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No insults, racist remarks and deliberate misquotations, please. Listen first!

Discuss everything related to 55Stones: Opening theory, endgame theory, mirror playing theory, middle game techniques, its relation to other mancala games, the problem of clarity …

The rules in 55Stones are an official document (Copyright Ralf Gering as they are based on the original letter the author sent to the Yahoo! group "mancalagames"), so please respect it, even if you would like to formulate the rules in a different way.

Here, however, feel free to write in regard to 55Stones what you want as long as you remain courteous.


JEEP's Suggestions

I really want to make two changes to the introduction of the page, since that is what wikis are all about, but I'll respect the request. Here is what I want to do:

  1. Fix a probable typo: All Saints has no apostrophe, but All Saints' Day does. Both are valid ways to refer to the day and I want to add the missing apostrophe (or less desirable to me, remove "day")
  2. Clarify orginization: It seems like the last statement should be a sub-bullet in the list of why 55Stones is different. If it has a different purpose, perhaps it could be elaborated on a little bit.

And finally a comment, if this is an official document, it shouldn't be on a wiki, IMO. Wikis by their very nature are for things that can be changed by anyone. On SDG, I personally feel that immutable content should be in the official rules pdf. Aaron has final say, of course.


  • Thank you for your suggestions. I'm not a native speaker, so I would always appreciate your help in regard to spelling mistakes, style and so on. I also understand your objections in regard to wiki policy, although some wikis (I think wikinfo is an example) allow to protect articles against change if the author wants it. You can still freely copy the contents, but not change it. Perhaps, you could view the "official document" just as a pretty large quote. If you give the American Constitution in a wiki, you don't change it, don't you? The official description is basically such a document. BTW, feel free to add more proverbs, strategy tips and so on (that's not part of the official description as it has a separate headline of type H1.) And, well, the discussion should always be here. — Ralf

55Stones Variant

Today (November 7, 2006) I had the idea for a strange 55Stones variant. It's kind of a misère:

The player who has still some stones in his hand when his opponent reaches an empty hole captures these stones. The player who could empty the last pit at the end of the game loses the stones that cannot be played.

All the other rules are the same as in standard 55Stones.

If the second player plays a mirror move in response to the opening move, he will lose in this variant. Do you know why?


Laurie's Response

That variant sounds like it would be interesting. However, I can't figure out why the second player's mirror move would cause him to lose. Would you please explain it further?


The solution

In "ordinary" 55Stones the stones are slowly accumulating in the central hole, if the second player always plays mirror moves and nothing would be captured ever. Eventually the only hole that can be played is the central hole and the game ends with the sente player winning all stones. If the first player doesn't invoke the pie rule (and he wouldn't invoke the pie rule, if he knews the strategy of the second player), the first player would win 55:0 points.

In the reversed variant the accumulation process is the same and nothing would be captured either, but now the second player wins as the endgame rule is also reversed. But, after the second player has replied the first move with a mirror move, in this variant the first player would invoke the pie rule and then continue to play mirror moves, so that not the second player but the first player would win by using this move-stealing strategy.



That's all I have to say. ;-) Thanks for the puzzle, Ralf!

Discussion on Clarity

Laurie's Post

November 6, 2006

Hi, Ralf! I'm hoping that things stay civil here and Aaron lets you keep it so that we can enjoy discussing 55Stones. In your introduction, you mentioned the problem of clarity. What does clarity mean? I've never heard that term used in reference to a game before.


P.S. I have very little experience with wiki's. I hope I edited this one appropriately.


Hello Laurie! I think the term clarity was first used by Mark Thompson in his article "Defining the Abstract". He stated that "a good game must have clarity." Then, he wrote that a game has clarity if "an ordinary human being, without devoting his career to it, can form a judgment about what is the best move in a given situation." 55Stones (like most mancala games with multiple laps) lacks clarity, particularly in the first moves, while the endgame is rather clear. Mark Steere would perhaps call such a game "obscure". However, many multi-lap mancala games are very popular in Eastern and Southern Africa. Tournaments are organized in Omweso, Bao La Kiswahili,//Hus and Kiela. So, it's obviously possible to master these obscure games. Whether such a game is called "good" or "bad" is rather a matter of personal preference and perhaps even a cultural bias. What can we do with a game like 55Stones in which it is difficult to predict the result of a move?

