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!

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.