Row Games: Tapatan
(Achi, Marelle, Tant Fant, Luk tsut k'i)


This row game from the Philippines is often made of wood, but it may also be marked on the floor of a room or on an outside doorstep. It requires six playing pieces - three of a light wood and three of a dark wood.

The intent of the game is to attempt to make a row of three counters of one color, and to block the other player from making a row. A Row can be horizontal, vertical or diagonal. There are eight possible ways to accomplish these patterns.

The game is played on the nine points where the lines meet. Players alternate, one placing a light piece on any point, the second places a dark piece on any unoccupied point. The process is repeated until all six counters have been placed on the board. Then, the first player moves any light piece along a line to the next empty point, but cannot jump over any piece on the board. Player two does the same with a dark piece. The game continues in this manner.

The following is a description of this game in the Philippines in the 19th century:
Stewart Culin, Philippine Games, Published in the American Anthropologist "New Series", 1900, Pages 643-656.


(cat. No. 154190, US National Museum)

This game is played by two persons on a square diagram, divided into eight equal parts. Each player has three men, consisting of pebbles, or of pieces of bark or wood. The dark plays first by placing one of his pebbles in the center of the diagram where the lines intersect, or where one of the cross-lines touches the line of the square. The object of the game is to get three pebbles of the same color on a line in any direction. When all the pebbles are on the board, each player moves in turn. Diagrams for this game are frequently seen marked on the floors and doorsteps of native houses. The board collected by Mr. Webb (shown in figure 69) consists of a tablet of hardwood, 10 inches square, and is accompanied with six round pieces of wood, three white and three dark. Many families, says the collector, have boards and pieces like them; he also states that Tapatanis played by the natives at all times and places when they have money with which to gamble. The game has the advantage of requiring no pparaphernalia that cannot be picked up on the roadside. In southern China an identical game is played under the name of luk tsut ki, "six man chess."

Similar games are played in other countries of the world with certain variations:

In Ghana, the game is called Achi, and each player uses four counters. In France, the game is known as Marelle, and the center point can not be used on either player's first move. In India, the game is called Tant Fant, and the game is started with the three light pieces placed on the top three horizontal points of the board, and the three dark pieces are placed on the bottom three horizontal points.

In China, according to H.J.A. Murray (Board Games Other Than Chess, Oxford University Press, 1952, p. 42), under the name of Luk tsut k'i, the game was played in the time of Confucius under the name yih. A number of Chinese  instruction books and commentaries were written about this game by the 6th century AD, and the game was still played in southern China in the 1950s.

Last update March 30, 2010