Traditional Board Games

Pachisi: More Sophisticated Than You Think

A hand-made wooden pachisi set.
A hand-made wooden pachisi set.

Tuesday, 21st June 2016

Many people have tried in many ways to classify the types of board games played throughout history.  My favourite, because of its simplicity, is R. G. Austin's system that splits games by the human activity they mimic: the race, the battle and the hunt.  Among the several criteria for what games to include in A Book of Historic Board Games, was that there should be a reasonable division between these classes of game (to which I had added a fourth: construction).

For race games, there were many to choose from, but some of my other criteria help to slim down the list.  I wanted games whose rules were known, and games which were not commonly played.  Backgammon was therefore out of the list.  You'd think Pachisi would go with it, but people only think they know pachisi.  What they actually know is Parcheesi, the American children's game.

The ancient Indian game of Pachisi is a different beast altogether.  Like Bridge, it's a partnership game, and that alone adds to the tactical possibilities.  Instead of a pair of dice it uses a handful of cowrie shells, which give much different probabilities of the different throws, and introduce more tactical thinking when deciding what moves are more risky than others.  These differences from common perception were enough to secure Pachisi a place among the race games in my book.

If you'd like to see more about my book, and possibly order a copy, please check out its page on Lulu.


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