Wednesday, March 7, 2012

UBPost: Fortune Telling Game of Mongolia

Originally posted Feb. 8, 2012 in the UB Post printed newspaper

Almost every Mongolian child grew up playing shagai, the ankle bones of sheep or goats. Shagai games are especially popular during the Mongolian summer holiday of Naadam. In shagai dice, the rolled shagai land on one of four sides: horse, camel, sheep, or goat. A fifth side, cow, is possible on uneven ground. Mongolians still exchange shagai today as tokens of friendship. The shagai may be kept in a little pouch.

Possible shagai positions: Camel, Horse, Goat, Sheep
In addition, male Mongolians also collect wolf shagai, which are viewed as good-luck tokens. In fortunetelling, four shagai are rolled on the ground, two convex sides, horse and sheep, are considered lucky, with horse being the luckiest. The sides with concave indents, goat and camel, are deemed unlucky; rolling all for sides on one throw is considered indicative of very good fortune.

A large variety of traditional Mongolian games are played using the shangai pieces. Depending on the game the ankle bones may be tossed like dice, flicked like marbles, shot at with arrows, caught in the hands, or simply collected according to the roll of a die. In many games the side on which a tossed piece lands (horse, sheep, camel, or goat) is significant. Some common shagai games are:

Horse Racing: A very common game, usually played with two, but also with more players. Each player flicks one piece (his "horse") in turn along a sequence of stationary pieces representing the race course.

Full Toss: Each of two to four players in turn tosses all the pieces. Depending on the number of horses and/or camels, the player can collect pieces from the pool, or has to add some. The winner is the player who has collected the most once the pool is empty.

Four Animals: The pieces are divided into four groups, representing herds of different animals depending on which side is turned upwards. Players take turns tossing one extra piece like a dice, collecting one from the herd of the type thrown, or putting one back if the respective herd is empty. Once all four herds are depleted, the player who has collected the most pieces wins.