This week we played Halma, a game invented in 1883-1884 by an American surgeon called George Howard Monks. The name comes from the Greek work meaning to jump.
We played a four-player game, with each player having 13 pieces. The winner is the first player to move all their pieces from their home “camp” to the opposite “camp”. Movement is either by step or by jump. A step is from one square to an adjacent square in any direction. A jump can be over your own piece or your opponent’s piece, to an empty square beyond; multiple jumps are allowed; steps and jumps cannot be combined. We explained the strategy of building ladders so the children could move their pieces quickly across the board. We also showed them the trick of zigzagging along a straight line of pieces.
The game had not finished by the time our hour was up! This was not something I was expecting, as I had packed Chinese Chequers and Five Field Kono, other replacement games, in my bag. We had to call a halt to the game, giving our judgment on who had done well. One child had got six of their 13 pieces to the opposite camp, but still had a few pieces left in their own camp. Another child had fewer pieces in their opposite camp, but overall had got more of their pieces across the board, as well as setting up some good ladders and using the zigzagging trick. As we were packing up the children said they wanted to play this game again next time. This is something I have observed: if you ask them what their favourite game is they will often say it is the game they have just played. I’m not sure this is really true, but it does show the capacity of children to live in the present moment, something we could all benefit from trying.