Some suggestions:

  • If possible, don't make a move which you can't predict. (This advice is from Bao masters in Zanzibar.)
  • How many steps you can see ahead in your mind is largely a matter of training. I can see usually up to 20 steps ahead (although I make mistakes, especially when I'm tired), but Bao masters can easily predict 60 and more steps, a cognitive ability that is more than sufficient for 55Stones.
  • An opening theory (opening patterns you could learn by heart) would make the challenge of the first moves much easier. I'm sure that certain opening patterns will become known as the game is played more and more. To be honest, I am horrified of the first moves of 55Stones, but afterwards I really enjoy the game.

— Ralf

Laurie's Reply

Thanks for the information, Ralf. I see what you mean about 55Stones being unclear in the beginning moves, but become more clear as the game progresses.

That is also true of the game that I called Mancala until I recently learned that there were hundreds of variations of "mancala." I don't know which variation this one is, but it starts with 4 stones in each cup and each person has an empty end cup. A turn involves taking all of the stones from one cup and distributing them counterclockwise, including your own end cup, but not your opponent's. If your last stone lands in a cup with stones already in it, you pick them all up and continue. If your last stone lands in an empty cup, you stop. If your last stone lands in your end cup, you take another turn. When all the small cups are empty, the person with the most stones in their end cup is the winner.

All this was to say that the above game also involves poor clarity in the beginning, when you seem to just go around and around endlessly, and better clarity as the game winds down. The same is true for chess. Probably for most strategy games, I would guess.

I agree with you that clarity should not be used to judge a game "good" or "bad." Clear vs. unclear games are just different genres. Games with high clarity tend to be easier to learn and master, I would think. This makes them good choices for people who just want to relax and enjoy and evening with friends. On the other hand, games with lower clarity require a higher look-ahead factor, as you have stated, and are the type of game that a person could spend years mastering. This makes them a good choice for people who want an intellectual challenge.

I enjoy both types of game, but have not yet trained my brain to be good at the look-ahead. You say you can look ahead 20 moves, and Bao masters perhaps even 60 moves. In mancala games, my look-ahead varies depending on the game. In the game I described above, I can look ahead up to once around the track with ease. But twice around is quite difficult, and three times around baffles me. In 55Stones, I find the fact that we are moving simultaneously, and usually in opposite directions, to greatly diminish my ability to look ahead. But perhaps, with practice, I will become more adept in 55Stones. :o)

Thanks for the interesting discussion!


Ralf's Reply

Dear Laurie,

it is always a pleasure to meet you. The more I get to know you, the more I am impressed by your lovable character. (Sorry, for our misunderstandings in the forum …).

You say you can look ahead 20 moves, and Bao masters perhaps even 60 moves.

Well, perhaps I expressed myself not well. I meant that I try to look ahead what happens after my opponent and I, each one of us, has distributed 20 stones (and Bao masters 60 stones in one move) - each pair of stones distributed in 55Stones I call a "step". Then I try to judge the position which arises. In the endgame, sometimes I really look several moves ahead, although in the last days my play was very poor ;-) 55Stones is probably as much a game of strategy as it is a game of tactics. So, I think it's good to have not so many stones at your distant end of the board where you can most easily start a capturing move without your opponent being able to interfere (or defend an empty hole).


Laurie's Reply

Hi, Ralf! I think in 55Stones I am only able to look ahead about 10 steps, and maybe one move ahead. This is my problem with all look-ahead type games. ::sigh:: Hopefully I will get better with time. :-)

I agree with you that it's good to have fewer stones in your distant end. Two stones in the second-to-last cup are particularly helpful.

The more I get to know you, the more I am impressed by your lovable character. (Sorry, for our misunderstandings in the forum …).

I'm also sorry for our misunderstandings in the forum. Communication is a two-way street and I take full responsibility for my part in the problems. But I'm very happy to consider you a friend now, and appreciate your very kind compliment. :-)


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