#99 – Oware

At a Glance: Oware is a beautifully unique game in the Mancala family, and carries some personal significance to me.
Oware is an abstract strategy game for 2 players in the Mancala family of games, that is widely played in West Africa. Each player controls the 6 pits (or “houses”) on their side of the board, and attempts to capture their opponent’s seeds on the other side. On your turn, you take all the seeds from one of your pits and sow them one-by-one, moving counter-clockwise around the board. If the last seed you place is on your opponent’s side and makes the total of that pit either 2 or 3 seeds, you capture those seeds. Then you look to the previous pit, and if it also has 2 or 3, you capture those as well, and so on. Whoever finishes with the majority of the seeds is the winner.

Oware is a simple, but mentally engaging exercise, made more charming by the way it is crafted, the use of actual seeds, and the counter-intuitive rule (or perhaps suggestion) that you should not capture all of your opponents seeds on one turn—i.e. you should always leave your opponent at least 1 seed to continue playing, if possible. I find this really refreshing, and it speaks to a higher nobility that is shared between the players on a social level, apart from the tangible elements of the game. Its origins lie thousands of years in the past. In fact, in ancient times thru today, Oware has also been played using holes dug in the earth or carved out of rock.

This game carries some personal significance to me as well. My sister’s family brought an Oware board as a gift, from when they were living in Ghana, doing missional work there. It is a beautifully crafted wooden folding board, and the real seeds that came with the game are called bonduc seeds (or “Nickernuts”). Each are unique and irregularly sized, and feel great while you’re “sowing” around the board. This game is special, elemental, rustic, and it doesn’t feel at all like you’re playing something that is mass-produced.

There are many variations on the board design that you can check out yourself, and even a basic Mancala board would work, but this is the closest available to what I own: https://amzn.to/2DpyZD8


TERMINOLOGY

ABSTRACT – Describes games that are generally without a cohesive theme or narrative, with fairly simple designs, and where luck is only a small factor, if at all.

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