16 soldiers, Peralikatuma, Cows and leopards and Kotu ellima – cousins of Halatafl and Draughts

When I wrote about Halatafl I mentioned that there are many similar games in different countries and on different continents, though played on different boards. It’s amazing how the same game concepts pop out in different cultures. Today I describe few games known in India that are clearly relatives of Halatafl, but also Alquerque (ancestor of draughts). Interestingly all of these games use the same board.

Board and general principles

Those Indian games have exotic names: 16 soldiers (Sholo guti), Peralikatuma, Cows and leopards and Kotu Ellima. They use board shown on the picture below. This board consists of lines and intersections of these lines form “points” on which pieces may stand.



What’s interesting  – this board is just an expanded version of Alquerque board. To be precise – It has four triangles attached to the four sides of an Alquerque board (intersecting lines on a 5×5 grid). Each triangle adds 6 fields so there are 49 points in total.

As I mentioned pieces move along the lines and stay at the intersections. In each of these games making a plain move means moving a piece to an adjacent point joined by a line. Examples of plain moves are shown in the image below.


In each of those games capturing opponent’s pieces is made by jumping over enemy pieces (as in Checkers). A player can capture several pieces at once by making several jumps. He/she may even direction after each jump (as shown on the image below).


These are general rules. Now I can describe mentioned games.

Cows and leopards

This game is known in India and can be considered as an exotic cousin of  European game of Fox and geese (Halatafl). In many languages, the name of the game is just the translation of the words “Cows and leopards.” You can also meet with a name Diviyan keliya although I warn there are also other games known under such name. Another name I’ve heard of is Hasu Chirat Ata.

To play cows and leopards you need 26 pieces – 24 cows (green pieces here) and two leopards (red pieces here, but they can be black, brown, whatever – just different from cows).

Before the game start, 8 cows are placed on the board as shown in the picture below.


In the first turn Player who plays with leopards sets one leopard on any free point on board. Then the Player who plays with Cows sets one Cow on any free point. In the next turn, another Leopard is placed on one of the free points and then another Cow.

In subsequent turns, Leopards are making moves (to the adjacent point in any direction). They can also capture cows by jumping over them. They can make several jumps in a row and capture a few Cows in one move.

A captured cow is killed (removed from the board).

Leopard cannot jump over another leopard.

Capturing is not mandatory.

When all Cows are introduced on the board, they start moving. In one turn they can move to the adjacent point in any direction. Cows may not capture Leopards. They also can’t jump over other cows (so the rules are almost the same as in the game of Fox and geese).

The aim of the game is different for both players. Leopards try to take out as many cows as possible. They win if they take out more than 12 cows. Cows win if they block the two leopards so that they can not make a legal move.

16 soldiers (Sholo guti)

While the “cows and leopards” may be considered a game akin to Halatafl,  another game – 16 soldiers – shows a kinship with Draughts and Alquerque. Game of 16 soldiers (also called Sholo guti) it is known in India, Bangladesh, Ceylon, Sri Lanka and even in Japan.

This game uses 32 pieces – 16 for each player. The initial setting of pieces on the board is shown on the image below.


One of the Players makes a first move (there’s no rule who move first). Then the players make moves alternately. In one turn a piece can move to the adjacent point (joined by a line) in any direction.

Capturing is made by jumping over the enemy piece (as in checkers). A player can jump over several pieces in one move if there is such possibility. Player can change the direction of jumps.

Captured pieces are removed from the board.

Capturing is mandatory. If a player does not execute the obligation to capture, he loses a piece that was required to capture (so-called “huff rule”).

If there are several possible capturing sequences, the player can choose one of them.
The aim of the game is to capture a certain number of enemy pieces. This number is determined before the start of the game.


Another game – Peralikatuma – is a variant 16 soldiers known in Sri Lanka. The rules are exactly the same as in 16 soldiers but both players have 23 pieces. At the beginning of the game, pieces are set on all points of the board with the exception of the three points in the center. Each player has pieces on his side, as well as on the triangle on his right.


Kotu ellima

Kotu Ellima is another variant of the 16 soldiers known in Sri Lanka and India. In this game, each player has 24 pieces. At the beginning of the game, they are set as shown in the image below. Only one field in the center is free. Besides all the rules are exactly the same as in a game of 16 soldiers.


Note about the obligation to capture

Some books about games say capturing is not mandatory in the game of 16 soldiers, as well as in derivative games (Peralikatuma and Kotu Elliman). I have no idea about the source of this discrepancies. Maybe some authors are simply wrong. However, I can’t exclude that in some places in the world people just play without obligation to capture. It is difficult to judge.

I have no doubt about the game of Cows and leopards. This game (as well as other “fox and geese” games) would have no sense with mandatory captures. But games related to Draughts (like 16 soldiers) are a lot better with the obligation to capture (you can force long capturing sequences). Therefore I propose to ALWAYS play with the obligation of capturing when playing 16 Soldiers, Peralikatuma and Kotu Ellima.

Related games

If you’re interested in this kind of games, you should also check this article: Between Halatafl and Draughts: Pretwa, Gol skuish, Egara-guti, Lau kata kati, Kolowis Awithlaknannai

My other articles on similar games:

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