Mancala World

Glass Bead Game → German, Italian.

Glass Bead Game
Inventor: Christian Freeling,
Variant of Oware
Ranks: Two
Sowing: Single laps
Region: Netherlands

The Glass Bead Game was invented in 1979 by the Dutch game inventor Christian Freeling The game was first described in 1986 in the American GAMES Magazine.

The name of this mancala game was taken from Hermann Hesse's world-famous novel Das Glasperlenspiel, which was published in 1943. In the same year, Hesse was put on the Black List of the Nazis. Three years later, the "Tausendjähriges Reich" of the Nazis was reduced to ashes and Hesse received the Nobel Prize in Literature.


Glass Bead Game board

The Glass Bead Game is closely related to Oware.

Both games have in common:

  • two-rank board
  • two fields
  • single-lap movement
  • counterclockwise movement
  • the emptied hole is not filled again in a move
  • a hole with two pieces is "ripe"
  • you can capture from a chain of holes as long as they are all "ripe" and on the opponent's side of the board
  • in certain situations you must feed the opponent

The Glass Bead Game differs, however, in the following:

  • it is played on a 2x5=10 board
  • there are six different kinds of pieces
  • you can capture from your opponent's store
  • the exact timing of ending a game can be extremely difficult
  • draws are not possible

In 2001, Clark D. Rodeffer organized a Glass Bead Game tournament at the U-Con Gaming Convention in Ann Arbor (Michigan, USA).

The game can be played online in the ArenA of MindSports, a web site by Ed van Zon and Christian Freeling.

"Christian Freeling, a Dutch game inventor, has created a mancala-type game that may make you want to forget all the previous one’s you’ve seen. Instead of having only five or six possible moves per turn, as in most mancalas, players sometimes have hundreds of choices."

R. Wayne Schmittberger (1992)


The Glass Bead Game is played on a board of two rows, each consisting of five round pits, and a large cup at either end which serves as a store for captured pieces. A player owns the five pits on his side of the board and the store to his right. Initially there are two beads in each hole: one stone and one "gem". The gems are worth according to their color: yellow = 1 point, green = 2 points, blue = 3 points, red = 4 points, purple = 5 points. The stones are neutral.

The gem in the first pit in each row (as seen by the respective owner from his left) is purple, the second red, the third blue, the forth green and the last one yellow.

Play is counterclockwise. The beads are distributed one by one in the pits, but not into the cups.

While sowing, a player is free to choose which bead to drop in which pit.

If the pit whose contents are moved contains more than nine beads, the original pit is skipped.

The move ends after a single lap.

If the last bead sown is a stone and falls into an opponent's pit then containing 2 beads (including the one just sown), a capture occurs. What is captured depends on what had been in the final pit:

  • If it was a gem, it is captured and placed in the cup ("direct capture").
  • If it was a stone, the player may choose any gem from any of the opponent's pits ("indirect capture"). If there are no gems on the opponent's side of the board, the player may take any gem from his opponent's cup instead. If the opponent's cup is empty too, no capture is made.

Multiple captures are also permitted if the last two or more beads sown were stones that fell into pits on the opponent's side of the board, which contained in an unbroken row counting backwards from the last exactly one counter of either sort (that is, only stones or only gems) before the stones were placed there:

  • If they were gems, a direct multiple capture of all gems involved is made.
  • If they were stones, an indirect multiple capture is made, which means that one gem may be chosen for every pit involved, from his opponent's pits. If there are no or an insufficient number of gems on the opponent's side of the board, the player may proceed to choose any gems from his opponent's cup instead, till he reaches the appointed number or till no more gems are available.

If a move is made that leaves a player without beads, the opponent has on his next turn must "feed" him at least one bead as long as there are still gems left in play.

The game ends when a player can't move at the start of his turn. This only happens, if his opponent couldn't feed him in the last turn, which means that no gems were left in play.

A player wins, if he has more than 15 points. If, at the end, both have 15 points, the player who has no beads in his pits is declared the winner. Draws cannot occur.


The Glass Bead Game can be played on smaller or larger boards. Rodeffer's tournament in Ann Arbor was conducted on a 2x6 board with each player having 12 beads (6 gems and 6 stones). If larger boards are used, the game can end while there are still gems in play. In this case, the player who can't move also wins.

Game Theory

A hole containing six different pieces can be emptied in 6! ways (6! =1x2x3x4x5x6=720).

Sometimes board positions arise in which more than 100,000 different moves are possible. While this feature makes the game computer-resistant (brute-force wouldn't work), it does not harm human play.

Example Game

Christian Freeling (South) – Ed van Zon (North), February-April 1997

(1) C30 c30 (2) D032 b240 (3) B40 d4320 (4) D0 a350 (5) B2 b3 (6) C20 e40001
(7) D02 c352 (8) C0 d03 (9) B0 a2 (10) A234530 a3 (11) D04 b03 (12) C30 a4
(13) B2 d3 (14) D3 c0 (15) E530110000000 xa5 d00 (16) D0 c00 (17) E0 d0
(18) A0 b30 (19) C20 d0 (20) D2 c3 (21) B00 a00 (22) E20xe5 d3 (23) C0 a2
(24) D00 a0 (25) E0 b0002 (26) A2 d0 (27) B2 a0 (28) C2 c00 (29) D2 d0
(30) E2 e000301300000 xD3 & pit 55 (31) C00 d0 (32) D0 c0 (33) B00 d0
(34) D0 b03 (35) E0000x d0 (36) A00 c00 (37) C00 d0 (38) D0 a102 (39) E00
d2 (40) B0 c0 (41) C0 d0 (42) D0 a0 (43) E0 b0001 (44) A1 d0 (45) B1 c0
(46) C1 d0 (47) D1 a0 (48) E1 e2000000000x (49) D0 d0 (50) A0 c0 (51) C0 d0
(52) D0 b00 (53) B00 d0 (54) D0 c0 (55) C0 d0 (56) D0 a01 (57) E00000 e00000
(58) C0 d0 (59) A0 c01 (60) B00 d0 (61) D000 e010xB1 (62) C00 b000 (63) A0 d0
(64) B0 c0?? (65) C0 d0?? (66) D00 a000 (67) E0000x554 e000 (68) A0 d00
(69) A0 c00 (70) C0 a0 (71) B000 b000 (72) C0 North resigns - he is too far behind and South can allow a 5 point capture to get the tempo.

External Links


Cerrato, L.
Glass Bead Game (Christian Freeling). In: Il Fogliaccio degli Astratti 2004; 18 (February).
Schmittberger, R. W.
New Rules for Classic Games. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. New York (USA) 1992, 84-87.


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By: Ralf Gering
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