Shagai (Shooting bones)

The bones game shagai (made from a lamb's ankle bone - we call then knuckle bones in N.Z) is very popular. It is mentioned in the Secret History of the Mongols, which says that Chingis Khan played it. The four sides of a bone are shaped differently and each are given a name - horse, camel, goat, and sheep.

There are many variations to this game, but the most sports-like is bone 'shooting'. In this game sets of 8 or 12 bones are 'shot' towards a target two at a time, using a special plank as a sling. The winner is the one who has the greatest number of bones by the end of the game.

Another famous game children play with shagai 'sheep bones' is a flicking game. We first throw all the sheep bones in front of us. Then the shagai that have landed with the same side up e.g. horse side, can be flicked with our fingers so they fly across the floor to hit another 'horse side up' bone. If I hit only the bone I was shooting at, then I can take it into my own personal pile. If I miss or hit another bone lying with a different side up e.g. camel, the next person goes. You keep playing until all the bones in the middle are gone. The person with the most bones wins.

Note: If you are trying these games in New Zealand, don't use the metal knucklebones - they are too heavy and won't land on all their sides. Choose realistically-shaped plastic knucklebones (available from most toy shops, supermarkets and stationers). You may find it hard to get real knucklebones, as NZ abattoirs tend to cut through this joint.