Parcheesi Game: History, Rules, and Strategy
Fun and Learning with Parcheesi
If you are looking for a fun game to play with your children that will also help their counting and addition skills then I recommend you discover (or rediscover) Parcheesi.
Roll your dice and be the first to race your pieces home. Set up blockades, avoid opponent blockades, and hope your opponents don't send you all the way back to the beginning. Luck and strategy both play major roles in this classic family game.
The game board pictured above is the popular version from Selchow & Righter Co., 1934. This is the game I remember playing with my family growing up.
What is Parcheesi?
Parcheesi is a classic board game following the tried-and-true cross and circle race design. (See below for more notes on game history.)
Two to Four players take turns rolling two dice and move their four pieces counter-clockwise around the game board.
The first player to move all four of their pieces (or pawns) around the game board and up their home path to the center home space wins the game.
The rules are not overly complicated but it's best to have a copy nearby when first learning the game as there are several bonus and penalty moves that one quickly learns without too much trouble. (For how to play please look below for the official rules.)
A typical game lasts from 25 - 45 minutes.
Fun for the whole family, it is an excellent game for children as it doesn't take too long to play and will help them with their counting and addition skills.
The History of Parcheesi -- Part One
It All Starts in India with Pachisi
The game of Pachisi (pictured at right) dates back to the 4th century A.D. in India. It is often called the national game of India. Instead of dice, players throw six to seven cowrie shells. The name, Pachisi, comes from the highest number one can throw, twenty-five, or pachis in Hindi.
In the 16th century the Indian Emperor Akbar I from the Mogul Empire would have women stand in as playing pieces and have them move about huge in-laid marble courtyard boards.
Although the rules are different, it is the ancestor of the game we call Parcheesi.
(Parcheesi is known as a cross and circle game, the key reason being that the pieces circle around a board divided into four sections divided by a cross. Because in Parcheesi the circle is collapsed inward, the circle is not readily apparent. This form of cross and circle game is often called cruciform.)
Early Parcheesi Board
History of Parcheesi -- Part Two
A Past Clouded in Mystery
How Pachisi came to America from India is unclear and stories are conflicting. The earliest appearance of home-made games dates back to the 1850s. A self-publicist by the name of Sam Loyd is credited as inventing Parcheesi in one story but the account is questionable.
The first clear claim is a copyright granted to John Hamilton of the Hudson River Valley in 1867. Originally called Patcheesi, the name was changed to Parcheesi a year or so later. Hamilton sold the rights to the game to Albert Swift, a New York fancy-goods manufacturer, in 1868 (1867 according to one source). Swift, in turn, sold the rights to E.G. Selchow & Co., a New York City game manufacturer.
First published in 1870, Parcheesi was trademarked and copyrighted again in 1874 after the merger with John Righter. The new company became Selchow and Righter Co.
For years now, the North American Rights have been held by Hasbro, Inc.
Parcheesi: More than a Classic Board Game.
It'll Help Your Kids Learn to Count and Add
Growing up playing Parcheesi with my family I was taught there was more to the game than just rolling dice and moving game pieces around the board. Sure there was good luck and maddeningly bad luck. But there was also strategy.
Which players to move. Where to set up a blockade. Which blockade to breakup first.
But it wasn't until I had children of my own that my mother revealed yet another side to the game.
"It helped you to learn to count and add," she told me.
Many kid's games have spaces spread out in no particular manner. A child has to count every space. It's just simple counting.
Not Parcheesi. Sure you can just count each space as you move your pieces around the board.
But there's an easier way.
You can add.. You see, the "safe spaces" are spread out at 5 and 7 spaces around the board. As they are distinctly colored they naturally encourage moving the pieces visually in jumps of 5 and 7. Add in two dice and you child will eventually "see" that 5 + 3 = 8 as they jump 5 spaces and then count 3 more.
Not all Parcheesi Sets Are Created Equal
The Problem With All-In-One Game Sets
Christmas Season 2009 we looked in our local Target, Walmart, and ToyRUs for a Parcheesi Game.
We couldn't find one!
It wasn't that they were sold out. It was that the stores just didn't carry them.
So we bought one of those twelve-games-in-one game sets. Mistake.
First, the board was a miniature version of the real game board and not nearly as nice.
