Traditional Board Games

Zohn Ahl

Zohn ahl, illustrated by Stewart Culin in 1898.
Zohn ahl, illustrated by Stewart Culin in 1898.

Zohn ahl is one of a family of "ahl" games, race games played on a circular board. The board contains special spaces at the cardinal compass points, one being the start/finish line and the others being hazards that should be avoided.

The lack of any decisions in the game mean that it will not entertain modern adults. But its simple character suits young children, and with its history it can be regarded more as a cultural activity than a cerebral contest.

History of Zohn Ahl

Many native board games of the North American Indians use a board of forty spaces laid out in a circle. Zohn Ahl is taken as a typical example. It was played by women and girls of the Kiowa people in the United States. Similar games were played by other native North American peoples. This and its lack of resemblance to any imported Western game marks it out as a native invention, though its age is unknown.

Traditionally, the game was played on a large cloth. In the centre was placed the "ahl stone". The casting sticks (used in place of dice) were thrown hard at the ahl stone and would bounce off it before falling on the cloth, thus ensuring the randomness of throws.

Rules for Zohn Ahl

1. The game is played by two players, or two teams. Each team has four counters to keep score, and piece that is moved around the board.

2. The board is a circle of forty spaces. The spaces at the north and south are called "the creek", while the east and west are called the "dry branches".

3. There are four casting sticks to control movement, each being marked on one side with a groove and blank on the other. Three of the sticks are red, and one is blue.

4. The two pieces start at the "south" creek. They move around the board in laps, one team's piece moving clockwise, the other anti-clockwise.

5. Alternating between the teams, each player will throw the casting sticks to see how far her team's piece will move. The scores are: (i) for one groove showing, the piece will move one space, and if it is the blue stick's groove showing, another throw is granted; (ii) for two grooves showing, the piece will move two spaces; (iii) for three grooves showing, the piece will move three spaces, and if one of those grooves is on the blue stick, another throw is granted; (iv) if four grooves are showing, the piece moves six spaces and another throw is granted; (v) if no grooves are showing, the piece moves ten spaces and another throw is granted.

6. If a piece lands in the north creek space, it must return to the start and begin its lap again, and its team must pay a counter to the opponents.

7. If a piece lands in either of the dry branches, then the team loses a throw.

8. If a piece lands on the opponent's piece, the opponent is captured and sent back to the start, and the opponent pays the capturer's team one counter.

9. The first piece to land on, or pass, the start, wins the lap and receives a counter from the opponents. The next lap is then deemed to have begun and the game continues.

10. If one team holds all the counters, they win the game. If the game is stopped for any other reason like lack of time, then the winners are the team with the most counters.


New Comment

Yes No