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3 African Board Games You Should Add To Your Game Bag

Africans have a special affinity for board games. In most African households I have been in, there is at least one,
and perhaps the oldest one – Mancala, also known as oware, ayo, omweso, enkeshui, bao, or aweet throughout the continent.

Everyone knows about Mancala. It is also one of oldest games in the world, dating back thousands of years. It is alleged to have been discovered over 5,000 years ago in ancient Sumeria (modern day Iraq) but clear evidence shows it was played 3,600 years ago in ancient Sudan (on the upper Nile River).

It was also played in Egypt before 1400 BCE, where there were holes in the ground of Egyptian temples at Tebas, Karnak, and Luxor, before moving to other parts of Africa and other parts of the world.

Today, there are more than 200 versions of Mancala, with versions online and in online stores to easily purchase one’s own.

But in addition to Mancala, there are many others African board games that can quickly gain prominence and add excitement to any retreat or gathering.

Try these three other African games.

Gulugufe (Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe)

Gulugufe, which means “butterfly” in the Tonga language of Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique takes its name from the shape of the board. The goal is similar to that of Mancala – to capture all of your opponent’s pieces. Boards are often on plaques made to resemble butterflies, complete with antennae, abdomen, and butterfly wings. It may have originated from Kowwu Dunki, a board game from India, also with nineteen intersection points where the
counters are played and use nine counters per player.


Zamma (North Africa)

Zamma is popular throughout North Africa. Some boards found dates back to 1400. It uses a 9×9 or 8×8 square board.  Much similar to checkers, each player has 40 playing pieces, black or white, with the goal being to capture all of your opponents pieces. Every space on the board is filled with each player’s pieces except for the middle point of the board. Each player’s pieces are also set up on each player’s half of the board. In North Africa, the black pieces are referred to as men, and the white pieces as women.

Ludu/ Ludo (Ghana/ Nigeria)

Ludu, or variants of it, is believed to have been played in the Indian region from at least the 4th century AD in the form of the ancient game pachisi. Pachisi was then introduced to Britain in the late 1800’s who introduced this game to Ghana and Nigeria. With 2, 3 or 4 players, a die and 16 counters of 4 different set of colors, the goal is for players to race each other around the circuit with the intention to be the first to get all 4 counters to the home base.

There are hundreds of other African board games and we will hopefully spotlight more with time. History proves that board games have been played in Africa for thousands of years. The oldest board game, Senet or “game of passing”, was discovered in Egypt around 3100 BC, but its rules are not known.


Written by How Africa

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