Sulus Nishtaw

Sulus Nishtaw
First Description: Harold
Courlander, 1943
Cycles: One
Ranks: Three
Sowing: Multiple laps
Region: Eritrea, Ethiopia

Sulus Nishtaw is played by the Tigrinya people who live in the northern highlands of Ethiopia's Tigray province and the southern, central and northern parts of Eritrea. The game is related to Selus and Sulus Aidi.


The board has 3x6 holes. Initially there are three seeds in each hole. In the first round each player owns the row closest to him and the three holes of the central row at his right hand.


Initial Position

Every move of the game is played turnwise. However, there is a special "gambit" to begin the game of each round:

The first player picks up one seed from each of his holes except his last one and drops them all into his last hole. Then he picks up all the contents of this hole and sows them one by one into the following holes (as shown in the diagram below).

After that each move starts with a player emptying the contents of one of his holes that is not yet claimed by his opponent.

Direction of Sowing

If the last seed falls into an occupied hole other than a claimed one, the player takes up its contents and distributes these seeds in a new lap.

Holes are claimed when the last seed of a lap falls into an unclaimed hole of his opponent containing exactly three seeds, thus making a four. The creator owns this hole from now on and therefore marks it in a distinctive way.

Any seed falling into a claimed hole belongs to his creator unless it was the last seed of a lap that fell into a hole claimed by the opponent. In this case, the claimed hole is "taxed", that is, the last seed and another seed that had already been there (if the hole was occupied) are captured by the moving player and both are stored elsewhere. After that the player gets a bonus move, which repeats until his last seed doesn't fall into a hole claimed by his opponent.

A hole can only be claimed after the original set-up has been destroyed, i.e. after the first move of a game. If, in the first move, the last seed makes four seeds, they are distributed in another lap.

A claimed hole cannot be freed. It is owned by his creator as long as the round continues, even if it becomes empty.

It is not permitted to pass a move unless a player has no legal move left.

The move ends if the last seed of a lap is dropped into an empty hole or in a hole claimed by the moving player.

The game ends when both players have no move left. Each player scores a point for each seed that has fallen into their claimed holes and one point snatched away from their opponent's claimed holes. The player with most points wins.

There are special rules for playing a match with several rounds. If a player won more than 27 seeds, he will start the next game with more than the initial nine holes even when he can't fill the last hole with three seeds. The first holes that will be added to his "territory" are those in the central row from right to the left (from the winner's point of view). If he had captured more than 36 seeds, holes of the opponent's outer row are added to his territory continuing from left to right. The direction of sowing (as shown in the diagram above) remains unchanged).


A move cannot be initiated from a hole, which contains three seeds, except when all the holes contain three.

Sulus Nishtaw Puzzle

Sulus N-P1.jpg

Ralf Gering (2003): South to move. Capture as many seeds as possible!


Courlander, H.
The Ethiopian Game of Gobeta. In: The Negro History Bulletin 1943; 7 (10): 21-23.
Gering, R. 
Selus and Sadéqa: African Warrior Games. In: Abstract Games Magazine 2003; 4 (16): 16-17, 23.

Solution to the Puzzle

1. 5 1(+1)
2. 3-5-7 1(+1)
3. 8 1(+1)
4. 9! 1(+2)- ad libitum
5. 1(+1) ad libitum
6. 1(+1) ad libitum
7. 1(+1)

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.