Pachisi, sometimes called the National Game of India, is a race game for four players played on a cross-shaped board. Each player must race their pieces from the centre, around the board, and back again, landing on their opponents where possible to send them back to the start. Players form partnerships, and the game is won and lost by partners, not individuals.
Featured in A Book of Historic Board Games
This game is featured in A Book of Historic Board Games, by Damian Gareth Walker. That volume, available as a hardback or paperback, covers twelve games in depth. For each game there is an entertaining history, full rules, and a discussion of strategy, all in more detail than you'll see on this site.
History of Pachisi
Among the many board games that India has given the world, pachisi is one of the most copied and better known. British readers will note its similarity to Ludo, and Americans may recognise the inspiration it gave to the creators of Parcheesi. But unlike these western games which have been simplified for children, pachisi is a game of partnership requiring a little more skill than its western descendants.
Its antiquity is uncertain. Similar games are reputed to have existed in the 3rd century, and it is probable that this game existed in the 1st millennium. It was at its height during the Mogul period, in the 16th to the 19th centuries, when the emperor Akbar played games with human pieces on boards of inlaid marble, the remains of which may still be seen.
Rules for Pachisi
The game is played on the cross-shaped board shown in the diagram, between two teams of two partners. Each partner has four pieces of his own colour, usually black and yellow against red and green. Six cowrie shells dictate the movements of the pieces.
1. At the start of the game, all pieces start in the char-koni, or central square.
2. All players throw the cowrie shells, noting the value of their throws. The value of a throw is the number of shells landing with their mouths up, except: 0 mouths counts as 25, and 1 mouth as 10.
3. The player throwing highest starts the game as described in rule 4 onwards.
4. A player starts his turn by throwing the cowrie shells and noting their value. Values of 6, 10 and 25 allow another throw. Cowries are thrown repeatedly, movement only beginning when the last throw is made.
5. The player may then move a piece along a path from the char-koni, down his own arm of the cross along the central row, then around the edge of the board in an anti-clockwise direction, and back up the central row of his arm of the cross to the char-koni. The path is rotated for each player; a player's pieces start and end their journey along the path that points towards that player’s seat. It is permissible for a piece to pass by the player's home path and make an extra circuit, but it is not permissible for two or more pieces to occupy a square.
6. A player's first piece may set out from the char-koni on any throw. But subsequently, a piece may start only on a 6, 10 or 25.
7. A piece must finish its journey at the char-koni on an exact throw. The exception is when the piece is adjacent to the char-koni, when it may finish on a 6, 10 or 25.
9. Throwing and moving are optional. A player may end his turn at any time.
9. If a piece lands on an enemy piece, that enemy piece is captured and returned to the char-koni.
10. A piece cannot be captured when it sits on a marked square, or castle. In such a case no enemy may land on that square until the piece has moved from it.
11. Capturing a piece allows another turn to be taken.
11. The game is ended when both partners of a team have brought their pieces home to the char-koni. That team wins the game.
There is no official rule set for Pachisi, and the rules given are the simplest from among a number of sources. Additional rules commonly used allow pieces to be doubled, ie. to occupy the same square. Doubled pieces move with a single throw, and may be captured only by other doubles. Triples and Quadruples are possible. It is left to the reader to find or formulate playable rules for this.
Strategy in Pachisi
A game of pachisi is won or lost by partnerships. One player storming ahead and leaving his partner behind is likely to lose the game: if that player should come out of the game first, his partner will then only have one turn while the opponents will have two, increasing their chances of blocking him or sending his pieces back to the start.