Traditional Board Games


Kerala is a race game of unknown, probably Asian, origin. It may not be historic, given the lack of documentary sources, but has been assumed to be so by a number of writers. Two or three players race their pieces from their own "runways" to a shared square track, which they have to circumnavigate twice, before returning pieces to their own runway. Between each circuit of the board, a player's pieces must all gather in the centre. The first player to bear off all his or her pieces wins the game.

History of Kerala

The origin of Kerala is mysterious, at least as far as Western accounts of it are concerned. English language accounts are descended from that of R. C. Bell, who knew only that the game comes from somewhere in the former British Empire. Due to its resemblance to other Asian race games, it is most likely of Asian origin.

Rules for Kerala

Rules for Kerala
While the historical background of the game is obscure, the rules are very clear and playable.

1. Kerala is played on a square board illustrated in the diagram 1, with a track around its perimeter, and two or three approach routes, one dedicated to each player.

2. Two or three may play, each having five pieces of his own shape or colour. These start the game off the board.

3. The moves of the pieces are dictated by five cowrie shells which act as dice.

4. Players decide at random who starts the game.

5. A player in his turn will first throw the cowrie shells.

6. A piece off the board may be entered according to one of the following throws:

(i). one mouth up allows a piece to advance one square onto the board;

(ii). no mouths up allows a piece to advance five squares onto the board;

(iii). other throws do not allow a piece to enter the board.

7. Alternatively, a piece already on the board may advance around the route shown in the diagram, and described in rule 10, according to the following scores of the same throw:

(i). one, two, three or four mouths up allow a piece to move by the corresponding number of squares;

(ii). no mouths up allow a piece to move by five squares;

(iii). five mouths up allow a piece to move by ten squares.

8. A player rolling 5 (that is, no mouths up) is granted another turn. A player can continue to throw and move as long as he throws five.

9. If a throw cannot be used, it is lost. If that throw is a 5, then the extra turn is also lost.

10. The player's route is as follows:

(i). onto the board and up that player's approach route;

(ii). onto the corner square and around the perimeter in a clockwise direction;

(iii). off the perimeter and into the middle at the square indicated in the diagram;

(iv). back onto the perimeter at the indicated square and around the perimeter again, up to the corner square,

(v). back down the player's approach route and off the board.

11. A player must get all five of his pieces to the centre before any can leave it for their second circuit around the perimeter.

12. If a piece lands on an enemy piece that is on its way to the centre, the enemy piece is taken from the board and must start its journey again.

13. If a piece lands on an enemy that is on its way from the centre, the enemy is returned to the centre.

14. If a piece lands on a friendly piece, that piece suffers the same penalty as described in rules 12 and 13.

15. A piece sitting on one of the marked squares is safe from attack; such a square may at once hold one piece per player.

16. The first player to take all his pieces around the board wins the game.

17. Play continues after this in a three-player game, as the runners up fight for second place.


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