Mancala World

Ô Ăn Quan → Vietnamese.

Ô Quan
Other Names: Ô ăn
quan, Ô Láng
First Description: Ngô
Quý Sơn, 1944
Cycles: One
Ranks: Two
Sowing: Pussa Kanawa
Region: Vietnam

Ô Quan

Ô Ăn Quan (literally: "Mandarin Square Capturing"), also known as Ô Láng ("Village Squares"), is a mancala game played by Vietnamese girls usually seven to ten years old. According to Ngô Quý Sơn, the oldest western source on the game, it was once played by boys too. The game is valuable for promoting calculating abilities. It is said that the Vietnamese mathematician Mạc Hiển Tích discovered số ẩn (negative numbers; literally: "hidden / secret number") in 1086 by playing Ô Ăn Quan.

The game was first described in a western language (French) by Ngô Quý Sơn in 1944. It seems to be identical to Ô Lang described by Lynn Rohrbough in 1955. A Vietnamese mancala game was also mentioned in Viltis ("Hope") in 1984 (January-February issue), a magazine of folklore and folk dance published in Denver, USA.

There is a Vietnamese mancala board in the Musée du Quai Branly (Paris, France) called pan u ao, which comes from the Muong people in Hoa Binh in northern Vietnam and was collected in 1938. Perhaps it was used for Ô Ăn Quan. The game itself seems to be related to mancala games found in Yunnan, China, such as Laomuzhu and Ceelkoqyuqkoqiji.

Ô Ăn Quan was implemented for mobile phones in Vietnam in 2004.

The Yasaka-Saigon-Nhatrang Hotel, which is known for its record banh tet, a cylindrical glutinous rice cake filled with green bean paste and fat pork, organizes for tourists traditional games on the beach in front of the hotel, such as Ô Ăn Quan, water-carrying, rowing on sand, tug-of-war, and walking on stilts.

There is a famous silk painting of children playing Ô Ăn Quan by Nguyễn Phan Chánh (1892-1984) called Chơi Ô ăn quan (1931).

Game Rules

Ô Ăn Quan Board (Drawing)

The board is an oval with five squares per side and, in addition, a bigger one at each end. The small squares are called "citizen squares" (ô dân), "ricefields" (ruộng) or "fishponds" (ao ci) and the big ones "mandarin squares" (ô quan). The board is drawn on the ground.

Each player or team controls five farmer squares, while the mandarin squares are neutral.

Each player puts five pebbles (fruit seeds or other small objects) in each square he owns and a big stone, the "mandarin" (quan), on the mandarin square. The pebbles are known as dân ("people", "citizen").


Initial Position

The first player is determined by oẳn tù tì ("one, two, three"), which is a Vietnamese variant of Rock, Paper, Scissors.

On his turn a player picks up the contents of one of his ricefields and distributes the pebbles, one by one, in either direction on the following squares (including both mandarin squares). This is called rải ("to scatter").

He lifts the contents of the square immediately behind the last one where a pebble was dropped and keeps on distributing its contents.

  • However, if a mandarin square follows, the turn ends.

The move ends when the last pebble falls on a square, which is followed by an empty one.

  • If there are two or more empty squares, the turn passes.
  • If the empty square is followed by a non-empty one, he captures its contents, and if it is followed by another empty square and another non-empty one, he captures the contents of this one too, and so on. The captures are removed from the board.

A square, which contains many pieces, is called nhà giàu ("rich square"). Pebbles, which are on the Mandarin square, are known as quan non ("quan": Mandarin; non: "young" / "unripe").

If all the ricefields of one player are empty at any time, he must put one pebble on each ricefield. These pebbles are taken from the captures. This is called "to release the fish" (thả cá). If on his/her side of the board are empty, he/she must use five won-pieces to place one piece down one square on his/her side and repeats the distribution. If a player doesn't have enough pebbles to fill every square, he must borrow them from the other player. At the end of the game, he must return them to his opponent.

The game ends when the two mandarin squares are empty, which is called "fall of the mandarins" (hết quan).

