Shisima – A Math Game from Kenya

Another version of 3 in a row game - Shisima

As a parent raising kids in this digital world, I am always looking for ways to incorporate more face-to-face interactions with my boys. We as a family, make it a point to spend atleast 10 – 15 minutes a day playing together, it can be either playing basketball together, a board game or experimenting and  building something together with Legos.


In one such search for a board game , I came across  a book Math Games and Activities From Around the World by Claudia Zaslavsky in our local library.  As most of us know, there is a popular “Tic Tac Toe” game based on “Three in a row” concept but did you know, there are lot of variations of “Three in a row” concept played around the World. This book features most of these kind of games which are played in different countries and also give a little glimpse to that countries culture. I would highly recommend this book.

The game I am sharing today is a two player abstract strategy game played by the Triiki people of Kenya, called Shisima . This game is similar to Tic- Tac-Toe where you have to place three counters in a row. Shisima means “Source of Water” in Kenyan. The counters are called imbalavali meaning “water insects” . The game was inspired by watching imbalavali quickly crawling towards the shisima making it hard to keep track of them. Likewise, the Shisima players move their counters so quickly on the game board that it is hard to keep track of them.

Generally, kids in Kenya would draw the Shisima game board on the dirt and use twigs and rocks as imbalavali . To play the game you can either download the game board or draw an octagon on a piece of paper with 4 lines  connecting each set of  opposite points intersecting in the middle.

Download Shisima Game Board

Game Board : Draw the game board on a piece of paper or cardboard to represent Shisima.

Counters : Each player has 3 counters of different colors/ design to represent the imbalavali.

Number of Players : 2

Game Rules

  • Opening Position
    • Place the counters on three consecutive points of octagon, across from each other.
  • Objective of the Game
    • To get three counters of the same kind placed in a row, with one counter on the Shisima.
  • Moves
    • Each piece can move one space at a time.
    • Jumping over a counter is not allowed.
    • Player take turns moving their counters one space along the line to the next empty point.
    • A player may move into the center, the shisima at any time.
  • Winner
    • The first player to get all the three counters in a row going through a shisima is the winner.

We have loved playing this game, especially my older one. He enjoys thinking of strategies so that he remain undefeated. It is such a fun and quick game. I hope you would give it a try !

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