Among the games known India, there are many checkers-like games, that don’t resemble checkers at first glance. These games use interesting triangular or circular boards, and pieces move not through squares, but along the lines and their intersections. What’s more, one similar game was known to Native Americans who live rather far away from India. Pretwa, Gol skuish or Egara-guti are some examples of these games. You can learn their rules in a minute but you can play for hours.
Many posts on Bonaludo are devoted to Halatafl and Draughts. Both games have something common. They are war games. The goal is to kill or block an opponent’s pieces. Capturing is made by jumping. The difference is that in typical Halatafl variants, two groups of pieces have different powers, while in Draughts there are always two armies with the same abilities.
I think these two families of games may have a common origin. Note that the game of 16 soldiers is very close to checkers. And board to play 16 soldiers may be used to play Cows and leopards – a game very similar to Fox and Geese.
16 soldiers is not the only checkers-like game known in India. There are many similar war games with rules like this:
- The game is played on a board consisting of lines. Pieces are situated on the intersection points and may move along the lines.
- The first player to move is determined by drawing lots. Players take turns alternately.
- In one turn a piece may be moved onto a vacant adjacent point along a line.
- Captures are made by jumping as in draughts. The adjacent enemy piece is leaped over onto a vacant point adjacently behind. Captures are compulsory.
- It’s possible to make many jumps in one move. A piece must continue to capture if it is able to. The direction of jumping may be changed after each capture.
- The game is won by a player who killed opponent’s pieces or blocked the opponent pieces so that he can’t make a legal move.
These rules resemble the game of 16 soldiers. Now let’s look at other similar games and see how they differ.
Lau kata kati
This game is known in India, mainly in Lower Bengal. A board is consisting of two triangles, each is cut by three horizontal lines and one vertical line. The intersections of the lines form 19 points, on which pieces stand. Each player has an “army” of 9 pieces.
The image below shows the board and the initial setting (pieces are red and green here).
As you can see, at the beginning of the game only the middle field is unoccupied. The player who starts the game has only one option – move his piece to the middle field. This forces the opponent to capture. For this reason, it is considered that the starting player has a slightly worse position.
Lau kata kati, as well as many other similar games, was described by chess historian Harold J.R. Murray in his book titled A History of Board-Games Other Than Chess.
Kowwu dunki (Dash-guti)
Kowwu dunki is a Lau kata kati variant, also known as Dash Guti. The board is similar to the one in Lau kata kati, but extended by one transverse line. Two ends of this line form two additional points on which pieces may stand. Each player has 10 pieces. Other rules are unchanged.
This game was known in central part of India and it’s another extended version of Lau kata kati. This time the board contains two additional vertical lines so they are 4 additional intersection points. Each player has 11 pieces at his disposal.
Pretwa is also known in India, especially in Bihar state, considered a part of Eastern as well as Northern India. The game is quite original because it uses a circular board.
This board consists of three concentrically arranged circles divided into 6 sectors by three diameters. Intersections of the diameters and circles form 19 points, on which pieces may stand. Each player has 9 pieces. The image below shows a board with pieces, just before the start of the game.
Pieces can move along the lines, along the circles, concentrically or centrifugally. The rules are the same as in Lau kata kati. Remember that the direction of jumps may be changed so its possible to combine a jump along circles with jumps along the diameters.
The rules are the same as in Pretwa, but board is much bigger. It consists of 7 circles divided into 6 parts, so there are 43 points on the board. Each player has 21 pieces, so at the start of the game, only the central field is unoccupied.
Kolowis Awithlaknannai (Fighting serpents)
The last game I want to mention does not come from India, but it’s known as a game of Indians :). All in all, it’s quite funny that Native Americans, mistakenly called Indians, knew a game similar to really Indian games.
The game called Kolowis Awithlaknannai was described by Stewart Culin in a book about Native American games (Games of the North American Indians). It was also known as Fighting Serpents. This name was used by Robert Charles Bell in his book titled Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations. Unfortunately, no one knows why Bell used this name. It’s possible that he just coined it.
The board uses an interesting board consisting of lines arranged in a zigzag pattern along the three main lines. The image below shows the board and the initial setting. Each player has 24 pieces at the start.
The rules are almost the same as in the games described above. Pieces can move along the lines and captures are made by jumping. There is only one but significant difference! If there is a multiple jump available, only the first jump is mandatory. So capturing player may decide how long multiple jump will be.
But… is anyone playing this games?
Some of these games are still “alive”. Others are forgotten. In my opinion, they can be really funny for draughts players who want to relax from playing “ordinary” checkers. And what’s the best – there are many, many more such games. People can be very creative in the exploitation of already known concepts :).
- Halatafl or „fox and geese”
- Freys-tafl and other Halatafl variants
- Fortresslike games – more Halatafl variants
- Belagerung – yet bigger „fortress”
- 16 soldiers, Peralikatuma, Cows and leopards and Kotu ellima – cousins of Halatafl and Draughts