ISLAND WARI

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Island Wari & Mancala
Board Games From The Caribbean Islands & Africa

A Fabulous Board Game Played With Nickernuts, The Marblelike
Seeds From A Spiny Shrub That Grows Along Tropical Beaches.

       The Ancient Game Of Wari From The Continent Of Africa
       The Fabulous Island Wari Game Popular In The Caribbean
       Read About The Amazing Nickernuts Used In Island Wari
       How To Beat The Computer In ANOTHER FLASH VERSION
   Play The Mancala Board Game On-Line Using Java & Flash

 Java Version        Flash Version        Another Flash Version  

Java Must Be Enabled In Your PC Browser--Otherwise Use Flash Version
Mancala Also Available From Mac App Store, iTunes Store & Google Play

The Ancient African Game Of Wari

During the past decade (circa mid 1980s to mid 1990s) the Life Sciences Department at Palomar College conducted a number of natural history field courses to the Caribbean region, including the islands of St. John, Grand Cayman, Antigua and Dominica. On several of these islands we discovered a popular board game called "Island Wari" played with "nickernuts," the marblelike seeds of a spiny native shrub. The game became a popular past-time with students and instructors (during free hours when we were not diligently studying the indigenous flora and fauna of these islands). Island Wari (also spelled warie and wauri) is one version of similar board games called "Wari" that are played in various parts of the world. They are generally known by the Arabic name "Mancala" and have been played for thousands of years in Egypt, where "boards" have been carved into the stone of the pyramid of Cheops and the temples at Luxor and Karnak. Asante kings played the game on beautiful boards made of ivory and gold, and today in some rural areas of Africa children play this ancient game on "boards" scooped out of the ground. African slaves brought Mancala games to the Caribbean during the 18th and 19th centuries when many of these islands were denuded of vegetation and planted in sugar cane for the production of sugar and rum. Legend has it that Black Beard the Pirate introduced the game to Grand Cayman after one of his voyages to Africa. Island Wari was reportedly a favorite of Ernest Hemingway each time he visited this lovely island.

Pit marks (wells) carved into rock, supposedly used in ancient games of mancala (Gebeta) in Axum, Ethiopia. This is one of the earliest evidences of mancala, dated by archeologists to be between the 6th and 7th century AD. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Like the European game of chess, the ancient African Wari is a fascinating strategy game, but unlike chess it can be played with the simplest of objects, including stones, sea shells or seeds. In the Caribbean region Island Wari is commonly played with gray or yellow nickernuts (Caesalpinia bonduc and C. major), two common coastal shrubs with marblelike drift seeds that wash into the sea where they ride the ocean currents of the world.

An assortment of Wari boards, also known by the Arabic name "Mancala." Each board has a row of 6 cuplike depressions or wells on each side and a larger (home base) well at each end (or between the 2 rows). Some versions of Mancala are played without the large home base wells (see lower board in above image). Some of the boards are hinged and fold up into a compact case for traveling. The computerized versions of Wari using Java and Flash can be conveniently played on a laptop or a smart phone.

A Mancala board designed for four players!


The Island Wari Game

Island Wari board from the Caribbean island of Grand Cayman containing 4 gray nickernuts in each well.

Gray nickernuts (Caesalpinia bonduc) and yellow nickernuts (C. ciliata) are commonly strung into necklaces and earrings in the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. The marblelike seeds typically come in pairs in a spiny pod. The chocolate brown seeds were collected on the island of Antigua and are probably C. major. The small, flattened, shiny brown seeds adjacent to yellow nickernuts (middle left) are wild tamarind (Leucaena leucocephala).

Island Wari is one of several versions of Wari (often referred to as Mancala games). Island Wari is played on a rectangular board with a row of 6 cuplike depressions or wells on each side AND a larger well at each end (between the 2 rows). Depending on who wrote the description, these wells are referred to as "bins," "cells," or "houses." Two players sit opposite each other (and opposite the 6 wells on either side of the board). The larger end well to the right of each player (as they face the board) is their "home base." Four nickernuts are placed in each of the 6 wells on both sides of the board (a total of 48) and the 2 home base wells are left empty. In the following diagram the wells are labeled A, B, C, D, E and F for one player and A', B', C', D', E'and F' for the opposing player on the opposite side of the board. For each player the wells are labeled from left to right, and each move is always made to the player's right (i.e. counterclockwise on the board).

Island Wari board with 4 seeds in each of the 12 wells.

The toss of a coin determines which player shall start first. Moves are always counterclockwise (to each players's right) and consist of taking all 4 nickernuts out of a well on YOUR SIDE OF THE BOARD and placing one seed in each of the successive wells in a counterclockwise fashion. [As the game progresses, a move may involve more than 4 seeds, as nickernuts are moved around the board and accumulate in certain wells.] A seed is also placed in YOUR HOME BASE, but never in your opponent's home base. If your last seed ends up in YOUR HOME BASE you get another turn. In fact, this can be very good strategy to make sure you get another turn.

