September 25, 2014

Mweso (called Bao in Zanzibar, or Hawalis in Oman)

Mweso, a Buganda variant of Bao

Click links for bao and hawalis

Each player has 32 men. The object of the game is to capture all the opponent’s men or so to reduce them that he cannot move. The centre horizontal line of the board divides it so that each player has two rows each of eight squares. He may play only his own men on his own side of the board and may not interfere with those of his opponent except to count them or take them. When he takes any men from his opponent, a player adds them to his own men and thereafter plays them exactly the same as his original 32.

Each player moves in turn. A move consists in taking up as many men as are in any one square on a player’s own side of the board (provided there are two or more) and dropping them one by one in each succeeding square, travelling in a counter-clockwise direction and starting from the square next to the one which the men were taken. If the last man drops into an empy square the move is finished but if it drops into an occupied square then that square is emptied and the move continued from the next succeeding square. This process is repeated until the last man in the hand falls into an unoccupied square. It should be noted that a move cannot be started from a square containing only one man. This means that when a player is reduced to sixteen men or less, should then happen to be situated only one to a square, the game is lost. Of course, he may be reduced to only ten men, but provided that one square at least contains two or more men he can still move and possibly win the game.

The way in which an opponent’s men are taken is easy to demonstrate on a board but hard to describe. No men are ever taken from the board and the whole 64 remain in play from start to finish; they are merely transferred from one side of the board to the other. When, during a move, the last man from a player’s hand drops into a square in the row nearest the centre line containing one or more men, and it so happens that the two squares on his opponent’s side of the board immediately opposite are occupied, instead of continuing his move in the ordinary way the player takes whatever number of men are in those two opponent’s squares and continues his move with them on his own side of the board. But, and this is important, he does not start from where he left off but from the square next to the one last left empty on his own side of the board.
When this has been done, the player’s move may or may not be finished. If the last of these captured men falls into an occupied square the player continues his move in the ordinary way, unless it should so happen that this occupied square is in the row of squares nearest the center line and that the two squares of his opponent’s half of the board opposite are occupied: in which case he again takes what men are there and proceeds to play them on his own side of the board starting from the square next to the one last empty. It is thus possible for a player by a combination of relayed moves and moves made with men taken from his opponent to travel round his side of the board several times before falling out of play through his last man falling into an empty square. The skill of the game consists in working out the moves well ahead so that the opponent’s men are taken whilst as few openings as possible are left to him.

There is one complication to mention: “going back.” In certain circumstances it is permissible to move back, in a clockwise direction. Notice the diagram highlighting the four squares on the left hand of each player. If a player sees that the number of men (being two or more of course) contained in one of these squares will land him when travelling clockwise into one of the squares in his second row (the row closest to his opponent), which is occupied and has two occupied squares of his opponent immediately opposite, he many move in clockwise direction and take the men. The men which he takes he then proceeds to distribute one to each square in the usual way, starting from the square on the counter-clockwise side of the square last left empty (one of the four left hand squares), unless he finds that the number of men which he has taken, will, if started from the square on the clockwise side of the square left empty land him in an occupied square in his second row which faces two squares of his opponent both occupied. In this last event he takes the men and goes back to the square left empty and continues his move in an anti-clockwise direction unless the requisite conditions for moving backward again prevail. In moving in a clockwise direction a player may not move beyond the right hand end of his second row of squares even though he may be able to relay until he comes round again to a square in the second row which is conditioned to permit him to take some opponent’s men.

There is one move which counts as a win. If a player, in one move (including a relayed move), succeeds in taking his opponent’s men ins squares 1, 16, 8 and 9, he wins.

The board is divided into four rows of 8 squares, for a total of 32 squares. Each player begins the game with 32 men.

Before the game proper starts each player distributes his men four to each square in his first row. The object of this is to ensure that each player has the correct number of men Having checked this each player allots his men between his sixteen squares as best pleases him. There is no rule as to the number which may be placed in any square and any square may receive any number of men or none at all. One common arrangement is the “seventeen game” (photo). In his own interest he will not place men in squares in rows one and two which are opposite to each other, as this is the position in which his opponent can take them.

A player moves by taking all the men which are in any one square (provided there are two or more) and distributing them one at a time to each successive square starting at the square next to the one vacated and moving in a counterclockwise direction. It does not matter whether a square traversed by the hand is occupied or vacant, each square receives one man and no more. If the move falls into a square already occupied, then the move is relayed and the men in that square together with the one which has just arrived are taken up and distributed one at a time, still moving in a counterclockwise direction, and starting from the square on the counterclockwise side of the square just vacated. (Left hand side in second row, Right hand side in first row). If men are taken from the left hand end square of the second row, the first man is dropped into the left hand end square of the first row. If taken from the right hand end square of the first row, the first man is dropped into the right hand end square of the second row. Movement continues with taking until it is no longer possible, at which point he may relay his men until his last man falls into an empty square.

It is only permissible to move backwards under the following circumstances:
a. Starting from the two squares at the left hand end of the first row or the two squares at the left hand end of the second row.
b. The move must immediately result in the taking of some opponent’s men.
c. The distribution of men taken may be started from either side of the square last left empty, but in the case of a start from the square on the clockwise side of the empty square the move must immediately result in the taking of some more opponent’s men. Having taken all the men possible by moving clockwise, the player continues his move in a counterclockwise direction by starting to distribute the last lot of captured men, relaying where possible and finishing on an empty square.


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