ShaxThe name is also transcribed with different letters for the sound /ħ/, such as shah, shahh, or shaḥ. is a mill game from Somalia. In central and southern regions of Somalia it is called jare (‘cut’).A[p. 1] Unlike most mill games, captures cannot be made during the placement phase.
Sometimes [the Bedouin] play at Shahh, Shantarah, and other games, of which they are passionately fond: with a board formed of lines traced in the sand, and bits of dry wood or camel’s earth acting pieces, they spend hour after hour, every looker-on vociferating his opinion, and catching at the men, till apparently the two players are those least interested in the game.B[pp. 179–80]
The game is mentioned in many stories of Somali poets and leaders (and poet-leaders), such as Garaad Xirsi Garaad Faarax (commonly known as “Wiil Waal”, ‘crazy boy’), the early 19th century ruler of Jigjiga (now part of Ethiopia); Yuusuf Cali Keenadiid (1837–1911), Sultan of Hobyo; and Sayid Maxamed Cabdulle Xasan (1856–1920), leader of the Dervish movement.A[p. 2]
As in other mill games, the aim of the game is to form a mill (line of three pieces). Each time this is done, this enables the player to remove one of the opponent’s pieces from the board. When a player is reduced to fewer than three pieces, they lose the game.
Players take turns playing one of their pieces on a vacant point of the board. Unlike Twelve Men’s Morris, completing a mill during this phase does not allow you to remove an opponent’s piece.
Once all the pieces are on the board (and all 24 points are full), the player who first completed a mill removes one of their opponent’s pieces. If neither player completed a mill, the second player removes a piece.
Starting with the player who first completed a mill, players take turns moving one of their pieces along a line to a vacant space.
Each time a player forms a mill, they may remove an opponent’s piece, and reducing the opponent to two pieces wins the game.
If a player is completely blocked, the other player must make a move that allows them to move. If the ‘freeing’ move forms a mill, it may not capture. In this situation, traditionally the blocked player says jid i sii aan jar aheyn ‘give me a way without cutting’.
There is no ‘flying’ rule.
Scores are kept by tracking one player’s consecutive wins with stones that match their pieces, placed in the centre of the board. As soon as a winning player loses a game, any score they have accumulated is removed from the middle. A player that wins four games in a row wins a ‘pool’; five in a row is a ‘girl’. In the past a prospective husband would “win” his wife from her consenting father in this manner.C[p. 503–5]
Other general references include The Oxford History of Board Games, Math Games & Activities from Around the World (p. 9), A History of Board-Games Other Than Chess (p. 48), British Somaliland (pp. 129–33).
Davies, Rick (). ‘An Introduction to Shax’.
Burton, Richard F. (). First Footsteps in East Africa. Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans: London.
Marin, G. (). ‘Somali Games’. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland vol. 61: pages 499–511.
Drake-Brockman, Ralph E. (). British Somaliland. Hurst & Blackett: London, UK.