This month's Cabinet features the long awaited appearance of not one but two versions of the rules for Bao, an East African Mancala game. One set, contributed by Adrian Brooks, describes the game as played in Malawi. The second set, contributed by Rob Nierse, describes the game as played in Zanzibar.

This is what the Game Cabinet, and the Web in general, is all about! A huge thanks to the researchers who located and wrote down the rules to this wonderful game!


Date: Mon, 20 Oct 1997 11:55:02 -0300 (BST)
From: Adrian Brooks (
Subject: Bao

Hi Ken,

I've come across Game Cabinet letters from January/March, then October, about Bao.

Bao is a Mancala Game, played on an Eight By Four table. It's a lot more complex than Owari or Kahala; it's somewhat more complex than Draughts, less so than Chess.

An extremely fortuitous coincidence of a friend with a Bao board meeting someone from Malawi who's played it since he was a child has allowed a group of us to learn the game. It's very rewarding to play, with a good degree of strategy involved; despite a game a day for three months our Malawian friend easily beats the best of the rest, though he says we're getting there.

The boards and counters used vary in materials. Boards range from holes in the ground through metal sheets to carved wood; counters from traditional seeds or stones to ball bearings.

We came across some distorted rules written down, and have re-done them for our own benefit. They cover a simple "move the pieces" introductory game which teaches the basics, a more advanced game which involves introducing the pieces as it's played, then the full blown thing. Would you like a copy?

Adrian Brooks

Date: Tue, 28 Oct 1997 15:01:46 +0100
From: Viktor Bautista i Roca (
Subject: Bao

I've read some info about Bao in your pages, but the rules are the ones for children or people who is learning it. If you want the official rules, take a look at

I'm now writing a Bao game, playeble via Internet. When I finish it, I'll tell you.



Date: Fri, 7 Nov 1997 08:25:44 +0100 (MET)
From: Rob Nierse (
Subject: Bao

Dear Ken,

The ISBN number of the book "Limits of the Mind" is 90-73782-4-X. Tomorrow I am meeting Alex de Voogt, the author (we will give a Bao demonstration as a matter of fact). I will ask him if he still has copies left and I will inquire as to the price.

Since you are so enthousiastic, I will speed up my efforts to write a booklet describing the rules and give some variations as well.

As for a source of Bao boards: we are currently making them at the cost of about fl. 225 (aprox. 70 pounds). They are beautiful and the size is championship size (holes of 10 cm). I know about a German company that's making Bao boards cheaper, about 140 DM, but those boards are far smaller and less beautiful. I will mail you the adres of that company monday.


Rob Nierse

Date: Wed, 10 Dec 1997 12:35:50 +0100 (MET)
From: Rob Nierse (
Subject: Bao

Dear Ken,

I promised to write you the adress of a German company making (small) Bao boards:

HiKu Spiele
Holbeinstrasse 7
D-53175 Bonn

They have two versions:

Bao: 69 DM, without holes for seeds in stock and without the square holes

Bao Swahili: 119 DM, including the square holes and holes for seeds in stock.

Delivery costs:

It does not say if these costs apply to countries outside Europe.

Also Dany Gagnon ( told me that he has Bao boards for sale. He didn't mention a price or size.

Rob Nierse

Date: Mon, 10 Nov 1997 13:33:04 +0100 (MET)
From: Alex de Voogt (
Subject: bao

Dear Mr Tidwell,

Rob Nierse informed me that you are interested in bao and bao boards. As he may have told you already, I prepared a book (PhD) on the subject. If you wish you can order it from:

CNWS Publication
P.O. Box 9515
2300 RA Leiden

As far as bao boards are concerned, we have tried for some years to get affordable championship-size bao boards. It appeared, however, that championship-size boards are very difficult to make by machine, since most drills are just not big enough. Only two months ago we succeeded in making a board, by using a special home-made drill, within a reasonable time.

They are now made to order and will cost approximately $200 depending on where it has to be delivered. To my knowledge it is the only way to get this quality of boards, apart from going to Africa. If you are interested, please, tell me.

For your information, a British Museum catalogue of mancala boards (including Bao) has been published and in the next few months a new academic journal is launched which also contains original mancala research. Both publications can be obtained here, if you like.

I hope this information is of any interest to you. Please, let me know, if there is anything else I can do for you,

Sincerely yours,

Alex de Voogt

Da Costalaan 1
3743 HT Baarn
The Netherlands

The Game Cabinet - - Ken Tidwell