Awl: A Game from Cote d'Ivoire

Map of Africa

This game was donated to the Museum in 2001 by a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer stationed in the Ivory Coast. The game was handmade by a young man in the village of Tegula in the northwest of the Ivory Coast. Unfortunately, information about the artist who made the game was not sent with the game.

closed Awele board

The game board at first appears to be a carved cylinder, but it is in reality composed of two seperate pieces of wood which fit together and form the cylinder. From the inside top of each piece, the board is beveled to the bottom, so that when closed - that is one side rests on the other side - the board appears to be a hollow cylinder.

Indeed, the game is a work of art. The board is carved from a local wood. It is approximately 40cm long by 7.25 cm wide by 3cm deep on each side.

close-up of Awele board

This "close-up" of the  top of the board board illustrates details of the carving. When closed, the top side of the cylinder features an incised carved stylized picture of various local flowers and plants. The carving itself is 24cm long by 7cm wide.


When open, the board is 14.5cm wide. Two and a half centimeter brass hinges hold the two sides of the board together. The board was donated with 52 necar seeds (as can be seen in the open board). These seeds are to be used as counters in the game. Carved into each bottom side of the cylinder half are six depressions (cups), which are the playing surface for the game.

How Awl is played

Jean Retschizki, a professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, on a recent field trip to the Ivory Coast, conducted a study of how different people played Awl. He offered this description in a paper "Strategies of Expert Awl Players", International Colloquium: Board Games in Academia III, Florence, Italy, 1999, pages 84-94. In the paper he provides a bibliography citing published works about the game as observed by others over the years. Here is Retschizki's description of how to play the game.

Awele Board

"The game of Awl is played by two players on a board with 2 rows of 6 cups. Each player has his own territory - the row on his side. At the beginning of the game, each cup must hold 4 seeds. Each player takes a turn. A move is made by taking all the seeds in a chosen cup of one's row and dropping them one by one, counter-clockwise.

The aim of the player is to capture seeds in his opponent's cups. A capture happens when the last seed dropped falls into a cup on the opponent's side that already holds one or two seeds, so that after the move, the cup now holds 2 or 3 seeds which are captured. There is the possibility for a player to capture several sets of 2 or 3 seeds, provided that all the sets are consecutive and on the opponent's side.

The game ends when one of the following cases occurs: a) There are so few seeds remaining on the board that it is not possible to capture any more. b) One of the  players has no cup containing enough seeds to reach his opponent's side and his opponent's cups are all empty. c) The players decide by mutual agreement to stop playing and share the remaining seeds according to their analysis of the situation. This is the most common way of ending games between good players.

Last update February 5, 2010