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GD Star RatingOware: Earth's Oldest Living Board Game,
“Oware: Earth’s Oldest Living Board Game” is a re-imagining of what is indeed the oldest board game in the world. Oware (pronounced “awari”) has existed for at least seven thousand years, and yet I’d never heard of it until playing this version. So I did a bit of research and discovered that it is a pit-and-pebble game, and also the national game of Ghana. Apparently, “oware” is an Ashanti word which roughly translates to “He/She Marries”.
Legend has it that an Ashanti man and woman were so addicted to playing Oware that they got married, just so that they could stay together and keep playing. It just goes to show you that gaming brings people together! If you’re interested to find out more of the history of Oware, there’s a wealth of information on The Oware Society website.
Oware begins with 48 little white balls equally distributed throughout 12 circles. Each player has 6 circles on their side. The goal is to capture more of the little white balls than your opponent. Whoever obtains more than half of the balls (25) wins the game.
Each turn consists of tapping a circle on your half of the screen, which has one or more balls in it. This will result in all the balls in said circle being distributed amongst the next circles, one per circle, counter-clockwise. If the last ball from your turn lands in one of your opponent’s circles which has 1 or 2 balls already in it (with your ball making the total 2 or 3), you win all the balls in that circle. If the preceding circle also ends up with 2 or 3 balls in it, you win those balls too.
Consider the two screenshots below (arrows added by me, obviously).
I’m the player on the bottom half of the screen, so I can tap any of the bottom 6 circles. If I tap the last circle on the right (containing 2 balls), one ball will go into my opponent’s circle directly above, and the other will go to circle next to that (which currently has 2 balls). As this will be my last ball, and as my opponent’s circle has 2 balls in it, and as my ball will make it 3, I win all 3 balls. Won balls go into my keep net at the bottom of the screen.
I’ve explained the rules as best I can, which is more than can be said for the developer.
Visually, this is a beautiful game. The minimalist look and modern sounds make it appealing. Device-sharing is a nice touch, allowing tabletop gameplay. There’s no online multiplayer which is a shame, but perhaps this will come with a later release.
As I’d never played Oware before, I had no idea of the rules. Upon firing up the game, I did expect a menu with a rules button, or perhaps a tutorial on how to play. Alas, neither exists. After the initial Unity splash screen, you are presented with the game, ready to play. Main game aside, the only other screen available (at a swipe) gives three unlabelled icons: switch between 1 player and 2 players, visit the developer’s website, and restart the current game. So I thought I’d give the developer’s website a go, thinking I might gain some idea on how to play this game. Nothing was to be found there other than screenshots and a video of the game itself.
At this point it became apparent to me that the developer has decided to make a “puzzle” out of the game, requiring new players to figure out the rules and how to play. Perhaps we’re expected to search Google to learn the rules of Oware. Or maybe they assume everyone knows how to play. As there is literally no text in the game, I’ve no idea how we’re expected to figure out the rules. I resorted to looking the rules up on Wikipedia, then played until I figured it out properly.
Thinking I was being stupid by having to resort to Wikipedia, I asked both my wife and 11 year old son (both casual gamers) to spend 30 minutes each trying out the game without looking up the rules – perhaps they could figure it out. Alas, whilst they managed to grasp some idea of what was going on, neither could figure out what the win condition is or what impact all their moves had. Once I explained the rules to them (which took 60 seconds), they understood. But by then they were both so frustrated that neither cared to play Oware anymore.
What possessed the developer to release a game on the App Store, with no rules or indication on how to play, is beyond me. By omitting the rules, the game is crippled for newcomers. I should have been enjoying Oware within a few minutes, without the frustration and Wikipedia. In this age of free games, £1.99 / $2.99 up-front puts a game in the premium league. Consumers expect a finished, polished game with at least a basic guide on how to play.
One final gripe is the fact that the orientation is locked one way. You can’t flip your device upside down. This is annoying if you have headphones in; they’ll get in the way of your left hand.
5/10 Once you know the rules, Oware is an addictive and fun game. However, the lack of any guidance will leave newcomers in the dark, feeling frustrated. Considering this, and the amount of alternatives available, I feel Oware is overpriced for what it is.