Saturday, June 16, 2007

Game of the Week : Seega

Seega one of those traditional games that are popular in game compendium books. For example, it appears in R.C. Bell's Boardgame Book, The World of Games by Botermans et al and even in Favorite Board Games You Can Make and Play by the Provenzos.
While five by five boards are seen carved in ancient stoneworks there's apparently no proof that Seega was played on them and Bell and others apparently think the game is or recent origin, perhaps the 18th century.
On the other hand, it's quite possible it's a very old game indeed. Like many very old games it's very abstract, relying on a handful of easy-to-remember and teach rules suitable for an oral culture. It doesn't require any special materials. The game's grid can be scratched out in the sand and sticks and stones can be used for the pieces.
Like some other ancient grid-based games the exact number of spaces could vary from time to time and place to place. (Go, Latrunculi, Morris also have this characteristic) The main effect of adding pieces is to lengthen playing time, so the most popular version is the simple 5 by 5 grid.
While associated with Egypt, the game is apparently more popular these days in Somalia, according to Bell and others. It's apparently played in West Africa as well, however. as the World of Games has a photo showing a group of boys in Senegal playing the game in the sand.
The game uses the same two-phase organization seen in Nine-men's Morris and Kensington, where the players begin by alternately placing pieces on the board without moving them (and in Seega's case, not capturing them) followed by a second phase when player's alternate moving one piece from a square to an adjacent unoccupied square. The game uses the "custodial capture" technique, where a piece is taken if an enemy token moves next to in such a way as to "sandwich" it between the moving piece and and another enemy piece. If the capture is made then the capturing player can move again.
A player wins by capturing all but one enemy piece. An alternative way to win is by blocking the opponent so he cannot move. In this case whoever has the most pieces left wins.
As one can see, the game mechanics are very, very simple and very ancient as well, which lends credence to the belief that the game is older than believed. I think the fact that it's generally played with ephemeral materials and has no need for written rules has obscured its ancient origins. It doesn't seem to have inspired the religious associations that helped preserve Senet or the urge to create beautiful playing materials that's helped provide evidence for the antiquity of Go or Chess. I think the internal evidence provided by the games rules suggest it's rather older than credited.
As a capturing game, there' s a tendency for a rich-get-richer and poor-get-poorer effect to kick in. The initial placement is vital, with corners and side positions to be prized. A piece in the central square is immune from capture, making this a useful location in the early game.
It's a quick-playing game, but one that will have trouble keeping the interest of adult players, especially those who have been exposed to more sophisticated abstracts. It can be some fun played with younger players, helping them develop some tactical skill in analyzing board positions.
While there are versions available for purchase (such as the magnetic travel set available at there's really no need to buy one as the game is easily fabricated with materials at hand. Simply draw a 5 x 5 grid on a piece of paper, put an "X" in the middle square, dig out a dozen pennies and a dozen nickels out of the coin jar and you have all you need to play. For those who want something fancier, The World Of Games describes how to build a set using a leather board and polished stones.

1 comment:

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