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Bao

Histor y & Rules
Games from Everywhere
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Histor y & Rules
Bao (Swahili for: "board") is a mancala game played in Swahili and
Bajun communities in Eastern Africa, e.g. Zanzibar, coastal
Tanzania and Kenya, and the Comores. The game is also known by
the Sakalava in northwestern Madagascar. It can also be found in
the Swahili hinterland and is played among the Yao in Malawi.
The game was first described by the French traveller Flacourt in
1658 who saw it in Madagascar. Thomas Hyde found it 1658 on
Anjouan, Comores.
The Bao poem "Bao Naligwa" was written in the 1820s by the
Swahili poet Muyaka bin Haji in Mombasa, Kenya. The oldest still
surviving Bao board was made in 1896 in Malawi and is kept today
in the British Museum in London.
In 1966, the Chama cha Bao (Bao Society) was formed in Tanzania
to promote the game. On Zanzibar, there are about 16 Bao clubs
and about 10 masters who are called fundi ("artist") or bingwa
("master"). Regular championships are held on Zanzibar and Lamu
(Kenya) and in Malawi.
The only tournament that was held in Europe was organised in 2002
on the Mindsports Olympiad (MSO) in Cambridge, England. Some
call Bao the "king of mancala games", as it is usually considered the
most difficult and complex of them.

Histor y & Rules
Games from Everywhere
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Bao (Swahili for: "board") is a mancala game played in Swahili and
Bajun communities in Eastern Africa, e.g. Zanzibar, coastal
Tanzania and Kenya, and the Comores. The game is also known by
the Sakalava in northwestern Madagascar. It can also be found in
the Swahili hinterland and is played among the Yao in Malawi.
The game was first described by the French traveller Flacourt in
1658 who saw it in Madagascar. Thomas Hyde found it 1658 on
Anjouan, Comores.
The Bao poem "Bao Naligwa" was written in the 1820s by the
Swahili poet Muyaka bin Haji in Mombasa, Kenya. The oldest still
surviving Bao board was made in 1896 in Malawi and is kept today
in the British Museum in London.
In 1966, the Chama cha Bao (Bao Society) was formed in Tanzania
to promote the game. On Zanzibar, there are about 16 Bao clubs
and about 10 masters who are called fundi ("artist") or bingwa
("master"). Regular championships are held on Zanzibar and Lamu
(Kenya) and in Malawi.
The only tournament that was held in Europe was organised in 2002
on the Mindsports Olympiad (MSO) in Cambridge, England. Some
call Bao the "king of mancala games", as it is usually considered the
most difficult and complex of them.

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Game Rules
Note: As one of the most complex of the Mancala games, Bao will
take time to learn. Be patient, the reward is worth it. Also bare in
mind that rules vary from community to community. Feel free to
adapt.
Bao board consists in four rows of eight holes. All the holes are
rounded, but the fourth from the right in the middle rows,
(represented here as a square) is called nyumba ("house").
The game is played in turns.
Move is multi-lap and only on the player's own pits (the two rows
closest to him). Moves can be with or
without capture. Captures are mandatory. If the first lap of a move is
without capture, the full move is without capture.
There is an initial phase with special rules, called namua, while
players still hold seeds
in their hands.

Initial position.
Also, each player holds 22 more seeds in reserve.

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Sowing without capturing (takasa)
If there are still reserve seeds (namua stage), and it is not possible
to make a capture, to play the player takes a seed from the reserve
and adds it to any of the holes he has on the front row except the
nyumba.
• If the player has not "destroyed" his nyumba (he has not
safaried it and it has not been captured) he can only add the
seed to a hole containing more than one seed, and only can
start from a singleton if the only non empty holes in the front
rows are singletons.
Then the player takes all the seeds from this hole and sows them in
the following holes in any sense, clockwise or anticlockwise, on the
players own side. If the last seed is sown in a non empty hole its
content is taken and the sowing keeps on, and so on until the last
seed falls in an empty hole and the turn ends.
If the only non empty hole in the front row is the house what the
player must do is take one reserve seed and one seed from the
nyumba and sow them to the right or to the left of the nyumba. If the
house has now just 5 seeds (fewer than the initial 6) it is not
considered a nyumba, but if it gets more seeds again (6 or more) it
will be again a house.
If the player has no more reserve seeds the takasa move starts in a
different way: the player chooses any hole (including the house)
containing more than one seed from his front row and sows with its
seeds in the sense he wants.

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If there are only singletons on the front row he can begin with a back
row hole (not a singleton)
The move keeps on with multiple laps as explained before.
In any case the front row can never be emptied, so if the only non
singleton and non empty hole on the front row is the first or the last
one the sense of sowing can not be towards the back row, but
towards the centre of the front row.

Sowing with capturing
If still in namua stage, the player must put a seed from his reserve in
a hole on his front row that has an opponent's hole opposite to it
which is not empty.
Then he takes the contents of the opponent's hole and sows these
seeds beginning from a kichwa (an extrem hole in the front row) and
going to the center of the row.
• If he captures from any of the two holes on the right of the
row, he must start on the right kichwa.
• If he captures from any of the two holes on the left of the
row, he must start on the left kichwa.
• If he has captured in any of the four central holes, and he
was already sowing in a clockwise sense, he starts on the
left. If in an anticlockwise sense, no the right. It is, he keeps
the same sense he already had.
In any other case, he can choose from which kichwa to start.

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He keeps on sowing as in takasa, but if a sowing ends in a non
empty hole on the front row, and if the opposite hole is not empty,
he captures the seeds and sows them as before.
Another difference with takasa is that if the player still has the house
and ends a sowing in it he can choose to either stop the move or
keep on with the nyumba contents (doing safari).
If there were no reserve seeds, the player begins sowing from any
hole (not a singleton) in a way that the sowing will end in a non
empty hole in the front row whose opposite hole is also non empty,
and so capturing. This is a mtaji.
The move keeps on according to the previous explanation, but if a
sowing ends in the nyumba he must safari (keep on the sowing).

Goal and end of the game
The winner is the player who has either captured all counters of the
opponent's front row (which is then empty) or is leaving him only
singletons, so that the opponent will not be able to move.

Enjoy The Game!

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