The Kiowa Game of Zohn Ahl

Zohn Ahl was a racing game that was played in different versions by a variety of Native American nations on the western Plains.

Zohn Ahl gameboard


This unique race game was popular with several of the Native American nations who inhabited the Western Plains. The game was first described by Europeans in the early 19th century but it is much older. The version here was played by the Kiowa, who considered it to be a game for women and girls.


The game board takes the form of a closed path with 40 game spaces. Some game boards are rectangular, while others are circular. There are special lines at the top, bottom and sides consisting of two parallel segments, one with a game space at the end and one without, and some with blue rectangles and some with brown.

Each Player has one game piece. These can be two different coins, buttons, rocks, or whatever else is handy.

Moves are determined by four stick dice. These can be made from popsicle or craft sticks that are painted White on one side and Black on the other. One of the dice sticks is specially marked, with one side Green and the other side White.

There are a number of Scoring Sticks, either 4, 6 or 8, used to keep score. These can be any distinctive markers—matchsticks, buttons, glass beads, bamboo skewers, whatever. The more Scoring Sticks there are, the longer the game will be.

To Play

Zohn Ahl is a race game, and the object is to score points by getting one’s game piece around the board.

The rules have been simplified somewhat here for better game play. It is usually a four-player game, but here we will convert it to two players. In the traditional Kiowa version, the two Players move their pieces in opposite directions around the board, simultaneously. This can get confusing, so we will modify the rules to have both Players moving counter-clockwise.

Each Player begins the game at the parallel lines nearest to them on their respective sides of the game board, on the game space at the tip of the line to the right of the blue rectangle. These blue rectangles and lines represent Creek Beds. On either side of the board, at 90 degrees to the starting space, are two additional sets of parallel line segments, with a game space at the end of one line and a brown rectangle in between. These represent Dry Creek Beds.

At the start of the game, each Player receives half of the Scoring Sticks. The aim of the game is to win all of the Scoring Sticks.

The players take turns throwing the dice sticks and moving accordingly. For each Black side that faces up, the Player can move one space: if all the dice sticks show White, the Player moves 10 spaces and gets an extra turn. If however the Green side is showing, that counts as “Black” when determining the value, but it grants an extra roll. So, for each Green and Black side that is showing, the Player gets to move that many spaces and gets an extra turn. If all four dice sticks show Black and Green, the Player gets to move 6 spaces, and gets an extra turn.

If you land on the space at the near side of a blue Creek Bed (the line without a game space at its tip), you fall into the river and are swept all the way back to your starting point at the bottom of the board. You must also give a Scoring Stick to the opposing Player.

If you land on the space at the near side of a brown Dry Creek Bed (the line without a game space at the top), you fall into the ditch and lose a turn.

If at any time your piece lands on the game space occupied by your opponent, your opponent must go back to his starting point and surrender a Scoring Stick to you.

Whenever you successfully cross the blue Creek Bed at the bottom of the board and pass your original starting point, you receive a Scoring Stick from your opponent.

So, you gain a Scoring Stick for every successful lap around the board and for landing on the same game space as the opponent, and you lose a Scoring Stick for falling into the Creek Bed.

The game ends when one Player holds all of the Scoring Sticks.

This is a game of pure chance, with your fate determined entirely by the dice rolls.

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