Um El Banât
The Game of Daughters


Figure 8

[Page 143] This game is for two players, each of whom has six houses containing initially four counters each (Fig. 8). It introduces a new principle in counter-distribution, in that a player, picking up the contents of one of his own houses and dropping them one by one in an anticlockwise direction, does not end his move with the fall of the last counter unless (a) it falls in to a house previously empty, or (b) it falls on to three others in one of his opponent's houses. In other cases he picks it up, together with any other counters contained in the house into which it fell, and goes on distributing these counters, often moving several times round the board, until he is brought to a standstill by one of the happenings (a) or (b). In case (b) the player is said to have "begotten a daughter" in his opponent's house and the house has a mark put against it to indicate the fact. The "birth" to one player or the other, of one or more "daughters", introduces a new factor into the game, and that is the determinating factor. For if, now, A can so move that the last counter dropped falls into the house of B's daughter, he removes it and one other from that house and from the board and plays again. In doing so he is said to "peck" her . Also, if either player drops the last counter from his hand into the house of one of his own daughters, he is said to have "given her a drink" or to have “nourished" her and his move stops.

Figure 9

Daughters, it will be observed, are a source of profit and loss to their father, but all are not equally so. Fig. 9 shows a stage of the game at which B has two daughters in houses D1 and D2. If A is to move, he can begin with the two counters in house X, drop one into W and the other into D 1, from which he then removes two from the board. Moving again, he can pick up [Page 144] the one counter just dropped into W, drop it into D1 and again remove two. Playing again from Y, he again removes two, after which he can again score by playing from W.

D2, on the other hand, is much more immune from "pecking". It is true that by moving from Z, A can "peck" at her once, but he cannot repeat the process, while, also, practically every move which B makes adds to the counters in D2. The contents of a daughter's house cannot be picked up and moved, so that a stage of the game is completed when the board is left with no counters in it except those in the various daughters’ houses. Each player then removes the counters pertaining to his own daughters, adds them to those previously removed by him from the board and divides them into fours. In the result, B has perhaps gained eight counters from A. The game is, however, by no means ended at this point. The board is reset, only this time B has eight houses and A only four, a state of affairs indicated by a deep groove in the sand (Fig. 10).

Figure 10

If B has gained three counters, over and above some multiple of four from A, he borrows one more from A to make up a complete house, but if B has gained a multiple of four plus two counters or one, A borrows these back to make up his last house.

Play proceeds until one player has driven the other off the board altogether, and therefore it may last for hours; for as the result of the second stage of play A may win back a house or more, and so the fortunes of the game may fluctuate for many successive stages.

In practice, it requires great skill, or, rather swift and accurate calculation, to foresee the result of a given move. Some Arabs are quite extraordinarily good at it, notably Sheikh Ali El Tom, the Nazir of the Kababish, who, with hardly any hesitation, will accurately predict the result of a move which takes him three or four times round the board.

Last update January 6, 2010