Then the remaining pieces belong to the player who owns their squares, which is expressed by the Vietnamese saying: "hết quan, tàn dân, thu quân, bán ruộng" (literally: "Mandarin doesn't exit, people disappear, getting the army out, selling the rice field.") or "hết quan, tàn dân, thu quân, kéo về" (literally: "Mandarin doesn't exit, people disappear, getting the army out, coming back.").

The winner is the player who has more points. Pebbles count 1 point, mandarins 10 points.

Match Rules

Before the next game starts, the loser asks the winner to give him as many pebbles he needs to reach the number of 35. Then the players put their pebbles in their old place and the game is played again under the same conditions as previously.

If the loser asks his companion for five pebbles for example, he owes to him provisionally one square of his series. This is called "to give provisionally a ricefield" (cầm ruộng). At the end of the game, the pebbles that the square thus given up contains will be divided equally among the two players.

If the loser asks his opponent for ten pebbles, he must give him one of his squares definitively, which is called bán ruộng ("to sell a ricefield"). If he has lost by 20 pebbles, he must even sell two ricefields. The pebbles that remain in the sold ricefields at the end of the game are won by the new owner of the square.

In the next round it is possible to get back the sold ricefield, if the player wins by (at least) 10 pebbles.

The game continues until three or four squares of the same series are sold. The player of this series holds out his hands to the winner who beats them.

Ô Ăn Quan Literature


The song "đồng dao" is sung while playing Ô Ăn Quan:

Hàng trầu hàng cau
Là hàng con gái
Hàng bánh hàng trái
Là hàng bà già
Hàng hương hàng hoa
Là hàng cúng Phật.

"The betel stall, the areca nut stall. Be stalls of girls. The cake stall, the fruit stall. Be stalls of old women. The incense stall, the flower stall. Be stalls for offering the Buddha."


Chơi Ô ăn quan

Bên rìa hầm trú ẩn
Em chơi ô ăn quan
Sỏi màu đua nhau chạy
Trên vòng ô con con.

Sỏi nằm là giặc Mỹ
Sỏi tiến là quân mình
Đã hẹn cùng nhau thế...
Tán bàng nghiêng bóng xanh...

By: Lữ Huy Nguyên (1939-1998)

Thời gian trắng

Những ô ăn quan, que chuyền, bài hát
Những đầu trần, chân đất, tóc râu ngô
Quá khứ em đâu chỉ ngày xưa
Mà ngay cả hôm nay thành quá khứ...

By: Xuân Quỳnh (1942-1988)


Một đập ăn quan.

"One move captures Mandarin piece." - said when a simple action is successful.


Ngô Quý Sơn described the following variant:

  • The mandarin square is initially filled with 10 pebbles instead of a big stone.
  • Sowing is counterclockwise only.
  • If the last counter is sown into a ricefield, which is followed by an empty square that is followed by a mandarin square, the player takes one of its pebbles and puts it in the next ricefield and the turn continues.
  • The pebbles, which remain on the board at the end of the game, are equally divided between both players.

The Vietnamese Wikipedia user Neweco described the following variants:

  • The Mandarin can be worth 5 or 10 points.
  • He wrote that the contents of more than one square can be captured.
  • Neweco mentioned that sometimes the rules do not permit to capture pebbles that are on the Mandarin square.

There are also variations for three and four players (see Vietnamese article).

Ô Ăn Quan Puzzle


The starting position: South to move. Which moves immediately lose?

See also

External Links





Ngo Qui Son
Activité de la Societé Enfantine Annamite du Tonkin. Institut Indochinois pour l'Etude de l'Homme, Hanoi (Vietnam) 1944 (Tome VI). Republished as: Ngo Qui Son. Jeux d'enfants du Vietnam. Edition Sudestasie, Paris (France) 1985. ISBN 2858810192
Rohrbough, L. (Ed.). 
Count and Capture. Cooperative Recreation Service, Delaware OH (USA) 1955.

Solution to the Puzzle

1. 5A (a) 3A - North wins 46:25.

If a: 1C, then 3C.

A means anticlockwise, C clockwise.


© Wikimanqala.
By: Víktor Bautista i Roca & Ralf Gering
Under the CC by-sa 2.5 license.

Song and Vietnamese Proverb:
Adapted from the Wikipedia article Ô ăn quan by Neweco available under the GNU Free Documentation License.