Five Arabic Games That Might Seem A Little Familiar
In 2017 the Arab world was excited about a new board game called Dubai-opoly. As you might have guessed, was based on the famous Monopoly board game, but with a twist. Dubai-opoly features some of the Emirate’s most iconic landmarks, Instead of the famous Atlantic City streets and real estate that Monopoly is famous for. In other words, you can see estates like the Arabian Ranches, the Dubai Marina, One Za’abeel, and the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI).
The game is somewhat of a novel idea in the Middle East. However, it is certainly not their first foray into the board game business. In fact, Arab board games have been around for as long as board games have been around. Actually, some of them you’ve probably played but by different names. So what are some of the other traditional Arabic games are popular in the region? Here’s a few:
In Marrakech each player plays the part of a rug salesperson. They would start with 10 coins and an equal number of carpets with the goal of trying to outsmart their competitors. Upon their turn, players rotate Assam, the game piece that resembles a Moroccan carpet seller. Then roll the die and move him forward as many spaces as showing on the die. If Assam reaches the edge of the board, follow the curve and continue moving in the next row. If Assam lands on another player’s carpet, you must pay that player one coin per square. Then, you place one of your carpets adjacent to Assam. However, it must not overlap another carpet. The game ends when all players have played all carpets. Each gets 1 coin per visible square. The player with most coins wins!
The Arabic word tawla means table, but this game is really the Arabic version of backgammon but with Middle Eastern rules. In the Arabian version, the object is to move all of your checkers onto your home board, and then move them completely off the board. The first player to do so wins the game.
Dama is the Turkish version of English draughts or American checkers that is played on an 8×8 board, with 16 “men” (pieces) lined up on each side, in two rows with the back row being vacant. The traditional Turkish draughts game board is mono-colored. White moves first.
The men move one square orthogonally forwards or sideways, capturing by means of a jump. They cannot move or capture backwards or diagonally. When a man reaches the opponent’s the back row, consequently, it is promoted to a king. Kings can move any number of empty squares orthogonally forwards, backwards or sideways. A king captures by jumping over a single piece any number of empty squares away. Therefore, it will land on any open square beyond the captured piece along a straight line.
Pieces are removed from the board immediately after being jumped. If a jump is available it must be taken. If there is more than one way to jump, the one capturing the most number of pieces must be taken. There is no distinction between king and man during captures. Therefore, each counts as a piece. If there is more than one way to capture the maximum number of pieces, the player may choose. Within a capture of multiple men, turning 180 degrees between two captures is not allowed.
A player wins if the opponent has no legal move, either because all his pieces are captured or he is completely blocked. In addition, a king versus single man also wins the game.
One of the best board games in the Middle East is Mancala. However, it is also popular in Africa, the West Indies and India. The name of the game comes from the Arabic naqala, which literally means “to move”. There are hundreds of variations of the rules of Mancala in all of these countries, but they’re really quite similar across the board.
Mancala is a 2 player turn-based strategy board game played with small stones or seeds and rows of holes or pits in the earth. It can be played on a board or a playing surface. The aim of the game is to capture all or some of your opponent’s stones.
Barjees is a complex, cross and circle race board game based on a traditional game popular in the Arabic speaking countries of the Middle East. If the name sounds vaguely familiar to you, it may be because you’ve played Parcheesi, the same game believed to have originated in India as pachisi. The game eventually found its way via the Silk Road to the Levant where it is known as barjees.
It is traditionally played on colorfully embroidered dark velvet fabric. Six cowry shells are thrown each turn to determine the number of moves based on whether they land on their open or closed side. Consequently, your number of moves is determined by the combination of open and closed shells after throwing. You win the game by moving your pawns all around the board and into the mutbakh (Arabic for “middle”).
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