It is believed that popular game of Ludo is very old, but is it? It was patented in 1986, but it was a modern variant of really old game called Pachisi. And I must tell you this older game is more strategic and has a unique, ancient nature.
Pachisi comes from India and is even considered a national Indian game. It is probably a descendant of older game called Chaupar. And Chaupar could be invented in 4th century BC and was certainly known in the 6th and 7th centuries. There are very old drawings depicting gods playing Chaupar. Pachisi was developed later. The first historical traces of Pachisi were found in the 16th century. In the palace at Fatehpur Sikri there is a large garden version of the Pachisi board. It is possible that the game of Pachisi is much older, maybe even ancient.
Chaupar, Pachisi and similar games designs are called cross and circle games. They involve players racing their pawns around a circle divided into four equal portions or around a cross that could be inscribed inside a circle. The first games of this type could appear 3000 years BC.
Pachisi gave rise to many other games like Ludo, Parcheesi, Sorry!, Aggravation or Trouble. Moreover, these newer games gave rise to Malefiz. Note that Malefiz has lost the cross and circle design but it has still something common with Pachisi.
Ludo have many names in different countries. For this reason, many people use word “Pachisi” to describe Ludo or many similar games. That’s why I decided to describe “real” Pachisi. I would like you to know what this game is and how it differs from Ludo and later games.
Pachisi – general rules
Pachisi is a board game of skill and luck for 2, 3 or 4 players. Players can play in teams.
Each player make moves by throwing shells, coins, chips or dice. Then he or she performs a move according to throw value.
The Pachisi board is shaped like a cross. It consists of one large square in the middle (so called Charkoni) and four arms with 24 squares on each.
Squares on each arm are arranged in three columns. In total, the board has 96 squares.
Some squares are specially marked. Those squares are called castles and they have special role.
The image above shows basic version of the board, with no colors or ornaments. Sometimes Pachisi boards are colored like this one on the image below. Colors show the arms assigned to players, who should use their arms to introduce pieces onto the board and bring them back after completing a race.
Traditional Pachisi boards are not only colored but also decorated. Squares colors are not necessarily of any meaning. Castle squares can be marked with some kind of decorations. Example traditional board could look like this one below.
You can meet varied boards but this simplest version is important for the essence of the game. All colors and ornaments are only add-ons.
Each Pachisi set has pawns in four colors, mostly black, yellow, red and green. Pieces often have a shape of beehive or cone. It’s important because sometimes pieces are placed on their side.
Each player has 4 pieces, so there can be up to 16 pieces on a board.
In the game Pachisi dice are often replaced by other items. Traditionaly cowry shells are used (cowries are sea snails in the Cypraeidae family). Players throws six shells and value of the throw is determined by the number of cowries which fall with their openings upwards.
It may be hard to get cowry shells, but there are plastic imitations (used to make cheap jewelery). You can also use coins or chips instead of shells (of course we must agree witch side of coin is “up”). Another possibility is to use die and one coin – that gives you 7 possible combinations.
I have seen versions of Pachisi with two or three rectangular dice or with long dice in form of “barell” with 7 sides . Actually it’s not important what method you use to generate random numbers. It’s just important to have 7 possible outcomes of each throw.
The aim and rules of the game
The aim of the game for players is to move all their pieces completely around the board. All pieces start from the middle square (Charkoni) and they end on the middle square.
Each piece must pass 75 squares, starting with squares in the middle lane of player’s arm, then go around the board and return through the center column of the player’s arm.
Pieces go around the board counter-clockwise.
Image below shows example route of one piece.
Pieces of each player always leave and return through the same arm. In practice, each player has his own arm. The board is set in such manner, that player’s arm is in front of him, so each player starts to move his pieces along the arm in front of him. As i mentioned, some boards have colored arms to indicate where player should start and end.
Game for 2, 3 or 4 players
Traditionally, Pachisi is a game for 4 players. They play in teams – two against two. One team wins if all pieces of the two team’s members finish the game.
Traditionally players play in the “Yellow-Black” and “Green-Red” teams. Players forming a team sit on the opposite sides of the board.
When there are only 2 players, they can play with two sets of pieces for each one. So one players play with yellow and black pieces, and second player with red and green. Still there are four arms for each color so one players has two own arms on board (mostly the arm on his side and arm on opposite side).
