Bawo

  • Patrick Oladimeji
Patrick Oladimeji

Bawo is a board game played in many parts of sub-saharan Africa. It is a counting game in the mancala family played on a board with 32 holes. It is a two player game. The board is divided equally between the players - each having 16 holes grouped in rows of 8. I first came across Bao in Mzuzu, Malawi. Bao is ubiquitous in Malawi.  Shortly after learning the rules of what I've come to know as the simplest version of the game, I was obsessed with understanding its complexity. For instance, is there a winning strategy? If so is the first or second player at an advantage?

I did some research to find out what others had done in analysing Bao. I came across  Alexander de Voogt who has dedicated some time in studying board games. I also found  Programming Bao, a paper by Jeroen Donkers and Jos Uiterwijk. At the time, I could not find an interactive web version of Bao. So I created one.

It's a simple version of the game where each hole is started with 2 seeds each.  Players take turns in picking, sowing and capturing the opponent's seeds until the opponent can no longer make a move. You can play it here against an alpha beta algorithm with varying levels of foresight into the game tree.

A bao game board mid game
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