Introduction to Bao

Article by Rob Nierse
Waterlelieweg 56
2215 GP voorhout

Purpose of this Article

This leaflet is meant for people who want to learn about the East-African game known as Bao, and who want to know how to play this fascinating game. The most important and most common rules are presented here in a logical order. Additionally, some notes on tactics and a few sample games from the Zanzibar 1994 Championship are presented.


Bao is what we call a mancala game. Mancala is the term to denominate games with one shared characteristic: moves are not executed as in chess or checkers, instead moves are executed by sowing seeds (or other other playing pieces) into holes. Mancala games occur mainly in Africa and Asia, and in parts of the New World settled by natives of those regions.

Wari is another Mancala game that is reasonably well known in Europe and America. Wari is also known as Owari, Awari or Awele. Wari originates in West Africa while Bao is played in East Africa (Tanzania). Bao is very popular in Zanzibar, even more popular than soccer. Bao is reckoned to be the most complicated of all mancala games: not only because of the complexity of the rules, but also because of the strategies and tactics it offers to its players. It is one of the most attractive mancala games to play. Together with Wari it is the only mancala game to have championship tournaments. This article may be your first step to discovering the pleasure Bao has to offer.

Characteristics of Bao

Bao (Swahili for 'wood', 'planck') is played in Zanzibar and on the mainland of Tanzania. It is mainly played by men in clubs (because boards are too expensive for individuals to afford).

One of the characteristics of Bao is that the situation on the board can change dramatically with each move. So it is hard to say which player has the advantage just by looking at a position on the board. The rapid changes also make it difficult to plan ahead.

The board has four rows containing eight holes. Each player owns the two rows closest to him/her (since the game is played by males in Africa I will refer to 'he/him' throughout this text). Each player has a front and a back row. The aim of the game is to either clear your opponent's front row of all seeds or make it impossible for him to move.

The Game Cabinet - - Ken Tidwell