Sunday, May 30, 2010

Times of India Article

Today's 'Times of India' Bangalore edition has carried an article on our research on board games as well as an informal interview of me and R.G. Singh. Ms. Parvati Harikumar of Time News Network has authored the article. You can find the article here. Below this, you can read complete article.



Its time to relive the magic, of board games thanks to the pioneering efforts of three researchers from Mysore

Parvathi Hari Kumar | TNN

Pallanguzhi, Navakankari, Adu Huli, Chauka Bara, Chaupar. Ring a bell maybe grandma mentioned them when she reminisced about her childhood and how long afternoons were spent.

When Nintendo, PlayStation laid siege to drawing rooms and lazy afternoons, these traditional board games were forgotten and the beautiful mancala boards tucked away in the attic.

Board games have a history stretching to antiquity in India. Stories abound in Indian mythology and culture of kings and gods obsessed with them. It was Duryodhana's deception at chaupar or pachisi that set up the epic war of the Mahabharatha. Mughal king Akbar too was a great fan of chaupar. Fatehpur Sikri has a courtyard which doubled as a chaupar board. And the pawns the women from his harem!

Closer home is the Jaganmohan Palace in Mysore. When the British took over the reins from Krishna Raja Wodeyar III and reduced him to a figurehead, the king spent his time not just playing board games but also inventing some very complex games. On the third floor of the (Jaganmohan) palace, the walls are painted with the games he invented and improvised upon. At the 13th Board Games Colloquim in Paris last month, German scholar Irving Finkel in his address paid homage to Wodeyar III, the master of board games.

It was a challenge that set off this trio from Mysore R G Singh, businessman, Raghu Dharmendra, graphic designer and Dr C R Dileep Kumar, a general (medical) practitioner on a delightful discovery. They unearthed a treasure trove in their quest to document traditional Indian board games during their travels across Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh.

'When I asked research scholars for information on Indian board games, I found them reluctant to talk about them. I took it up as a challenge and set out to document them,' says Singh.
Their favourite haunts were village quadrangles, old homes and temples. 'Just look around the temples. You'd be surprised at the games you'll find etched on the stones. Sometimes the uninitiated dismiss them as part of the architecture or inscriptions,' says Singh. At times, it takes an eagle's eye to spot the games. At the Chennakeshava temple in Belur, they found a game of goats and tigers etched on a stone inside the temple well. 'Masons must have etched the game during construction, and then used the stone to build the well,' reasons Singh.

'People are bemused when they see us photographing the floors, and not the temple or its architecture,' says Dharmendra. 'Before you know it, a conversation unfolds, dice, cowrie shells or pebbles roll out and a palpable sense of excitement grips the air as a game is on. Amazingly, people open up when they see our interest in the games. They call for very little investment sticks, tamarind seeds or even buttons can be used as pawns,' Dharmendra adds. 'It speaks volumes of our ancestors' creativity,' chips in Singh.

But it is Krishna Raja Wodeyar III's genius that never ceases to amaze Singh.Trying to solve some of his games could keep you occupied for years, he says. One of his most complex games is the Navagraha Pagade Ata with Indian astrology and astronomy incorporated into it. In the book Sritattvanidhi, currently with the Oriental Research Institute and Kuvempu University, the king in the last chapter Kautuka Nidhi, describes the games he invented and their rules. Most manuscripts written by the king are either in museums abroad or with private collectors in Europe.

'Framing the rules is no easy task. Many a times locals have helped us unravel the games and their rules,' says Dharmendra on whom rests the task of chronicling the rules. 'Indians,' laughs Singh, 'are experts at introducing subrules in games when they find themselves losing.' 'The loser does'nt get away with just losing. In a game of pallanguzhi or alugulimane, the loser is humiliated with songs, or he has to run around with the board on his head. In Chamrajanagar, the rules are that the 14 pits (of aligulimane) are filled with ash, and the loser has to blow them away,' reveals Dharmendra.

The games have evoked great interest among western researchers. They are said to improve mathematical skills, dexterity, memory, hone logical and strategical thinking, even keep dementia and Alzheimers at bay.

V Balambal, former history professor, University of Madras, and author of 'Folk Games of Tamil Nadu' says: Pallanguzhi (Oware in Africa and Warri in the Caribbean) is used in schools in the West Indies and Africa to improve mental skills and teach arithmetics. Balambal rues that while these games are often topics of research in the West, they have evoked very little interest back home. 'My Spanish friend, who is visually impaired, has proved that Pallanguzhi can be played even by them,' she reveals.

In Karnataka, intricately linked to the revival of these games are also the craft traditions of the state. The Ramsons Kala Pratishtana (RKP) in Mysore has found a novel way to keep alive the games as well as the dying crafts. 'We used some crafts like Bidriware, Kasuti embroidery, the Navalgund dhurries to create game boards and designs,' says Singh, also the secretary of RKP.
Interwoven cleverly on the Navalgund dhurries are a game of pachisi with the traditional peacocks woven delicately around it; the Kasuti embroidery too is used to weave games; inlaid on ashtrays, boxes and tables using bidriware are games like adu huli (tiger and goat) and the traditional turning techniques of Channapatna artisans are used to make colourful pawns.

Next time you visit grandma, leave that laptop and iPod behind and get her to play her favourite board game. Her mental agility could stump you.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Board Game - Moon Travel

This board game appeared in the 1969 Yugadi special issue of Sudha, the Kannada weekly magazine. The game starts with the Moon mission taking off and going through various phases and difficulties and landing on the Moon. Later, taking off from the Moon surface the probe has to enter the Earth's atmosphere and land safely on the surface of Earth.

This game is played just like Snakes and Ladders or Monopoly. Two or more people can play with one pawn each using a dice. The game starts from the House No. 1. Play along according to the throw of dice and also the instructions given in the game board.

