whether the name “Morris” is related to the English Morris Dance. However, Daniel King says that it is coincidence- the word Morris in this context actually deriving from the Latin “Merellus”, meaning a counter or a game piece.

I have, once again, achieved ten points of history about the game! I wonder how long this is going to last…
Pretty much everything I’ve put up about the history of the game I found here.
But I supplemented some of the points with information from our trusty old friend Wikipedia!

Quick Games – Reversi, also known as, Othello!

4 - 5

Number of Players: 2

Year of Publication: 1880

Creator(s): John W. MollettLewis Waterman (Designers) and Kinetic (Artist)

Othello is a great game; for anyone that knows it, they’ll know how much fun it is, and for anyone who doesn’t, it’s quick and easy to learn and it keeps you on your toes as the table can turn at literally any point in the game. You can be winning right up until the last few pieces are laid and then find yourself the loser!

It’s definitely not as quick as Fanarona, but can still easily be played in less than half an hour. The pictures in this post are larger than they have been in previous posts, due to the shape of the board and the angle that we had the camera at. There are also less photos, as the game is not very complicated and we felt that filling the post with pictures would just be throwing images at you that you didn’t need, or, probably, want.

Othello starting position
Othello starting position

History and Things:

  1. The game was invented at the end of the 19th century; both Lewis Waterman and John W. Mollett (two Englishmen) claimed to be the inventors of the game.
  2. The first ever versions of the game were produced in 1882 by Waterman and Mollett themselves.
  3. It was patented in 1888 and published under the name Reversi in 1898.
  4. Reversi was based on a game invented by Mollett in 1870 called The Game of Annexation (or Annex for short), the only known difference between this game and Reversi is that Annex is played on a board shaped like a cross. So instead of the 8×8 – essentially a chess board – that Reversi/Othello is played on Annex was played on an 10×4 cross.
  5. In 1880, in a publication of The Queen, Waterman proposed a new version of Annex, called Reversi, to be played on a conventional Chess Board, and named himself inventor, he registered the name in 1887.
  6. In 1886 Mollett published the same game with the name Annex, a game of reverses. Mollett was initially not allowed to use the word ‘reverses’, so he appealed, won and the word ‘Reversi’ was freed.
  7. Whilst the Waterman release of Reversi was not sold with a board – the box stated that you had to play it on a chess board – the Mollett version was sold with a cheap paper 8×8 board and carried the Annex, or Annexation name.
  8. From reading all this it’s clear that Mollett was the primary creator of the game, he was responsible for the original rules and game pieces, where Waterman is responsible for the board shape, size, and the name Reversi.
  9. Jumping forward almost 100 years to 1971. Goro Hasegawa reinvented the game, naming it Othello with the rule set currently used on the international tournament stage; the Japanese games company Tsukada Original published it.
  10. (I managed to make ten points this time!!)
    Othello was chosen as a name for many reasons – all of them deriving from Shakespeare’s play. I’ve put a few in here; Iago makes a direct reference to how he is “two faced” in the play, which accounts for the double-sided black-and-white playing pieces which are continually flipped throughout the game. There is also the conflict between black Othello and Desdemona who is white to be considered. For those who have an interest in Shakespeare, the similarities continue – reread Othello and see how many you can find!

Game Play!
In Othello players take it in turns to place pieces and black always moves first. When placing pieces you must be able to “take” the other players pieces. To take pieces you must be able to trap their pieces between two of your own on a horizontal, vertical or diagonal line, doing this means that you flip all the pieces on that line to your colour. there are occasions when you can place a piece that completes two or more lines, this means you can flip every piece of the other colour that is on a line you’ve just created.

If you cannot place a piece anywhere that allows you to take, or flip, your opponents pieces, you forfeit your turn and your opponent continues to place pieces until a move becomes available to you.

Once all the pieces have been played, each player counts how many of their colour is on the board. The player with the highest number of their colour showing wins. If you have exactly the same number of pieces showing your colour on the board (32), “perfect play” is reached. This implies that the players are evenly matched.

There are some interesting strategies that can be played in Othello, however, the one I found most intriguing was that an experienced player, when teaching/playing with a less experienced player, can add a handicap into the game. As the four corners are the strongest positions to hold on the board, it can be played that the more experienced player allows the game to start with the corners already having pieces of their opponents colour in them. This gives a huge advantage as pieces in the corners cannot be flipped as it is impossible to place a piece on the other side of them to create the necessary line. In this same way, pieces placed right on the edges of the board are harder to take as there is only one line that they can be flipped on.

Below is a photographic sequence of moves that gives an idea of how pieces are flipping in the progress of the game.