If there are 3 players, only three colors of pieces are used (one for each player). Each player play on his own.
Throwing and moving
At the beginning of the game each player throws shells to determine who plays first. Of course first to move is a player who’s got a highest value. Then the game goes counterclockwise.
Before making each move player throws the shells. Value of the roll is calculated as shown in the table below.
|Number of cowries “up”||Value|
|0||25 (+ grace)|
|1||10 (+ grace)|
|6||6 (+ grace)|
Player moves one of his pieces for as many fields as cowries shown. And if 6, 10, or 25 is thrown, the player gets so called grace (it is mentioned in table above). Player who got a grace has the right to introduce one of his pieces from the Charkoni onto the board. And this player also earns another additional move.
Note: The newly introduced piece always stays on the first square of central column. In further turns it moves as far as shown on cowries.
What is very important, moving pieces after throw is not mandatory. This means that after the roll player may decide to pass. This significantly influences strategy of the game.
If the player has introduced all his pieces to game, grace throw gives him just another throw.
Captures and castles
One square can be occupied by more than one piece of the same team.
Piece can also land on a square occupied by enemy piece(s). In such situation enemy pieces are captured. They must return to the Charkoni and may be introduced on board again after a grace throw (so they lose all progress).
Example capture is shown on the image below. Green piece captures yellow piece after throwing 6.
There is exception in capture rules. A piece on castle square may not be captured. Whats more, enemy piece may not move onto a castle square that is already occupied by opponent’s piece.
Castle squares on the ends of arms (those in central column) are exactly 25 squares from Charkoni. For this reason, some players use the following tactics. They hold a piece on castle square and wait until a 25 is thrown. This gives the possibility to put a piece directly to Charkoni without risk of losing this piece just before ending a game.
On the picture below yellow piece stands on the castle square (on the left shoulder of the cross). It must enter Charkoni through the lower arm. It is exactly 25 squares from Charkoni and it is sensible to wait for a 25.
Return to Charkoni
Pieces returning to Charkoni through the middle column are often placed on their side. It is made to distinguish them from pieces that have just entered the board. As I mentioned, the goal of the game is make the journey around the board with all pieces belonging to a team or player (depends on how many people play).
Pachisi is an old game so in some parts of India it is played with various additional rules. They can make a game more difficult or more surprising. Here are some examples of such rules, and you should treat them as optional rules.
- First move of each player can be made only when 2, 3, or 4 is thrown.
- A player can move any number of his pieces with a single throw (not only one) by spliting the value of the roll between the pieces. For example after throwing 10 he can move one pawn 6 squares forward and another piece 4 squares forward.
- Player cannot take his pieces back to the Charkoni, unless he have captured at least one enemy piece.
- A piece can return to the Charkoni only by a direct throw.
- Capture can be canceled if capturing piece is immediately captured by opponent or his partner.
- A player making a capture earns another turn
- Game can be played with different number of pieces (8, 12 or even 16 pieces per player).
- In some variants board looks a bit different.
How to play with 7 cowries
You can also play Pachisi with 7 cowries, tokens or coins. Then the results of the throws is calculated as follows.
|Number of cowries “up”||Value|
|0||7 (+ grace)|
|1||10 (+ grace)|
|5||25 (+ grace)|
|6||35 (+ grace)|
|7||14 (+ grace)|
When playing with 7 cowries there is also a rule, that only throwing 10, 25 or 30 gives you the ability introduce first pawn on board. You can also assume that every time you 10, 25 or 30 to introduce a pawn and 7 and 14 only gives an extra move.
There are also some additional rules on throwing for some experienced players, who can cause cowries to land in a specific way. I will refrain from describing these rules.
Traditional and newer equipment
Traditional Pachisi boards are often embroidered on cloth, so they are handy, nice and ready to use anywhere. Below you can see a photo of Pachisi set with interesting die in a shape of barell with 8 sides (from the collection of the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis).
You can also draw a board on the ground and play with pebbles! Note that such board on a photo below looks a bit different than presented in this article.
Today we can simply buy Pachisi sets. There are exclusive sets made of wood or stone, or cheap sets with plastic pieces and board on printed on paper. Plastic imitations of cowry shells are also available, so … let’s just play!