Games of
Ancient Egypt

game piece

Wari belongs to the Mancala family of games. The game is thousands of years old, and it is still possible to see ancient Wari boards that were etched into the stones of the temples of Luxor and Karnak and pyramid of Cheops. Since its creation, variations have spread through Africa and Asia to the rest of the world (Grunfeld 20). It was probably carried to other regions by ancient caravans. Boards have been found carved into rock ledges along the routes that the caravans once traveled. The variations are known by different names, including Kalaha (Provenzo and Provenzo 110). During the 19th century, European tourists first encountered the game in Cairo, where it was commonly played in cafes. By tradition, the loser would have to pay for the coffee (Grunfeld 20). One of the advantages of this game is that it is versatile. It can be played almost anywhere, using almost any small objects as playing pieces. Boards can be easily improvised by making little holes in the ground, which is still done in parts of Africa (Grunfeld 20).


There are many variations of this game, and I have seen boards in different shapes, both oblong and round. However, the basic strategy behind the game generally remains the same. The instructions given here come from Grunfeld's Games of the World, pp. 21-22, with some further information from Parlett's The Oxford History of Board Games, pp. 209-210.

Players: 2

Object: To capture the most pieces.

Equipment: Wari Board (printable, Although, I admit that there is a disadvantage to using a flat, two-dimensional board for this game. You could set up a series of small cups to accomplish the same thing, and they might hold the pieces more easily.), 48 small objects to use as playing pieces (ex. pebbles, small pieces of paper, candy pieces, nuts, dried beans, buttons, beads, etc., They should all be about the same size and able to fit into the cups on the board. It doesn't matter what color they are, since they're going to move around and be claimed by different players. If they're edible, don't eat any until the game is over.)

Set Up: A Wari board has twelve small cups or pits, six on each side, and two larger compartments on each end called reservoirs (one for each player). I've colored the sides and the reservoirs so that you can see which side belongs to which player. The reservoirs are where the players put playing pieces they have captured. At the start of the game, there should be four pieces in each of the twelve small cups (48 pieces total).

Wari Board

Moving Pieces: The first player chooses one of the cups on his side and picks up all of the pieces from it. Then, he puts each of the pieces into the next four cups in a counter-clockwise direction, as shown by the arrows, continuing onto his opponent's side of the board if he runs out of cups on his side. (Note that he puts the pieces in the cups, not in a reservoir.) The second player then chooses a cup on his side and moves the pieces in that cup to other cups in the same way.

Wari Path

Players are allowed to count the pieces in their cups and each other's cups before deciding which pieces they want to move. Knowing how many pieces are in which cups can help them when planning captures. If a player moves pieces from a cup containing twelve or more, he skips putting any pieces in the cup they came from as he passes them around the board. The cup that the pieces originally came from should be empty when his turn ends.

Capturing: The two players take turns moving their pieces and trying to capture pieces on each other's side of the board. A player can capture pieces when his last piece lands in one of his opponent's cups which already contains either one or two pieces (making two or three pieces total after the move, all of which the capturing player keeps). If the cup contains more pieces than that, no capture is made. A single piece that lands in an empty cup at the end of a player's turn also stays on the board. Captured pieces are placed in the capturing player's reservoir (which is the one on his right-hand side as he faces the board). If the cup immediately before the one which was captured is also on the opponent's side and has two or three pieces in it, the capturing player captures those as well. In fact, a player can capture a series of consecutive cups as long as they are also on the opponent's side of the board and have the right number of pieces in them.

Players are not allowed to leave the cups on their opponent's side of the board empty if they are able to move more pieces into them. A player is also not allowed to make a move which would result in all of the pieces on the opponent's side being captured at once, preventing him from having any moves on his next turn.

Strategy: It helps to pay close attention to how many pieces are in both your cups and your opponent's. Look not only for for which of his cups are potential captures, but which of yours are vulnerable to capture and where the attack might come from. That way, you can block your opponent's captures as well as plan your own captures. You can block your opponent's captures either by moving pieces that could be captured, making sure that vulnerable cups have more than two pieces in them at the end of your turn so they will no longer be vulnerable, or by adding pieces to your opponent's side so that he will have too many pieces in a cup to stop on a potential capture. There may be times when you'll want to allow the other player to make a capture so that you can make a better capture of your own. Plan ahead for your next turn!

Winning: The game is over when one person no longer has any pieces on his side of the board at the beginning of his turn (because his opponent was unable to move any pieces onto his side of the board). You can also consider the game over if one player already has most of the pieces (25 or more out of the total 48) in his reservoir (Parlett 210). Any pieces still left on the board (not in the reservoirs) when the game ends go to the person who controls the cups they are in. The winner is the one with the most pieces in his reservoir. If the players each have 24 pieces at the end, the game is a draw.

Variations: Sometimes, if the game is getting close to the end and there are only a few pieces left in the players' cups, they might choose to end the game and simply keep the pieces remaining in their cups.

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