SV: hist-games: Zamma

Peter Michaelsen PMI at KM.DK
Mon Apr 24 15:47:10 PDT 2006

Hello Mats!

You have made a very nice update of the Zamma game for Zillions-of-Games, including some of the historical information I sent you.

Concerning the rule that you are obliged to choose the continuation with the most possible captures, you are right, when you say that this is a good, but also an advanced rule.
You ask: "is this really how the Tuaregs play the game"? Yes, probably, but we cannot know for certain. The article by Abdallahi Ol Bah is by far the most detailed description of the game.
The somewhat shorter description by Théodore Monod in Notes Africaines no.45, January 1950,p.11-13: "Sur quelques jeux africains a quadrillages", does only state that captures are obligatory,
and so does R.C. Bell in his description of "Zamma" in The Board Game Book, 1979. 
This rule has probably been followed in Spanish draughts (and a similar, but even more advanced rule in Italian draughts) since the 16th century, and resulted in a game with more combinations than in the similar game without such a rule. Already in 1547 the first Spanish draughts book was published in Valencia. Unfortunately it has been lost, but a book from 1591 with nice problem compositions has been preserved. The rule of "huff" (French: "soufflage", Moorish: "cafar"), as well as the rule of promotion was probably borrowed by the North Africans from the Europeans.
In a mail Thierry Depaulis pointed out that this "contamination" was not necessarily a result of the French colonization. This could very well have happened already in the early 17th century. In 1609-1614 between 250 and 300 000 Moorish refugees reached Morocco from Spain. 
Scandinavia is one of the few areas in the world, where the advanced rule of capturing has never gained any popularity, but, at the same time, Scandinavia is also one of the areas where the game has never been studied or played seriously in clubs and with organized tournaments. 
Anglo-American checkers, Pool checkers, Russian checkers and Thai checkers are other variants without any priority rule of capturing.

Yes, Zamma/Srand is an intriguing checkers variant, in which the most astonishing combinations may often occur,while draws will be rare, even among master players.
Its combinations can only be compared with the likewise ortho-diagonal combinations of Frisian checkers, another excellent game.
It seems a bit strange that Christian Freeling did not include any of these games in his comparative study of checkers variants, see
In this study he compares several variants, including his own HexDame and Dameo with traditional variants like Turkish checkers and International checkers, the latter of which has become rather drawish among master players. 

A few days ago I discovered two other variants of Zamma, both with interesting features.

The first one I found on the web site of Maison des Jeux, Grenoble:

This game is played with 2x20 pieces on a game board with 41 crossing points.
Game pieces are promoted to "mullah", when reaching the last line of the opposite camp.
It seems that this is a much more detailed description of the game named "kharbaga" in Mauretania. There is a diagram, showing this simplification of Srand, in Mokhtar Ould Hamidoun: Précis sur la Mauritanie, Centre IFAN - Mauretanie, Saint-Louis - Sénegal 1952, p.68.
At the end of the description of Zamma at Maison du Jeux there is a surprising restriction of the captures of the mullah: "Mais, contrarement au jeu de dames, il ne peut enchainer des prises en changeant de direction." Such a restriction is, to my knowledge, not known in any other checkers variant. Was it necessary to add it, because the mullahs became too powerful on such a small board?

Another Zamma-variant is described at

See also the descriptions of El-Quirkat and its variants on another fiche ludique there.

This Zamma-variant is played on a 9x9 board without any diagonals. Pieces do still move in three directions forwards, but this is the case with all pieces, except those at the edges who have only two possible moves. From most squares it is possible to capture in all eight directions.
This game is perhaps not so sophisticated as the Mauretanian Srand, but it probably takes the prize as the traditional checkers variant with the highest number of possible moves and captures.

On another web site I saw that there had been an exhibition of Mauretanian culture, including games like Srand/Dhamet in Japan. I think that this Zamma-variant could perhaps become popular in Japan as it is possible to play it with 2x40 Go stones or with 2 sets of Shogi pieces on a Shogi board.

It is no great surprise that there exist such Zamma variants played on boards with a different topological structure. In fact we find alquerque variants on exactly the same types of game boards not only in the Near East, but also in India, and even in Northern Scandinavia (among the Sámi population). 

Looking forward to hear some comments about these Zamma variants.

Best wishes,

-----Oprindelig meddelelse-----
Fra: Mats Winther [mailto:mwi9 at]
Sendt: 22-04-2006 13:10
Til: Peter Michaelsen; hist-games at
Emne: Re: hist-games: Zamma

Den 2006-04-20 01:03:08 skrev Peter Michaelsen <PMI at KM.DK>:

> The rules of Zamma are described in English in R.C. Bell: The Board Game Book from 1979.
> I do not know which sources R.C. Bell based his description upon.
> An almost identical game, Srand, or Dhamet, is described in the article "Les Dames du Desert", Jeux et Stratégie no.27, June-July 1984. In this game the "mullah" is called a "sultan". The author, Abdallahi Ol Bah, claims that this game is the national game of Mauritania. He seems to be a good player himself and includes examples and problems composed by the master player Yahya O'Hamidoun.
> Srand/Zamma is also included in Jean-Bernard Alemanni: Les Jeux de Dames dans le Monde. Techniques, Chiron , Paris 2005, a book which I highly recommend.
> I may send a copy of the article by Abdallahi Ol Bah to anyone who might be interested.
> I have now tried Mats Winther's new Zillions implementation of Zamma, and likes very much to play with it.
> It appears, however, that not all rules followed by the program are quite correct.
> Kind regards,
> Peter Michaelsen.

I have now updated the Zamma game, and some of the historical information.
The program has been implemented with two variants. In the one variant I retain
the rule that removal of captured counters is deferred, as this is what Pennick
and Alemanni relates. In the main variant counters are removed instantly from
the board, as this is how Srand, according to Bah is played. Actually, while
playing with the counters, this makes no difference(?). Only for the Mullahs it
makes a difference whether counter removal is deferred or not.

I also added the rule that if the counter, during a capturing sequence,
makes an intermediate landing on a promotion square, it does not promote
to Mullah. Moreover, one is now obliged to choose the continuation with the
most possible captures. This rule, although very good, seems rather advanced.
Is this really how the Tuaregs play the game?

It is an intriguing checkers variant. The counters have different scope depending
on which squares they are positioned. On half of the squares they can capture in
eight directions, in the other half they can capture in four directions and move in
only one. The board pattern allows this freedom of capture directions while half
of the diagonals are removed, compared with a checkers board. Possibly this
game carries some advantages compared with international draughts, which has
become very drawish in grandmaster quarters.

The program can be downloaded here:

Bug reports and comments are welcome.

Mats Winther

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