This game was conceptualised by Rajashekhar S. Bhusanurmath specially for this issue. The maverick journalist of yesteryears M.B. Singh, the then editor of the magazine gave the idea.

This board is in Kannada, I will try to translate it into English and post it sometimes later.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

How to Play Nau Keti Keta

Nau Keti Keta or Lau Kati Kata
(9 Boys & Girls)
Game board - 1
Pawns - 9 +9

This is a war game played by 2 players. One player gets a group of 9 (nau) boys (keta) and another gets a group of 9 girls (keti)

Winner: Player who takes out all enemy pawns out of the board is the winner.

How to play:
1. Pawns have to be placed only on intersections of lines (shown by blue dots in Fig. 1)
2. During a turn only one coin has to be played.

3. At the beginning both armies are placed on the board as depicted by white and black dots in Fig. 2.
4. During a turn only one pawn has to move to an adjacent point which is connected to its current point by a line. It can move in any direction. See Fig. 3

5. If a point is not connected to its present point by a line, the pawn cannot move there. See Fig.4
6. If a pawn encounters a lone opponent such that there is an open point just behind the opponent (in the same line), then the pawn jumps over the latter to the open point and takes the opponent out of the board. In Fig. 5, the white pawn jumps over the black pawn and the black pawn is cut.

7. A pawn can jump over multiple opponents during its turn provided it should always land on an empty junction before jumping over the next opponent (this is similar to multiple-cutting option as in Checkers). In Fig. 6 observe that one white pawn has jumped over three black pawns, thus cutting all three.
8. There is no limit for a pawn to cut its opponent pawns in a single turn. Sometimes it happens so that one single pawn can wreak major havoc in opponent pawns during multiple-cutting.

9. A pawn cannot jump over an opponent if there is no open point behind the opponent as shown below in Fig. 7. A pawn cannot jump over opponent pawn if no line is connecting its point with that of the opponent’s (see Fig. 8 )
10. A pawn cannot jump over an empty point at anytime, not even to cut a pawn as shown in Fig.9. A pawn cannot change direction while cutting a pawn as shown in Fig 10.
11. A cut pawn is permanently out of the game and cannot be reintroduced on the board during that game.

12. The player who has cut all of opponent pawns is the winner.

Benefits: This is an exciting game which helps develop strategy. Both players should be very careful and attentive since danger can be lurking anywhere. A weak moment of judgement can cause major crisis in the form of multiple-cutting.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

How to Play Navakankari

Navakankari is wellknown as Nine Men’s Morris or Mills in the western world. Navakankari is the sanskrit name which means nine pebbles. It is known as Saalu Mane Ata or Jodpi Ata or Char-Par in Kannada, Navkakri in Gujarati and Daadi in Telugu. This is an alignment game played by 2 players. Each player gets 9 nine pawns.

The game of Nava Kankari is played on a board consisting of three concentric squares connected by lines from the middle of each of the inner square's sides to the middle of the corresponding outer square's side.

Pieces are played on the points where two or more lines meet or intersect, so there are 24 playable points. This is a two-player game and each player gets 9 coins of different colour.

Contents: Game board - 1
Pawns - 9 +9

Preparation and Objective:

The basic aim of a player is to make ‘Mills’ - vertical or horizontal lines of three coins of same colour. Every time this is achieved, an opponent's piece is removed, the overall objective is to reduce the number of opponent's coins to 'two' or to block all moves of the opponent thus rendering the opponent unable to play.

How to play: 1. To begin with the board is empty.

2. Coins have to be placed only on intersections of lines (shown by blue dots in Fig. 1). During a turn only one coin has to be played.

3. Players toss a coin to decide who plays first and has a slight advantage as a result. Play is in two phases.

Phase 1:

4. To begin with, players alternately place one of their coin on any unoccupied point on the board.

5. A player has to place a coin such that he can make a 'Mill' or blocking the opponent from making a Mill.

6. A Mill is a formation of three coins of a player in a line either horizontally (Fig.2 & Fig.4) or vertically (Fig.3)

7. Mill is not formed when coins are not on a connected straight line (Fig. 5, Fig.6 & Fig. 7)

8. Whenever a Mill is formed by a player, he has to remove one of the opponent's coin from board which was not a part of a Mill. Coins in a Mill are safe and cannot be removed. Coins which are not in a Mill are unsafe.

9. The player has to strategically remove such a coin of opponent which would have helped the opponent in making a Mill in future.

10. A coin once removed from the board cannot be placed again on the board.

11. Phase 1 ends when all 18 coins have been placed on the board by players.

Phase 2:

12. After placing all coins on board, players start moving their coins. During a turn only one coin has to move (in any possible direction) to an adjacent empty point which is connected to its current point by a line (See following)

13. A coin cannot jump any coin or point (Fig.11). A coin cannot move to a point if (a) that point is not connected to its present point by a straight line (Fig.12) or (b) the point is not empty (Fig.13).

14. The player tries to either create a Mill and remove opponent's one coin or block opponent's Mill.

15. A player can make as many Mills as possible with his coins.

16. A Mill can be broken by its owner by moving one of its three coins. During another turn the player can remake the same Mill by moving back that same coin and remove an opponent's coin.

17. A player can capture maximum of 3 opponent's coins by making and remaking any particular Mill, once when it is first made and one each when it is broken and remade twice. Further breaking and remaking of that particular Mill will not empower the player to remove any of the opponent's coin.

18. A player loses the game when he is left with only two coins or when he cannot move any of his coins.

Benefits: This is an exciting game which helps develop strategy and planning.

Following is the flash animation created by me which shows how to play this game.


Mr. Faraz Khokhar has developed an app of this game. It is on Google Play and you can download it here.