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In today’s rapidly evolving world, strategy has become more important than ever before for businesses and organizations to navigate the myriad of challenges and opportunities. Harvard Business Review describes a good strategy as a clear roadmap that defines the actions people in the business should take to achieve desired goals. While one may not think of a board game that has been around for over 7,000 years as a tool for learning strategy, Oware, the oldest and most played board game in the world, can teach us valuable lessons about strategy.
Oware, also known as Awari, Ayò, and Wari, is an abstract strategy game where players must make calculated moves to capture more seeds than their opponents. Unlike chess, which has its roots in India and has spawned strategies from hundreds of years ago to those developed with the help of artificial intelligence, Oware has been played for over 7,000 years. It is played on a board of 12 holes, with 48 seeds or pebbles equally distributed between two players. The aim of the game is to capture 25 seeds.
Oware is played all over the world, from Africa and the Caribbean to the Far East and Middle East. Its diffusion throughout the world from Africa can be explained by the migration of African people to various parts of the world, both voluntarily and forcefully, as in the case of the Trans-Atlantic and Eastern slave trades. Oware was used by slaves in the Caribbean to plan their escape from plantations. Evidence even suggests that it was and may still be played in its traditional form in some southern states of America and former Soviet states.
Playing Oware not only provides a fun and social activity, but it also teaches important skills such as strategic thinking, arithmetic, patience, spatial thinking, communication, decision-making, and negotiation. In Ghana, where the game is considered the national game and commonly played on the street, it is even used in education among Asanti children for the development of math skills.
Oware has been a part of human culture and history for thousands of years, with archaeological findings testifying to its ancient pedigree. This demonstrates the enduring importance of strategy, both in games and in life, and how the ability to think strategically has been valued and cultivated throughout human history.
As we navigate the complexities of the modern world, perhaps we can take a lesson from Oware and focus on clear guiding principles and techniques to achieve our desired goals. And who knows, we might even have some fun while doing it. In a world where the pace of change is rapid and competition is fierce, the lessons of Oware are more relevant than ever. The game teaches us that a good strategy provides a clear roadmap, consisting of a set of guiding principles or rules, that defines the actions people in the business should take (and not take) and the things they should prioritize (and not prioritize) to achieve desired goals. As Rebecca Bayeck says, “most of the things we know, and a great number of the skills we acquire as children and adults, are learned outside the classroom.” Oware is a prime example of how we can learn valuable life skills through play.
So the next time you sit down to play a game of Oware, remember that you are not just playing a game, you are engaging in a timeless pursuit of strategic thinking and skill
The ancient game of Oware is known by many names, including Ayò and Ayoayo (in Yoruba), Awalé (in Ivory Coast), Wari (in Mali), Ouri, Ouril, or Uril (in Cape Verde), Warri (in the Caribbean), Wali (in Dagbani), Adji (in Ewe), Nchọ/Ókwè (in Igbo), ise (in Edo), and Awélé (in Ga). While the name “Awari” is commonly used in English, Robert Sutherland Rattray, one of the earliest Western scholars to study the game, referred to it as “Wari.”