This is a simple blocking game for children that seems to originate from China, where it is known by many names. Because the board is shaped like the Chinese character ‘区’ (‘area’), it is known as ‘
区 character game’ (区字棋, Mandarin: qū zì qí). Other names include ‘crotch game’ (褲襠棋/裤裆棋, Mandarin: kùdāng qí), or ‘scissor game’ (剪刀棋, Mandarin: jiǎndāo qí).
The board is simple enough to be drawn with a finger into dirt or sand, and can be played with any two sets of two distinctive pieces: rocks, shell, bottlecaps, etc.
In English the game has no standard name, not being widespread, but it has been called “horseshoe”, or also “bar”.A
In Cantonese it is called ‘cleft lip game’ (崩口棋 bong¹ hau² kei⁴),B[p. 100]CIn older books (such as Culin’s) this is transliterated as pong hau k’i. because of the shape of the board. In Hindi it is called do-guṭī (दो गुटी ‘two pieces’, perhaps Urdu دو گتھی).D[p. 143]
In Korea it is known as umulgonu (우물고누 ‘well game’) or ganggonu (강고누 ‘river game’).B[p. 100] In Thailand it is called suea tok thang (เสือตกถัง ‘tiger falls into the bucket’),Older books transliterate this as sua tok tong. or saeng tawan (แสงตะวัน ‘sun rays’).EAnother name given is จะบูมูลู but I haven’t been able to translate it. In Malaysia it is known as telaga buruk (‘bad well’).E
The Korean, Malaysian, and Thai names are probably implying a similar theme to the game: the point of the game is to block the opponent so that their only move is to “fall into” the river/well/bucket. The boards used in these countries also have a circle over the ‘forbidden’ section of the board, representing the obstacle that a piece could fall into.
This theme is also known in the Mongolian version of the game, where the circular board above is known as temeenii tavkhai (тэмээний тавхай/ᠲᠡᠮᠡᢉᠡᠨ ᠦ᠋ ᠲᠠᠪᠠᠬᠠᠢ) ‘camel’s paw’, and the circle is called the khudag (худаг/ᠬᠤᠳᠳᠤᠭ) ‘well’. The square form of the board without a well is known as dörvön bukh (дөрвөн бух/ᠳᠥᠷᠪᠡᠨ ᠪᠤᠬ) ‘four bulls’.F[p. 37–8]In the summary at the end of Games of Mongolian Shepherds the game is described as if the goal is to prevent the other player from entering the well, however this can’t be correct as the game does not function when played in this manner.
Each player has two matching pieces. The game board is set up in the initial position as shown above. On each player’s turn, they select one of their pieces to move into the empty position on the board. The chosen piece must move along one of the lines on the board (or, on the boards with a “well”, it must not move over the circle). If a player is unable to move one of their pieces, since they are both blocked, then they lose.
Culin, Stewart (). Korean Games with notes on the corresponding games of China and Japan. University of Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, PA, USA.
Das-Gupta, Hem Chandra (). ‘A Few Types of Sedentary Games prevalent in the Punjab’. Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal vol. 22: pages 143–148.
Kabzińska-Stawarz, Iwona (). Games of Mongolian Shepherds; The Library of Polish Ethnography number 45. Institute of the History of Material Culture, Polish Academy of Sciences: Warsaw, Poland. ISBN: 83-85463-02-X.
Straffin, Philip D. (). ‘Position Graphs for Pong Hau K’i and Mu Torere’. Mathematics Magazine vol. 68 (5), : pages 382–386.
Epstein, Susan L. (). ‘Thinking Through Diagrams: Discovery in Game Playing’. Pages 259–282 in Spatial Cognition IV: Reasoning, Action, Interaction, edited by Christian Freksa, Markus Knauff, Bernd Krieg-Brückner, Bernhard Nebel, and Thomas Barkowsky. Springer Berlin Heidelberg: Berlin, Heidelberg. ISBN: 978-3-540-32255-9.