Count and Capture Games

This page offers general information about this game. To find out more about each game in the collection click on a picture in the table at the bottom of this page. To read and see instructions for playing many versions of this game found in different geographic areas of the world, click the item in the left menu.

Ashanti Statuate

Name of the Game

Depending upon where the game is played, and the culture in which it took root, the game has been given many names, names that refer to the manner of winning, the mode of play, the board used, or the counters used.

The English name Count and Capture refers to how each player can win the game. There are no chance factors in the game. Player strategy is dependent upon ability to reason and count. Winning is based upon a player's ability to claim or capture an opponent's game counters.

Islamic cultures name the game with respect to the physical action that takes place during the game - calling the game mancala (an Arabic word meaning in English "to move").

In certain west African dialects the depressions or cups in the board are referred to as warri or awari (in English - "houses"); thus, in some cultures the game is called Wari. Often, counters used in the game are pebbles, ivory balls, coins, seeds, etc.; consequently since seeds from the Adi plant for example, are used in the play of the game in Nigeria - the game is called Adi in Nigeria.

Origins and World Distribution

Count and Capture games are an extensive class of board games played today primarily in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and the Caribbean area. It's origins are rooted in ancient Egypt, and according to Murray (click on Archive Articles in left panel above) the game can be traced to the Empire Age (about the 15th to 11th centuries BC). The game spread from Egypt to many parts of Africa and then to the Middle East. As Muslim culture spread in the early AD centuries, it carried the game with it to India, Ceylon, Malaya, Indonesia, the Philippines, and China. It was carried from many Black African cultures during the period of the slave trade to the Caribbean area. Until recent times, the game was unknown in the non-Islamic parts of Europe and The Americas.

An interesting 19th century ethnographic view of this game with many examples is in a report of the then United States National Museum (now the Smithsonian Institution). To read this report and to see examples from the Smithsonian Collection and learn more about this game, click on the menu item in the left panel.

Shape of the Board

Playing A Game

Each game board may have one of three primary configurations. - two rows of depressions, three rows of depressions, or four rows of depressions; however, the number of depressions on a board varies from culture to culture. For example, most Wari boards have twelve depressions and sometimes two "banks" or storage areas for winnings, while a typical Mancala board has sixteen depressions and no "banks". A Chuncajon board from the Philippines has fourteen depressions and two "banks". A traditional Awele board from the Ivory Coast has twelve depressions and no "banks". Most Omweso boards from Uganda are in four rows, and have thirty-two or more depressions and no "banks".

Watching a game

Sometimes these boards are scratched into the earth, sand, or cut into rock outcroppings. In some cultures the boards are usually hand carved out of wood; therefore in these cultures the name of the game is the same as the name of the wood from which the board was carved. Sometimes boards are raised on feet or on to a carving which is common in that culture. At times, while the playing surface does not change within a culture, the outer surface and shape of the board may reflect themes within a culture. For example, a culture that is a "fishing culture" may carve their boards in the shape of a fish.

Commercial Versions

There are a number of commercial versions of the game. An early commercial version was published in the United States in 1891, under the name of Chuba, by the Milton Bradley Company, of Springfield, Mass. A wooden version of the game was produced in the 1950s by the Kalah Game Company, Holbrook, Mass. and later, a cardboard version of the game was made available by the Selchow & Righter Company, Bay Shore, New York. Many other commercial versions have subsequently been produced - some made of plastic. However, more authentic traditionally hand carved wooden versions of the game complete with seeds can be found in tourist shops throughout the Caribbean, and in Africa. In some countries today, there are specialty organizations which market reproductions of traditional hand carved wooden versions, for example, Origem Jogos & Objectos in Brazil. Elaborate rosewood versions with sterling silver counters are produced for sale in Copenhagen!

Play of the Game

The game is for two players. Based upon the version of the game, there is a preliminary distribution of counters (beans, nuts, seeds, etc.) in the board's depressions. Players move alternatively in a series of "laps". A lap involves each player in turn selecting all of the counters in a depression and lifting these and placing counters in each depression in a prescribed direction and manner. What happens then is dependent upon the version of the game being played. For example, the next move may depend upon the state of the last depression a counter is placed in. If for example, the last depression is empty of counters and is on the mover's side, the mover may then claim (or capture) all of the counters in the opponent's depression in the opposite row. Some versions which include "banks" allow a player to make a "deposit" each time they pass a "bank" or to use the contents of a "bank" when all of the counters in their row have been "captured". The game continues until a player has no more counters.

click on a picture to find out about each game
Antigua Burkina Faso Cote d'Ivoire
Antigua Board Burkina Faso board Cote d'Ivoire board
West Africa Ghana Haiti
West African board Ghana board Hatian board
Middle East Nigeria Philippines
Middle Eastern board Nigerian board Philippines board
Uganda Caribbean Caribbean
Uganda board Caribbean board Caribbean board
Caribbean West Indies United States
Caribbean board West Indiies board Commercial US board

Last update June 4, 2010