A sequence of moves in Orthello
A sequence of moves in Othello

Differences between Othello and Reversi: (thought to exist in the games before 1871)

  1. Othello starts from a fixed position. In Reversi players take it in turns to place their pieces on the central four squares, this allows for two possible starting positions. This difference is considered unimportant and each starting formation can lead to a draw in perfect play.
  2. In Othello, if a player cannot place a pieces that flips one of their opponents pieces they must pass, their opponent then continues to place pieces until either they cannot place or until another move becomes available to you. In Reversi, a player can choose to pass. This can be tactical as it can force your opponent to pass at a more crucial moment of the game because you have more pieces left. This could have huge tactical and strategic advantages or disadvantages for each player.
  3. This last difference has speculation as to whether it actually existed or not, but some say that in Reversi originally players could place pieces adjacent to their own pieces without creating a line through which their opponents discs were flipped. This rule, if it existed at all, would make the two games completely different, and also lower the difficultly level of the game considerably.
Close to the finish
Close to the finish (this game actually came to perfect play at the end, however we don’t have a picture as we use my brother’s phone camera for these photos, and he was on the phone when the game ended.)

For points of interest, I read about the history of Othello/Reversi here, although some of the information was questionable.
If anyone reading this sees anything that they know is wrong, don’t hesitate to leave me a message telling me what my mistake was and I’ll endeavour to correct it as soon as possible! I struggled a little with this post as there was a lot of information about the game to go through and there were discrepancies between each source I read.

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

3 - 5

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.

Quick games! Well, relatively – Backgammon

5 - 5

Number of Players: 2

Year of Publication: -3000

Creator(s): Mostly unknown, but Willem Cornelisz Duyster is responsible for the design of the modern board

This is the first in a series of posts, it was initially going to just be one, but I realized that I have far too much to say about each game to make it fair on anyone reading it to put it all together. So this post is just about Backgammon, enjoy.

The games I’m about to talk about in these posts probably don’t count as all that obscure, the names being fairly well-known as far as I’m aware. However, they are games that have fallen out of common play. Which seems like a real shame to us.

IMAG0992

Recently we’ve learnt how to play Backgammon, and we think it’s a great game. Once you’ve played it a few times it’s very easy to remember the rules and to develop your strategies and it can be played in half an hour or so, making it one of the quickest board games I’ve ever come across!

We still require pictures to set up, hence the printout.
We still require pictures to set up, hence the printout.

We had a few teething troubles with this game as the copy of the game we own didn’t come with rules. So we went on a quest to Google and learnt the rules off the internet. The only problem with that was that, aside from the two dice each player roles to determine their move, there is a fifth die involved in Backgammon called the doubling die, and the internet rules didn’t explain what this was for.

IMAG1080

Oxfam to the rescue!
I work a few days a week in an Oxfam charity shop, and on my break I went through the board games we had in the storeroom and found a copy of Backgammon to read the rules from. Initially this copy of the rules only told me a little about the doubling die, but was enough to solve our problem temporarily. I learnt that it wasn’t originally part of the game and has been introduced in the last century or so.

I thought this interesting so I’ve been doing some research into the history of the game. General consensus is that the game may be well over 5,000 years old, along with Chess and a game called Go, which we have yet to play, and is likely to have originated from Iraq, which was Mesopotamia at the time.

There are literature and artistic references to Backgammon (although not under that name) all over the world throughout all the ages. Chaucer references it in The Canterbury Tales as Shakespeare does in Love’s Labour’s Lost. It has always been a gambling game – Emperor Nero played for roughly the equivalent of $10,000 per game! – But there was only one stake made in the game, one amount was agreed at the beginning and it is that amount that the winner claimed at the end.

However, as you’ll see in the pictures below, due to a lack of expendable money in our lives we gamble with chocolate instead, you pay less for more “chips”, and you can eat them when you’re finished!

Our horrific gambling tendencies.
Our horrific gambling tendencies.

In 1920’s America Backgammon was going out of fashion, it was too hard to bet on and took too long to play without anything exciting happening for the players. It’s at this point in history that the doubling die first appears, this element gave the game the extra boost it needed to become a popular casino game again.

Interestingly, although it is fairly easy to track the history of Backgammon in America through strategy books that were written about it, it is nigh impossible to know when it crossed the Atlantic and came to the UK.

YOU GAVE ME LOADED DICE!
YOU GAVE ME LOADED DICE!

I also learnt that Backgammon can be played with the offloading space either to the players left or their right – there is no fixed direction of play. This gave a new dimension to the game as it can give a player an advantage to be able to play the game either way around. It will also prevent confusion for them in the event that they ever have to play the game in the opposite direction to the one they are used to. For this reason we’ve started playing half and half, setting the board up differently for half the time.

If anyone’s interested my next post in this chain will be about the game Fanorona, not to confuse you but there’ll be two posts about it, one from me about game play and history, and one from my brother about how he made his own board. His is likely to be much more interesting!

Load off left!
Load off left!
Load off right!
Load off right!

And if anyone’s at all curious, I found most of the things about the history of Backgammon written here on this page.

Also if anyone wants to learn the rules of Backgammon we recommend looking here or if you’d rather learn to play by doing we recommend playing here (click ‘Play as Guest’) and use the tutorial.