Second, the pieces and dice were tiny compared to the real game pieces and dice.
Third, the pieces were all so dark in color that they all appeared to be almost the same color.
One of the reasons we had bought a Parcheesi set was so that my children could play with their grandparents. My mom had great difficulty telling one color piece from another!
Finally, the box that held all the games started coming apart. Within weeks!
All in all, it was not how I remembered the game.
Official Parcheesi Rules -- How to Play Parcheesi
Sounds Complicated But It's Not
I've heard people complain that Parcheesi rules are too complicated for adults, let alone kids.
Sure, it's tougher than Chutes and Ladders but if your kids have learned how to play that game and count then Parcheesi will not be that hard to pick up and will even help them learn to add and subtract.
When first learning I recommend having the game instructions handy as there are several penalty and bonus moves. I imagine this is what some people say is complicated about the game but, trust me, they become second nature in no time.
Rules of play
Adapted From: Wikipedia article of 14 May 2010. The Wikipedia
article included below is licensed under the GNU
Free Documentation License (GFLD).
Parcheesi is usually played with two dice and the goal of the game is to move each of one's pieces home to the center space. The most popular Parcheesi boards in America have 72 spaces around the board, twelve of which are darkened safe spaces where a piece cannot be captured.
Each player selects four pieces of the same color and places them in their "nest," or starting area. The game board should be positioned so that each player's nest is to their right. Pieces enter play onto the darkened space to the left of their nest and continue counter-clockwise around the board to the home path directly in front of the player.
Each player rolls a die; the highest roller goes first, and subsequent play continues to the left. On each turn, players throw both dice and use the values shown to move their pieces around the board. If an amount on one or both of the dice cannot be moved, that amount is forfeited.
Any time a player rolls, he must use as much of the dice showing as possible. (i.e. If a player rolls 4 and 5 and could move either 4 or 5, but not both, then he must move 5.)
Five has a special value in entering pieces out of the nest from where they begin the game. A player may enter a piece only by throwing a five or a total sum of five on the dice. Each time a five is tossed, the player must start another piece, if viable.
Any piece that is not on a safe space or a part of a blockade can be captured by an opposing pawn.
(1) The captured piece is sent back to its nest.
(2) The player is awarded 20 bonus spaces for capturing the opposing piece. The 20 spaces may not be divided between pieces and must be moved, if possible.
Team Rules: If opposing team has two pawns on player's exit area, the player can not exit.
When two pieces occupy the same space, they prevent any pieces behind the two from advancing past the blockade. This includes blocking pieces from leaving their nest. Two pieces that form a blockade may not be moved forward together to form a new blockade on the same roll.
No more than two pawns can occupy any one space. Two pawns of different colors never occupy the same space except at the moment one piece captures another.
(Also known as Safety Spaces)
The dark spaces are safe spaces. A piece may not be captured as long as it sits on one of these spaces.
The only exception is if a piece sits on the safe space where another player enters the board from his nest. Those spaces are safe from all other players, but the piece can be taken if the player whose nest it is has a piece in his nest and rolls a 5 (as long as it isn't a blockade). Example: You have one pawn sitting on green's entry space just outside green's nest. No one outside the nest can capture your piece, however, if green has any pawns inside the nest and rolls a five, a green pawn would exit the nest, capture your piece and gain a 20 space capture bonus.
Note that two pawns of different colors can never both share a safe space. You can pass a single pawn on a safe space but you can not land on it, even temporarily, as part of your turn.
Two pieces that form a blockade are also safe.
When a doublet (doubles) is tossed, the player gains another roll of the dice.
If all that player's pieces are outside the nest, the values on reverse side of dice are also used. For example, a player who rolls 6-6 can also move 1-1 in any combination. Therefore, when a doublet is tossed, the player has a total of fourteen spaces to move one or more pawns.
When all pieces are outside the nest, if a player rolls doubles and cannot move all fourteen spaces, the player cannot move any spaces. The player still gets to roll again.
The third consecutive doublet rolled in one turn is a penalty, and pieces are not moved the number of spaces shown on dice. The player must move their piece closest to home back to their nest. Their turn ends.
A player cannot split doubles in order to enter home. This means that a player can only enter home by rolling doubles if he is exactly 14 spaces from home.
