The Rules of Mehen

The Game of the Snake

Mehen or the Game of the Snake was a game played by the ancient Egyptians until around 1000BC.   It is not known how the game was played and indeed most than most ancient games, theories for game play have varied quite considerably.

A game called 'The Hyena Game' was found being played on a Mehen-type board in the Sudan in 1921. This is a game for several players. Each player tries to get their 'mother' piece to the centre and back whereupon their 'hyena' piece is released. The Hyena piece then also travels to the centre and back but has the additional perk of being able to terrorise and eat the other player's mothers en-route. In lieu of few clues as to how Mehen was played, most modern reconstructions of the game have used the rules of the Hyena Game as their basis.

Masters Traditional Games compromised by producing 2 rules - one based on the Hyena Game which is definitely a valid game in its own right and then secondly a reconstruction designed to be as accurate as possible for the Ancient Egyptian game based on the best theories proposed up to 2009.


Equipment

A Mehen board was in the form of a coiled snake partitioned into dozens of playing squares along the length of the snake's body. The head of the snake was often carved into the board and lay in the centre while at the outer perimeter of the playing area tail was sometimes drawn from the final playing square tapering to complete the board. The number of partitions or playing squares varied enormously but was typically

A typical Mehen board came with 3 pieces in the shape of a lion, 3 pieces in the shape of a lion and 6 sets of differently coloured marbles - 6 of each colour. While the game is accepted as a race game, the accompanying accessories lie at the heart of controversy surrounding gameplay. Some archeologists believe that the marbles and the lions were playing pieces and the game was therefore for up to six players - these theories tend to use the Hyena Game as a model for game-play although some of the inconsistencies are troubling. A more recent viable theory proposes that the marbles were used as dice and that the lions alone were the playing pieces - this would make it more likely that the game was for 2 players.

 

The Hyena Game

The board should be a coiled snake with 60 - 100 playing squares. Irving Finkel's rules published in 1996 has a board with 88 playing squares.

Each player has 1 small piece representing a 'mother' and 1 larger piece representing a hyena.

The Play

Three throwing sticks are used for dice (although any binary dice will do including 3 coins). The dice score as follows:

Throwing Sticks If 3 coins are used Mother moves Hyena Moves
1 flat, 2 rounded 1 head 1 1
2 flat, 1 rounded 2 heads 2 4
3 flat 3 heads 4 8
3 rounded 0 heads 6 12

 

Mehen

The following rules are based upon the ideas of Edgar B. Pusch in regard of marble dice. In fact, Pusch believed that players dropped the marbles from one hand to the other while their opponent looked on rather than just hiding them in their fist but we have here opted for a more straightforward idea. The remaining rules are just designed to make the game fun with a small element of skill and a larger element of luck.

The board should be a coiled snake with 60 - 100 playing squares. 88 is a good number. Each player has 3 lion pieces and 6 marbles.

 

Marble Dice

To decide how many to squares to move, a player secretly puts 0 - 6 marbles in his hand and then asks the other player to guess how many there are. The number of squares to move is the difference between the opponent's guess and the real number. For instance, if there are 0 marbles and the opponent guesses 5, the player moves 5. If there are 5 marbles and the opponent guesses 3, the player moves 2. If the opponent guesses the correct number, then the player is prevented from moving at all.

It is possible to play the game with three throwing sticks (or any other binary dice) instead of marble dice. But it does not give the same flavour of the game.

 

Game Play

  • Two lions are not permitted to be on the same square at once.
  • If no move is permissible with the marble dice score, then the turn is passed
  • When one or six is scored, a player has three options:
    • placing a new lion on the first square of the board (the tail)
    • converting a worshipful lion in the middle of the board board to being a divine lion
    • moving a lion already on the board.

 

Worshipful Lions

To begin with, lions are aiming to reach head of the snake where they will gain divine power from the God Mehen.

  • To start a lion, a score of one or six is required.
  • While running to the middle of the boad, if a lion lands on an opponent's lion, then the two swap places - the opponent's lion is returned to the square of the attacking lion.
  • If a lion lands on a lion owned by the same player, then he jumps off its back and goes on a further number of squares of the same amount.
  • A lion must score exactly the right amount to land on the head of the snake / middle of the board.

 

Divine Lions

Once a Lion arrives at the centre, it worships Mehen in order to become a divine lion with great powers.

  • To finish worshiping and become a divine lion, a score of one or six must be scored. To convert a lion to being divine simply turn it round to face outwards. Divine lions always face outwards even if they move backwards towards the middle of the coil.
  • Divine lions can go in either direction but cannot land on a friendly lion.
  • If a divine lion lands on an opponent's lion, they destroy it and it is removed from the game.

 

Winning the Game

The winner is the player whose lions dispose of all three of the opponent's lions.

 

 


These rules are provided by Masters Traditional Games, an Internet shop selling quality traditional games, pub games and unusual games. For information on copying and copyright, see our disclaimer.

Our rules are comprehensive instructions for friendly play. If in doubt, always abide by locally-played or house rules.

Copyright Masters Games 2012. All rights reserved.

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