|Region||West Africa, the West Indies and Surinam|
Oware is an abstract strategy game among the bigger Mancala family of board games (or Pit and Pebbles Games) played all over the world with slight variations across different societies with regard to distribution area, number of players and strategy of play. The origin of the variant called Oware is not exactly clear. It is however widely believed to be of Akan origin. It is played throughout West Africa and the Caribbean. Among its many names are Ayò (Yoruba), Awalé (Côte d'Ivoire), Wari (Mali), Ouri, Ouril or Uril (Cape Verde), Warri (Caribbean), Wali (Dagbani), Adji (Ewe), Nchọ (Igbo) and Awélé (Ga). A common name in English is Awari but one of the earliest Western scholars to study the game, R.S. Rattray, used the name Wari.
Following are the rules for the abapa variation, considered to be the most appropriate for serious, adult play.
The game requires an oware board and 48 seeds. A typical oware board has two straight rows of six pits, called "houses", and optionally one large "score" house at either end. Each player controls the six houses on their side of the board, and the score house on their end. The game begins with four seeds in each of the twelve smaller houses.
Boards may be elaborately carved or simple and functional; they may include a pedestal, or be hinged to fold lengthwise or crosswise and latch for portability and storage with the seeds inside. While most commonly located at either end, scoring houses may be placed elsewhere, and the rows need not be straight. When a board has a hinged cover like a diptych, the scoring houses may be carved into the two halves of the cover, and so be in front of the players during play. The ground may also be used as a board; players simply scoop two rows of pits out of the earth.
In the Caribbean, the seeds are typically nickernuts, which are smooth and shiny. Beads and pebbles are also sometimes used. In the West, some cheaper sets use oval shaped marbles. Some tourist sets use cowrie shells.
The game starts with 4 seeds in each house. The object of the game is to capture more seeds than one's opponent. Since the game has only 48 seeds, capturing 25 is sufficient to accomplish this. Since there is an even number of seeds, it is possible for the game to end in a draw, where each player has captured 24.
The lower player prepares to sow from E.
After sowing, c, d, and e are captured but not a.
Players take turns moving the seeds. On a turn, a player chooses one of the six houses under their control. The player removes all seeds from that house, and distributes them, dropping one in each house counter-clockwise from this house, in a process called sowing. Seeds are not distributed into the end scoring houses, nor into the house drawn from. That is, the starting house is left empty; if it contained 12 seeds, it is skipped, and the twelfth seed is placed in the next house. The diagram shows the result of sowing from house E.
Knowing the number of seeds in each house is, of course, important to game play. When there are many seeds in a house, sometimes enough to make a full lap of the board or more, they cannot easily be counted by eye, and their number is often guarded by the player who controls that house. This may be done by repeatedly moving the seeds in the house. A player may count the seeds when contemplating a move; in such cases the last few are usually counted in the hand to avoid revealing their number.
After a turn, if the last seed placed into an opponent's house brought the house's total to exactly two or three, all the seeds in that house are captured and placed in the player's scoring house (or set aside if the board has no scoring houses). If the previous-to-last seed also brought an opponent's house to two or three, these are captured as well, and so on. Therefore, seeds may be captured from every consecutive house on the opponent's side whose seed total was brought to two or three on the player's current turn. However, if a move would capture all of an opponent's seeds, the capture is forfeited, and the seeds are instead left on the board, since this would prevent the opponent from continuing the game. In the diagram to the right, the lower player would capture all the seeds in houses c, d, and e but not a, since it is not contiguous to the other captured houses.
Let the opponent play
The proscription against capturing all an opponent's seeds is related to a more general idea, that one ought to make a move that allows the opponent to continue playing. If an opponent's houses are all empty, the current player must make a move that gives the opponent seeds. If no such move is possible, the current player captures all seeds in his/her own territory, ending the game.
The game is over when one player has captured 25 or more seeds, or each player has taken 24 seeds (draw). If both players agree that the game has been reduced to an endless cycle, each player captures the seeds on their side of the board.
"Grand Slam" variations
A grand slam is capturing all of an opponent's seeds in one turn. There are variations to the rule that applies, which may be one of the following:
- Grand Slam captures are not legal moves.
- Such a move is legal, but no capture results. International competitions often follow this rule.
- Grand Slam captures are allowed, however, all remaining stones on the board are awarded to the opponent.
- Such a move is legal, but the last (or first) house is not captured.
Various other rules also exist.
History and society
Oware is perhaps the most widespread game in the mancala family of games.
Considered the national game of Ghana, oware is said to derive its name - which literally means "he/she marries" - from a legend in Twi, the language of the Asante people, about a man and a woman who played the game endlessly and so as to able to stay together and continue playing, they married.
Reflecting traditional African values, players of oware encourage participation by onlookers, making it perhaps the most social two-player abstract. In recreational play, it is normal for spectators to discuss the game in progress and to advise the players. Games may provide a focus for entertainment and meeting others. The game, or variations of it, also had an important role in teaching arithmetic to African children.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Oware.|
- Tutorial of Awale.
- Freeware Oware application with strong opponent, by Eric Roosendaal
- Free Oware application (GNU licensed) for Windows, GNU/Linux and Mac
- Online rules and game in English language: Awale on Yucata
- Free account setup required to play
- Oware rules on igGameCenter in English
- Online game in English language: Awale on ethnoludie
- Online game in English language: Awale.info online play and history
- Online game in English language: The Awari Oracle, Research project, VU University Amsterdam, Netherlands
- Relevant to the community since it claims to be a perfect Oware player
- Researchers from VU University Amsterdam do not necessarily contradict here towards claims in Oware: The Oldest Game of the World Will Not Be Solved by Computers by Xavier Blanvillain, published in February 2012 since due to the rules variants the researchers do have differences in set up.
- Maintainer advices to use Firefox browser and mind the firewall and proxy settings