Pachisi 101: Learning the Basics

Whether you’re an adult or a kid, you’ve probably enjoyed playing board games such as Ludo, Puchese, Parcheesi, and Uckers. But did you know that all these originated from one game called Pachisi? That’s right! All of them are simplified adaptations of this popular Indian game. Putting the adaptations aside, it is also related to Chaupar, another ancient Indian board game. It was believed that these pastime games have been around since the 4th Century A.D.

Even though this pastime activity is old, a lot of people still play it because of its fun factor. If you haven’t played this game before, but you’re interested to try it, here’s a list of things that you need to know about Pachisi.  



A picture of a Pachisi board made of cloth in 18th century India.


So what is Pachisi?

The name of the game originated from the word Pachis which means twenty-five. Why? One of the strategies to win this board game is to stay put in a specially marked square and wait to get a throw with 25 moves. It is a cooperative game intended to be played by four players who are divided into two teams. To win the game, both players from the same team must have all of their pieces to finish.

Things one must know before learning how to play the game

  • The large square found at the center of the board is called the Charkoni
  • Squares that are marked with an X are called a Castle Square
  • Getting a grace means getting another turn
  • Having a piece on the same square of the opponent’s piece means you have captured it
  • A player may decide to move their piece or not after throwing the cowry shells

No dice here

Dice didn’t exist during ancient times. Instead, people threw six cowry shells. The number of cowry shells with their mouths up indicates the number of squares a player can move.

  • 0 mouths up means 25 squares, the highest value in the game, plus a grace
  • 1 mouth up means 10 squares plus a grace
  • 6 mouths up means 6 squares plus a grace
  • 5 mouths up means 5 squares
  • 4 mouths up means 4 squares
  • 3 mouths up means 3 squares
  • 2 mouths up means 2 squares

Playing the game

Four players must divide themselves into two teams. Each game requires 16 pieces, usually in the shape of a beehive, with the following colors: Green, red, black, and yellow. One team will have the green and red pieces, while the other team will have the black and yellow pieces.

Players of the same team must sit at the opposite side of the other. Then, they must put one of their pieces at the Charkoni. It is considered as the starting point and the finishing line as well. Each player will throw the six cowries. Whoever gets the highest value will start the game.

The board consists of four arms adjacent to each other, and each is made of eight rows of three squares. The pieces are to move along the columns. First, they will move down the middle column of their arm of the board. When they reach the lowest square of the middle column, the piece will move at the edge of the board anti-clockwise then move up back to the Charkoni to finish.


Photo credits:
Photo credits:


A piece can move outside the Charkoni with any value from the throw at the start, but they must have the exact number required to get in for them to finish. A piece that has finished is then placed outside the board to know which pieces are still in the Charkoni.

Helping a teammate

If the player’s teammate is lagging behind, a finished piece may continue to go around the board for a second time instead of going out the board to help them. 

Capturing the opponent’s piece

If a piece gets on a square when an opponent’s piece is in it, the opponent’s piece is considered captured. Any captured piece must start again from the Charkoni.

Don’t want to risk a piece of getting captured? Worry not!

Castle squares were mentioned before, but their purpose wasn’t explained. When a piece is in a castle square, that piece cannot be captured. Each castle square is conveniently placed to be exactly 25 moves away from the Charkoni. This is the reason why Pachisi originated from the word Pachis. It is one of the strategies to win the game as a piece returning to the Charkoni can stay in a castle square and move only when the player gets a 25.


Not enough players? Not a problem!

Pachisi can be played by two people as well. Each player will either have to play as the red and green team while the other plays as the black and yellow team.


There is no “I” in team

Even if a player is skilled in the game, trying to win as an individual is impossible. Just as mentioned earlier, both players of the same team must have all of their pieces return to the Charkoni before the other team does. That means if a team member keeps getting captured, the other team will eventually finish and win.

Some team sports or games nowadays can be won by skilled individuals, thus making it a challenge to maintain a winning team spirit among the members. Some players may even compete with their own team to get the attention of the crowd. Playing Pachisi requires a concerted team effort, cooperation, and communication. Each member must know what to do with each throw, and execute a counterattack when the other is falling behind. This does not only make this game challenging, but also gives the feeling of camaraderie among members.

Got thoughts or strategies to share? Put them in the comments section below!


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