The Eleven Most Popular Board Games in Latin America
Board games are a great way for children and adults to develop social skills, improve family relationships and reduce screen time–a need felt by many in our ever more technologically dependent lives. Health benefits include increased memory skills, reaction time, cognitive ability and reduced stress.
Mancala is one of the oldest known board games and was believed to be played by the Pharaohs of Egypt according to archaeologists. The “board” was the ground and the game involved capturing as many stones or seeds from your opponent in one of two rows of holes dug into the ground. Every player began with 24 stones or seeds. Whichever player ended up with the most seeds in his or her hole won the game.
From ancient to modern, Latin America has a variety of board game traditions that span both history and culture. While many games in Latin America share many traits with popular international games such as chess and parcheesi, various cultures in Latin America have adapted these games to their own cultures while inventing new games as well. Here are eleven of the top original board games in Latin America to get you started.
1. La Lotería (Mexico)
Considered the Quintessential board game of Mexico, La Lotería actually arrived in Mexico via Spain. In La Lotería, the announcer provides an improvised short poem or phrase alluding to images on the cards. Each player will then use a chip, or a kernel of corn, to mark the correct spot on their board or tabla. The first player to fill out their game board in a predetermined pattern can call out either “bingo” or “lotería” to win.
2. Parqués (Colombia)
Also known as “Parchis” in Spain and “Parcheesi” in the United States, this popular international board game from the cross and circle family originated in India and is known as “Pachisi” there. It is played with two dice and can have up to eight players. Each player has four pieces and is assigned a color. The pieces start out in a “jail” box and can only be freed by rolling a pair. The pieces must move across nine boxes on the board before exiting the board successfully.
3. Brazilian Checkers (Brazil)
Played on a smaller board and with fewer checkers than other international versions of the game, Brazilian checkers are very popular amongst older adults in Brazil. The squares are 8X8 rather than 10X10 but, otherwise, the rules are generally the same.
4. Kay (Haiti)
From the Mancala family, Kay is Haiti’s rendition of the age-old international classic. Haitian slaves derived their version from “Awele,” a game played in Africa, the Caribbean, and parts of Asia. An awale board is a piece of varnished wood with two rows of six carved round pits called “houses.” The game involves two players with a set number of seeds or stones and the object is for one of the players to end up with the most seeds after following a set of rules and turn-taking, a description of which can be found here.
5. El Estanciero (Argentina)
Sometimes compared to the US game of “Monopoly,” El Estanciero is similar except with themes of cattle management and managing a farm successfully. According to Board Game Geek, the game also has a “rest space” that allows you to take refuge from high farming and ranching fees of your opponents.
6. Sapo (Peru)
Sapo, also known as “choke the frog,” is a very ancient Peruvian game and is still very popular. It does have a board. However, it is a much larger three dimensional board and is best played outside. This is a “coin-toss” game. At the center of the board is a frog with an open mouth surrounded by carved out holes. Two players must stand 4-5 paces back from the board and are given 10 Sapo coins at a time to toss. Surrounding holes closest to the frog do have points and, when all coins have been tossed, the player with the highest score wins.
7. El Gocho (Venezuela)
In the Peg solitaire family, El Gocho involves a triangular board with fifteen holes and fourteen pegs. A player must remove the pegs by jumping over the adjacent peg. However, unlike other peg solitaire games, the player must follow the lines of the board. This makes the game more challenging. In the end, the object of the game is to end up with a single peg.
8. Fines (Guatemala)
In the marbles game family, the “board” is drawn on the ground and the object is to knock the opponent’s marbles off of the playing area. Players are then able to keep the marbles of their opponents. To determine who is the first player, players draw a line on the floor called a “mica” and players throw a marble from six paces away from the line. Whoever gets their marble closest to the “mica” gets to be the first player.
9. Ludi (Jamaica)
This game involves 2-4 players, a game board, four markers per player and a set of two dice. Ludo is similar to many other games in that each player’s objective is to get all four of their pieces to home before the other players by following a set of rules. It is also derived from the “Pachisi” family. However, Jamaicans have given the board their own personality with colors and designs unique to Jamaican culture and have also customized the rules and traditions.
10. Adugo (Brazil–also Komikan in Chile)
This game is a two-player abstract strategy game that comes from the Bororo Tribe in the Pantanal region of Brazil. It was originally thought to have been brought over by the Spanish centuries ago because of the game board itself, an alquerque based board common in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. The black (or red) piece on the board is the jaguar and the other fourteen pieces are white. They are the dogs. The dogs try to surround the jaguar in order to block its movements and the Jaguar attempts to capture at least five of the dogs to reach a stalemate, a win for the jaguar.
11. Thunka (Bolivia)
Another game in which the “board” is the ground, this game involves drawing seven squares on the ground with chalk, one for each day of the week. Part of the “hopscotch” family of games, each player tosses a stone or other object into the “Lunes” square and hops into it on one foot. The same is done for the other seven squares until “Domingo” is reached and then the stone is kicked out. Players are disqualified by not hopping into the square where their stone landed and can only land on one foot. In non-Andean Bolivia, it is also called “Rayuela” and there are different versions for boys and girls. Additionally, the number of squares, names, and objects may vary.
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