Card and tile games in Somalia

Arba'a Turub is a plain trick game for four players in partnerships, using a 144 card pack, made of the cards A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6 from four standard international pattern 52-card decks.

Four Somali card games were found by Thierry Depaulis in the book British Somalilandby Ralph Evelyn Drake-Brockman (London, 1912). These are Turup, Rumpus, Turup frengi and Shaniss. M. Abasheikh confirms that Shaanis is still played in Somalia, especially by women and children. We are not sure whether the other games ares still played there.

  • According to this book, Turup is a four-player partnership trick-taking game with a 36-card pack. Evidently, it is a single deck version of Arba'a Turub. The dealer starts by dealing 3 cards to each player (anticlockwise). The first player has then to declare trumps. Then the dealer resumes dealing in two batches of 3, so that each player has 9 cards. "The object of the game is to get five tricks; the partners who succeed in doing this win the game." If a team think they can win 9 tricks, "thus making a grand slam, called 'kort' by the Somalis", they can declare it.
  • Turup frengi ("European/White game") is, according Drake-Brockman, "practically the same as Bezique, and must have been copied from it".
  • Shaniss [modern spelling 'shaanis'] is a simple fishing game for two players (4 cards to each player, 4 on the table) The object is to reach 100 points, but Drake-Brockman does not say how.

Depaulis points out that Somali playing-card vocabulary seems to be derived from Hindi rather than Arabic. For example there are the words 'raani' for queen, and 'qulaan' for jack (cf Hindi 'ghulaam'); this might be the derivation of 'turup' (turub) as well.

M. Abasheikh reports that a rummy game Scala is currently played in Somalia, in which 14 cards are deal to each player. This is apparently a variant of the Italian game Scala Quaranta.

M. Abasheikh also mentions a gamling card game called Naqash, but we have no details of how it is played.

The Somali Domino Federation (Xiriirka Dubnadda Soomaaliyeed) in Mogadishu has sent me some information about the domino games played there.

Usually there are four players in two fixed partnerships, and a form of Block Dominoes is played, using a 6-6 set with all the dominoes dealt at the start - 7 to each player. The winners are the team of the player who first plays all his dominoes, or if the game becomes blocked, the team of the player whose remaining domino(es) have the lowest total spot value. The winning team score the total spot value of all unplayed dominoes, including those belonging to the winner's partner, and those belonging to the winner himself if the game was blocked.

The game is played to an agreed target score: the first team to reach that score wins the game.

Sometimes two players will play Draw Dominoes. Seven tiles are dealt to each player and a player who is unable to play draws from the boneyard of 14 undealt tiles until able to play or until they are exhausted. The game then continues until one player plays all his dominoes or the game is blocked. The winner scores the total of all unplayed dominoes as in the 4-player game.

There is also a game known as Russian Dominoes for 2, 3 or 4 players. In this game the score does not depend on the value of the unplayed dominoes; the object is simply to win as many games as possible. In case of a tie for number of wins, the player or team who won the latest game of the series is the overall winner. This game seems to be similar to Sebastopol or maybe to Block Dominoes with a Spinner in that players can continue the layout in all four directions from the first double played (or possibly from all doubles?) As usual the winner is the player who first plays out all his dominoes or the player who has the least number of spots on his unplayed dominoes when the game become blocked. There is the possibility of playing a tile face down in some circumstances. I am trying to obtain more information about this rule.