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Mongolian Anklebone Games - Shagai

Shagai (anklebone) refers to the astragalus of the ankle of a sheep or goat. The bones are collected and used for traditional games and fortune-telling throughout Central Asia, and games involving the ankle bones may also be referred to by the name of the bones. They may be painted in bright colours. Such bones have been used throughout history, and are thought to be the first forms of dice.

Shagai has four sides and named Camel, Horse, Sheep and Goat.


Shagai is used in fortunetelling and four of them rolled on the ground. With each combination representing fortune or misfortune in future.


Large variety of games are played using shagai, such as “Horse Race”, “Catch Ankle Bones”, “Flick Anklebones”, “Set Four Difficult”, “Wrestling”, “Calculation”, “Guessing”, “Cat Taking”, “Vow”, “Nine Wisdoms”, “Birth of Camel” and “Multicoloured Turtle” etc.

Horse Race

This is one of the most common game played with shagai. Can be played by two or more people. To play Horse Race, some anklebones should be placed in a row, making a line and each player assigns one anklebone in horse side as race horse. Players toss 4 shagais on the ground and make their horse move forward according to the number of ankbones landed on their horse side. Winner will be the first to reach the last anklebone on the race track.

Catch Shagai

Two or more people can play this game but, number of players will be established by the number of shagai. More the number of shagai, more the number of players can be. The eldest or honorary person will start the game. Rule of this game is simple. Player will throw an item in the air and while the item is in the air they will try to collect shagai scattered on the floor, as much as possible, with one hand and try to catch the item with the other hand. If they can’t catch the item before it hits the floor they will lose all of the shagai they collected and scatter it back on the floor. Winner will be the player who has the most shagai when the there are no shagai left on the floor. You can add more rules to the game to make it more fun competitive, such as can’t catch the item with the hand you have thrown the item or can’t collect shagai with the hand you have thrown the item with etc.

Shagai Shooting

Shagai shooting is part of the Naadam. This shooting game consists of khashlaga (left edge-walled flattish shooting board made of Chinese pine) and sum (trapezium shaped counter made of antler). And targets made of the sawed prongs of antler.The targets are arranged in a row and double-laid in front of the crease-line. The middle of the double-laid three targets is called “dombo”. There are single-laid three pieces from the middle targets on the right and left sides. They are called “gichir”. There are seven targets to be taken off if the shooter hits the target. They are called “Gazriin khasaa”.

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