Wurrey, one of the oldest games in the world

My Magazine 2022/07
2 min
Wurrey (Wari or Wuri) or Beans is a game that encourages you to plan ahead. In fact, we could call it African chess. It is one of the oldest games in the world, and it has been played for thousands of years, using different things to create a playing surface.

The key point is to create 12 holes or cups used as houses for the two opponents. You would also need stones, beans or any other small object, preferably something of a round shape that you can use as moving figures.
In the olden days, the simplest way to create this board game was to dig small holes in the ground and find stones to fit in. Today, in the Gambia, the game is in the shape of a wooden case with hollowed-out cups, six on each side. The figures used are dried beans of the klukluba tree.

Two players can play the game, but this doesn't mean others cannot join in to cheer for their champion or suggest tactics. The winner is the one that captures 25 or more stones first.
The starting position of the game is four beans in each of the 12 houses. Six houses on one side belong to one player, and six on the other side belong to the opponent. Each player can only take out beans from their houses, but they must distribute them one by one in the houses counterclockwise.

So the rules are:

  • When it is your turn, pick up beans from the selected house and drop them one at a time in each successive house counterclockwise.
  • If the last stone is dropped into a house on your opponent's side, resulting in that house having 2, 4 or 6 stones, you capture all the stones in that house.
  • If all your opponent's houses are empty, you must make a move that will give him stones. If no such move can be made, you capture all the remaining stones on the board.
  • The game is over when one player has taken a total of 25 or more stones, or both players have taken 24 stones each (tie).

It might sound a bit complicated, but you will quickly pick it up when you try it out for the first time. One of the places in the Gambia where they would gladly invite you to play a game with them is Senegambia Craft Market. Many woodcarvers are offering the game as one of their handmade souvenirs. Still, they will always be happy just to play a game with you and share some secretive tricks on winning the game. It might become a big competition where artists from different shops would join in to watch and cheer for the champion. And if you win and return to the Craft market another day, you might get asked the question: "Who is the champion?". Of course, the champion of Wurrey.

But what does the word “wurrey” actually mean? Well, in fact, it is hard to translate. It could be understood as a mocking word, which can also be used when winning an enemy. One could mock him by calling him a loser which is almost the same as if you tell him “wurrey”. Usually, it is excepted as a joke, but you might get some bad eye contact in the case of a soggy loser.

Are you ready to play?

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