Pachisi is a complex 'cross-and-circle' race
board game1. It is
a four-player game played on a distinctive cruciform board. It is a
skill-demanding partnership game. Pachisi is played with binary lots in
the form of cowrie shells.
Pachisi is also known as 'Twenty-Five' (the
Hindu word pachis means "twenty-five"). This is
because twenty-five is the highest possible throw in Pachisi.
It is believed that both Pachisi and Chaupar
were created around the 4th century A.D. in India2.
It has been described as India's national board game3.
After Chess, many says it is the most important game who has originated
It is difficult to separate it's history from the
related board game Chaupar who most probably is either a ancestor of
Pachisi or developed alongside Pachisi in the same timeframe4.
Pachisi was called "the poor man's Chaupar". This
partly since cowries (the playing pieces in Pachisi) were used as
currency by the poorer Indian classes and partly because Chaupar is a
more complex game and therefore regarded as more aristocratic. Today
both games are regarded as folk games and trivial pastime.
Pachisi (and Chaupar) might be ancient and very
old games. But nothing is certain about it's age. There is no firm
evidence of either games claimed antiquity2.
There is no universally accepted standard form of
the Pachisi. Every description of rules must be regarded as typical
rather than definitive. A very good description of the rules are given
in Parlett (1999, pg. 43-46)
One point that must be stressed again and again is
that Pachisi is played in partnership5,
requiring co-operative rather than individual play. If you rush your
pieces home before your partner, the opponent will set up blockades or
make repeated captures of your partners pieces. This is because the
opponent then will have two throws against your partners one.
According to Parlett (1999, p. 45) the element of
blockading in Pachisi is questionable. The feature only appears in some
western sources of doubtful authenticity. It might be a later
addition to the game.
Pachisi is a game for four players, usually in
two teams. One team has yellow and black pieces; the other team has red
and green ones. The winners are those two people who both get their
pieces to the finish first.
Each player has four beehive-shaped pieces. The
pieces of one player are distinguishable from another by their colour:
black, green, red and yellow are used for each player.
Six cowrie shells are used to determine the amount
to move the players' pieces. They are thrown from the player's hand and
the number of cowries which fall with their openings upwards indicate
how many spaces the player may move:
6: 6 and another turn
1: 10 and another turn
0: 25 and another turn
The board is usually embroidered on cloth. The
playing area is shaped like a cross. There is a large square in the
centre, called the Charkoni, which is the starting and finishing
position of the pieces. The four arms are divided into three columns of
eight squares. The players' pieces are moved along these columns of
squares during play.
Twelve squares are specially marked as castle
squares. Four of these are positioned at the end of the middle columns
of each arm; the other eight are four squares inwards from the end of
the outer columns on each arm. A piece may not be captured by an
opponent while it lies on a castle square.
Each player's objective is to move all four of their pieces completely
around the board, anticlockwise, before their opponents do. The pieces
start and finish on the Charkoni.
The playing order6 is
decided by each player throwing the cowries. The player with the
highest score starts, and turns continue anticlockwise around the board.
Each player's first piece may leave the Charkoni
on any throw. Each player moves their pieces down the centre column of
their own arm of the board, then anticlockwise around the outside
A player may have any number of their pieces on
the board at one time. One piece only may be moved with a single throw,
or if the player chooses, they can decline to move any piece on a throw.
If a 6, 10 or 25 is thrown, the player gets a grace.
This enables them to introduce another of their pieces from the
Charkoni onto the board, and they also get to repeat their turn.
More than one piece of the same team may occupy a
single square. However a piece may not move onto a castle square that
is already occupied by an opponent's piece.
If a piece lands on a square (other than a castle
square) occupied by any number of the opponent's pieces, those pieces
are captured and must return to the Charkoni.
Captured pieces may only enter the game again with a grace throw. A
player making a capture is allowed another turn.
A piece completes its trip around the board by
moving back up its central column. Returning pieces may be placed on
their side in order to distinguish them from pieces that have just
entered. A piece can only return to the Charkoni by a direct throw.
Four of the castle squares are placed so that they
are exactly 25 moves from the Charkoni. A common strategy is for
returning pieces to stay on these squares, where they are safe from
capture, until a 25 is thrown. Then they can finish the game directly.
This is where the name of the game comes form.
Wikipedia article as of 01.01.2006
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1. A 'complex' race
game is one in which you have several pieces, typically four. You have
the choice of which piece to move for any given throw. - Parlett (1999,
p. 34). A race game is one in
which players start with one or more pieces at one end of a linear
track, advance them in accordance with the throw of dice or other lots,
and win by being the first to get from start to home. - Parlett (1999,
p. 34). A distinctive series of oriental games deforms the circle (the
race track) itself into a cross, as if by pushing it inwards towards
the centre from four cardinal points. - Parlett (199, p. 36)
2. Parlett, 1999 p.
43. Parlett says: "A first-millennium origin for Pachisi or Chaupar
seems plausible". See also note 1 in the Chaupar page.
3. Whoever first
declared Pachisi the "national game of India" must have thought both of
it's popularity and it's presumed antiquity (Saunders, 1999, 24)
4. It was Chaupar, not
Pachisi, who was played "live" with sixteen-slave-girls in the courts
of Emperor Akbar (1542-1605). All references on the net to the "Pachisi
courtyards" are wrong. See also the page for Chaupar.
5. But could also be
played by only two (several images supports this), perhaps with "dummy
partnerships" (Saunders, 1999, 26, p. 569-570)
6. Unknown source.
According to Saunders (1995, 26, p. 570) no sources says which player
starts the game (either in Pachisi or Chaupar).
- Parlett, David: The
Oxford history of Board Games, Oxford
University Press, 1999. ISBN: 0-19-212998-8
- Saunders, Wayne: The Great American Indian, part I: The West looks at Pachisi. In: Game Times, 24
- Saunders, Wayne: The Great American Indian, part III: The West plays
Pachisi. In: Game Times, 26 (April 1995)
Another way to tell the rules: Masters