The object of Island Wari is to clear all of the 6 wells on your side of the board before your opponent can clear their side. To do this you must move the seeds to your home base and to your opponent's side of the board (but never to your opponent's home base). This requires a considerable amount of strategy and a lot of careful counting in order to prevent seeds from ending up on your side of the board again. Remember: The first person to clear their side of the board wins the game.

In the following illustrations your side of the board is shown as A, B, C, D, E and F, and your opponent's side is shown as A', B', C', D', E' and F'. We will start with a board at the initial stage of the game (i.e. with 4 seeds in each well--except for the 2 empty home base wells):

Wari board at the beginning of the game with 4 seeds in each of the 12 wells.

Let's say that you won the toss and get the first turn. You pick up all the 4 seeds in well C and place one seed in wells D, E, F and your home base. Since your last seed landed in your home base you get another turn--but we won't show another move now.

4 seeds from well C are picked up and placed one each in wells D, E, F and your home base.

Now your opponent picks up all the 4 seeds in their well E' and places one seed in their well F', their home base, and your wells A and B.

4 seeds from your opponent's well E' are picked up and placed one each in your opponent's well F',
their home base, and your wells A and B.

Now you pick up all the 5 seeds in your well F and place one seed in your home base (making a total of 2) and one seed in your opponent's A',B',C' and D'.

All 5 seeds from well F are picked up and placed one each in your home base and your
opponent's wells A', B', C' and D'.

In another move you pick up all the 5 seeds in your well B and place one seed in wells C, D, E, F and your home base. Because your last seed landed in your home base you get another turn.

All 5 seeds in well B are picked up and placed one each in your wells C, D, E, F and your home base.

In the next example you pick up the seed in your well F and place it in your home base, thus giving you another turn.

The single seed in your well F is picked up and placed in your home base, thus giving you another turn.

In the last example let's say you pick up all the 6 seeds in your well E and place one in your well F, one in your home base, and one in your opponent's wells A', B', C' and D'. Notice the number of seeds in different wells on the board: 5 in your home base, none in your wells B and E, 6 in your opponent's wells A', B', C' and D', etc.

All 6 seeds in your well E are picked up and placed one each in your well F, your home base,
and your opponent's wells A', B', C' and D'.

Capture Variation Of Wari (In Addition To Above Strategy)

In some variations of mancala it may be advantageous if the last seed of a move lands in an empty well on your side of the board. In this variation, the object of the game is to acquire the most seeds in your home base well. If your last seed of a move lands in an empty well that is opposite your opponent's well containing seeds, you can automatically take the seeds in their well and add them to your home base. Unlike Island Wari, clearing all of your seeds from your 6 wells is a big mistake because any seeds left in your opponent's wells automatically add to your opponent's home base, and they win! A nifty computerized version of this game is available from Hoyle Puzzle & Board Games.

Pick up your 5 seeds in well A and place them in wells B, C, D, E & F:

Since your last seed landed in your empty well F, you can now take all the seeds in your opponent's well A' and add them to your home base well:

This version of mancala requires a lot of concentration and some very careful moves. You must also be very careful of your opponent's moves, especially when they move into empty wells opposite your own wells that contain seeds.

  Mancala Game Without Home Base Wells  


How To Beat Computer In ANOTHER FLASH VERSION (coolmath-games.com)

If your skill level in this game is like mine, you are probably having great difficulty winning against the computer. Steve Gunner has posted an excellent YouTube video showing all the correct moves needed to beat the computer. I have listed all the moves in order (left to right) by the letter of your cup (A through F). Each letter refers to the cup on your side of the board. The number that appears when you mouse-over a cup is the number of gems in that cup. When it is your turn simply click on the correct cup. You must keep track of the letter of each cup that you click, otherwise you may click on the wrong cup when it is your turn again. Remember, you start by clicking on Cup C. You will get an extra turn so next click on Cup F. From here on, your turn will come up after the computer has its turn. So when your next turn comes up click on Cup E, and so forth.

   C-F-E-F-B-B-F-E-F-C-B-F-E-F-A-F-B-D-F-C-F-E-F-A-B-C-D-F-E-F   

The Java (jgames.com/mancala) and Flash (rocketsnail.com/mancala) versions at the top of this page have games with several skill levels, one that most likely will challege you. Remember to activate Java in your browser in order to play the Java version. If you are using a Mac, iPad or Android device, you can undoudtedly find Apps for Mancala games.

Read About The Nickernuts Used In Island Wari
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