Monday, October 27

Berber Games

For fall break I went on a camel trek in Morocco. I went hiking with a Berber guide through the Sahara for three days, from Mhamid to the Erg Chigaga dunes. It was awesome. While camping, my guide taught me a few games. All of which were played by drawing lines in the sand and using nearby rocks or sticks for pieces. And though at first the games seemed familiar, I quickly learned that the Berber have their own native rule-sets. It was really fascinating seeing a different cultures take on the classics. Also, my guide is way smarter than me.

This was actually taught to me by my guides son, Hassan, who joined us on the trek. something interesting of note: most games in the US are played with squares or grids. All of these games were played with dots, usually on the intersecting points of lines. Which were far more suitable for their rule-sets than grids could have been. You'll see why in a moment.

Tic-Tac-Toe was played by drawing 4 intersecting lines in the sand. One vertical line, one horizontal, and two diagonal cutting through the two, which forms an 8 slice pie. Players take turns placing down pieces, we used rocks and sticks, until each player has three pieces on the board. The first piece must be placed in the center. In the version of tic-tac-toe I'm used to playing, this is where the game ends. But in the Berber version (and I'm sure in other cultures' versions as well) the game continues past three pieces, insteading of calling it cat and starting over. 

The seventh turn begins the moving process, wherein players alternate moving their pieces around the board to achieve three-in-a-row. Pieces can only be moved to adjacent points, either horizontally, vertically, or diagnally. Pieces can not be jumped or lost in any way, and only one piece can occupy a single point at any time. And thats it. Its really quite fun. You'll counter one move only to have another unseen move make a row. The lines, instead of a grid, function to connect the points and better display potential moves.

Berber Checkers
Berber checkers is played on a cross-hatched 4x4 grid constisting of 24 lines: 5 vertical, 5 horizontal, and 14 diagnal. Pieces are placed on the points of intersecting lines, making for 41 spaces total. At the start, each player puts their 20 pieces on the first grid and a half of their side, leaving the center space open.  Players may only move to empty points or jump over enemy pieces. Players cannot jump their own pieces. Usually, pieces may only be moved forward. However, pieces may also be moved laterally if jumping over an enemy. Additionally, moves can be chained together in a single turn if you can connect multiple jumps over enemies. If a piece reaches the end, it is kinged, allowing it to move as a bishop does in chess, except with the added ability to jump pieces across the board and to connect multiple jumps. The most interesting difference between this version of checkers and the version I grew up with, is that the cross-hatch points offer only 4 moves whereas the other points offer 8 moves.

Berber Mancala
I learned about this from trying to teach it. I was trygint o show Hassan, the son, the game mancala. But I couldn't remember the rules exactly. But he recognized what I was trying to do and then showed me how the game is really played! I initially drew the board as a grid, but my guide, Mohammad, came over and replaced my squares with cups. 

Berber mancala is played with 12 cups, 6 cups per side, and without any end-zones or goals. In each cup is placed 3 pieces. Players can only intiate a move from their own side. Players take all pieces from a single cup and, moving clock-wise, place one piece per cup until your hand is empty. If the last piece is placed in a cup that already contains pieces, the cup is drawn and the process is repeated. No points can be scored until the third turn. If the last piece in a hand lands in a cup of 3, therefore making 4 total in the cup, then all of the pieces are taken by that player, regardless of the side. However, if a cup accumulates exactly 4 pieces during a pass, then whosever side the cup belongs to obtains all 4 pieces for him or herself. If any cup contains 12 or more pieces at any time, then the entire cup is taken by whosever side the cup belongs to. The game ends when all of the cups on one player's side are empty, the winner being the opponent. 

But the game continues. All of the pieces are counted and placed back in the cups, and whoever has more pieces progress his or her area of control forwards. So if one player has 21 pieces and the other has only 15, then the player with 21 now controls 7 cups, encroaching upon the territory of the opponent. The game ends definitively when one player obtains all of the pieces and controls all of the cups.

In return, I taught them how to play The Very Clever Pipe Game! which they thoroughly enjoyed, and tried to teach them Arrowgame, but with the language barrier this was a much more difficult task.

What are your experiences with cultural takes on games?

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