Mongolian toys and games
Mongolian traditional games can be divided into 2 general types on the basis of their general form; games which are played using simple and readily-available materials such s stones sticks, or animal bones and games which are played using objects created by the artistic means; namely with painted or carved pieces. The games of the one category are characterized by a close figurative connection with nature and the herding lifestyle, often having a ritual of the symbolic element to their playing & by a relative simplicity of their rules of play. The games of the latter category- which include cards, chess dominoes, and interlocking puzzles –are symbolically associated with social and artistic activities and are usually more sophisticated requiring greater intellectual skill in their playing. Of the games played with real and natural materials, the simplest is “ail ger” (family home). The game is played with stones, much in the same way as children in western countries play “house” with dolls a small circle of stone is set up to represent a ger; further stones are placed inside it to represent furniture and household objects and stones of different shapes and colors are collected outside the home to represent the families herds.
The most unique Mongolian game is shagai or anklebones, which as the name suggests, is played using the cleaned and polished anklebones of sheep. Each of the four sides of the anklebone represents a different animal; horse, sheep, camel, goat, although there are many games that can be played with the bones. In earlier times, families which managed to collect more anklebones than they needed would select an auspicious day and go to play the game of “multicolored turtle” on the top of a mountain leaving the bones afterward as an offering to the mountain or to the sky. This game is played with a number of bones corresponding to one of the auspicious numbers in the Buddhist faith- most often 81 or 108. The placement of the bones represents the five elements and colors in addition to the body of the turtle itself, which is viewed in traditional Mongolian iconography as the symbol of the cosmos players take bones from different parts of the turtle or surrounding five elements on each turn corresponding to the throw of a die. Once the players have collected all the parts of the turtle's body the game concludes with the player in possession of the most bones the winner.
One of the common games played with shagai is the “horse race” for 2 or more players. Games played using carved or painted pieces include cards, chess, dominoes and khorol (a game similar to dominoes, using the 12 animals of the zodiac and Buddhist symbols). Of these games, chess remains one of the most popular as well as one of the oldest traditional games some Mongolian scholars claim that chess sets characteristically depict nobles, horses, camels, oxcarts and other identifiable elements of Mongolian life. The Mongolian chess is more similar to the European than the Chinese version of the game, but there are several important differences in the rules for example only the pawn in front of the Queen is only permitted to move one space at a time when moving diagonally.