Foreign Policy Blogs

Casual Friday: Central Asia's great games

I was looking for a Central Asian game that didn't have to do with the “Great Game” in Central Asia.  Instead of one, I found many–or really, Amira did.  Her blog, The Golden Road to Samarqand (now added to Blogroll at right), has a series on Central Asian bone games.  Since her account is part intercultural journey and part — the Hoyle's of bone games, it's fun to read.  You can check out her whole Spring, 2006 trek to learn more.

Chuko Game, BishkekApparently the pieces for the games are vertebrate bones of sheep, or perhaps other animals such as yak or horse bones.  In Mongolia, the bones are called shagai; in Kazakhstan, assyk; and in Kyrgyz, chuko.  They have six sides, four relatively easy to land and two quite difficult.  This makes throwing a matter of some different skills then a ball or die, which is perfectly symmetrical.  Just to get you started:

Somewhat like soccer: Toss out a small number of bones. Choose two bones at one end of the playing area to be the goal. The idea is to get as many bones as possible through the goal-bones. You do this by flicking one bone between two other bones without hitting either of the goal-post bones.

Somewhat like horseshoes, or perhaps mega-marbles, or maybe even bocce: Line the bones up in the center of a circle, saving the biggest bone. Stand seven feet away. Throw the biggest bone in such a way as to knock the other bones out of the circle. You win whichever bones you knock out.

You can play a kind of jacks or even a sort of missile-driven kinetic go-fish, where players try to knock out pairs of bones that have landed on the same side in pairs without touching any of the other shagai.  Clearly, these bone playing-pieces are the antecedents to dice, jacks, and marbles of which we are familiar, but go see Amira's blog for how to obtain, make, and play some of these games.  Then throw those bones!

Photos: The Golden Road to Samarqand