The center home space can only be entered by exact throw of the die or dice. Home counts as a space.
Each player has his own home path and may not enter another's. So, when a piece is on its home path, it can no longer be captured.
When a piece enters the center space by exact count, that player is awarded ten movement points that may be moved with any one piece still in play at the end of their turn. If the bonus movement amount cannot be used, it is forfeit.
Winning the game
The first player to get all four pieces home wins, at which point the winner must yell "PARCHEESI!"
And that's how to play Parcheesi!
Where to find a Parcheesi Board Game Set
The Royal Edition
For years it's been hard to buy a Parcheesi Set for a reasonable price, if at all. You'd have to search for a used game at a garage sale or Ebay. Luckily, Winning Moves has recreated the game I played with my family growing up. Same colorful board, playing pieces, and dice, complete with dice cups.
The Royal Edition Parcheesi Board Game (pictured above) is a faithful recreation of the game that has been an American classic since the 1860s.
It used to be a no-brainer to just order the Royal Edition Parcheesi Board Game from Amazon. As late as a few years ago Amazon sold it for about $14.59 with free shipping if you had Amazon Prime.
But, as I write this on April 29th, 2020, I have to think there's been a run on Parcheesi games at Amazon as the Royal Edition Parcheesi Board Game is only being sold through 3rd party sellers for about $25 once you add in shipping.
Not break the bank but quite an increase in only a few years.
So I suggest you look around.
P.S. I'm not sure if Winning Moves has changed how they manufacture their Parcheesi Game but our set from a few years ago sure seems to have wooden pawns.
Parcheesi Strategy--How to Win at Parcheesi
The Best Defense is a Well-Placed Blockade
Before we get into Parcheesi Strategy a few thoughts:
1. It's a game played with dice. So there's a lot of luck involved.
2. If you are playing with your kids, concentrate on teaching them just the rules at first. Strategy comes later. You'll just frustrate them if you pile on too much at first.
Given these thoughts, here are a few tips:
1. Your best strategy is to establish a blockade with your two rear pieces and move your two forward pieces home before breaking the blockade. This can leave your opponents unable to move their pieces forward and effectively deny them their full turns until you finally have to break your blockade. If you establish your blockade on an opponent's nest exit space you will really freeze that opponent out of the game. This is not nice.
(To review, if you have only one piece on an opponent's nest exit space it is on a safe space and cannot be captured except if there are still pieces in that nest and that opponent exits the nest by rolling a five or dice equaling five. If you have two pieces (i.e. a blockade) on an opponent's nest exit space, however, any pieces in that nest are stuck there until you move your blockade.)
2. Use those safe spaces. This is where the addition really comes in for kids. The more they play, the more they will look for those safe spaces. And, as they look for those safe spaces they'll naturally start to use the five and seven space intervals between safe spaces to help figure out possible piece movements that effectively maximize the time their pieces spend on safe pieces.
3. The closer your piece is to home the more important it is to keep it safe. If you can get it onto the home path do so as a few doubles and a couple of penalties can allow even a distant opponent's piece to come up and capture your piece. Once your piece is on your home path it can't be captured. The only way a piece on your home path can go back to the nest is if you throw doubles three times.
4. You will throw doubles three times in a row more often than you think. Once you get a piece on the home path, bring it home.
5. If you can't set up a blockade or land your pieces on safe spaces you have two considerations.
Try to move your pieces in such a way that on the next turn you have a chance to set up a blockade. This means that the pieces stay close to each other. (If an opposing pawn is right behind these pieces, the following piece of advice will probably be more prudent, especially if leaving your two pawns close together leave them both unprotected.)
Try to move your pieces out of harm's way by putting as much distance as possible between your pieces and your opponents pieces. Again, that distance can be closed faster than you might think.
That's the basic strategy of Parcheesi. And remember - it's a game - so have fun.
The following sites are cited as sources for the historical and rules sections of this website. I found them to be very useful and informative.
Pachisi & Ludo - pc games, rules and history by Vegard Krog Petersen
Parcheesi - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Early Parcheesi Boards - Rick Tucker (Rick has removed the photos of early parcheesi boards from his site, ricktucker.com.)
Antique Parcheesi Game Boards -- http://fineestateliquidation.com/antique-painted-p...
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