What kid hasn't played a million rounds of tic-tac-toe? Well, put down your pencils because we have an old but new-to-you replacement for that classic game. Shisima is a traditional abstract strategy, three-in-a-row game from Kenya that you play with movable tokens instead of pencil and paper. You may have enjoyed other 3-in-a-row games we've shared in the past, like Tapatan and Picaria. Shisima adds a new twist to the world of 3-in-a-row games with its octagonal board.
Best of all, abstract strategy games build the growth mindset skills necessary for future success! To win shisima, players must deploy an effective strategy and display a willingness to problem solve–important skills that will come in handy later when working on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects in school.
Plus, it's a fun boredom buster that anyone can play quickly to fill in those moments when they think, "there is nothing to do!"
MORE: 8 Variations on Tic-Tac-Toe
How To Play Shisima
It is super easy to learn how to play shisima!
Shisima is played by the Tiriki people in Kenya. “Shisima” means body of water, which is represented by the center of the octagon. The game board is an octagon bisected by 4 lines. The game tokens are called “imbalavalia,” which means water bugs. The water bugs race along the board towards the water. Cute, right?
What you need:
- Game board. Make your own, or print out ours (fill out the form below the instructions to have it delivered to you via email)
- 3 counters for each player. Use different colored buttons, game pieces from another game, or coins.
- 2 enthusiastic players
Be the first player to move your tokens into a three-in-a-row arrangement with one token in the shisima.
Watch the how-to video or read the instructions, below!
- Set Up
Place game tokens in their starting positions. Player One's tokens are placed on three adjacent spaces and Player Two's tokens are placed on the three adjacent spaces opposite. The shisima is left vacant.
- Decide who goes first.
Roll a die, thumb wrestle, play rock-paper-scissors, draw straws, however you choose–just pick the first player already.
- Begin the battle
Players take turns moving counters one at a time, one space at a time, to an empty space.
You may only move along a line.
Placing a counter in the center is allowed.
Jumping over any counter is not allowed.
- End the game
The first player to get three-in-a-row (in a straight line) with a counter in the shisima wins the game.
Note: If players repeat the same set of moves three times in a row, the game ends in a tie.
How Does Shisima Make You Smart?
I mentioned that shisima is great for building a growth mindset attitude. Asking your kids questions about how best to play will capitalize on this and make them smarter!
Ask your kids the following questions:
- Is it advantageous to go first?
- Is the best strategy to put your token in the middle as soon as possible? Why or why not?
- If another player has a token in the middle, how can you force them to move it out?
- How can you avoid a tie?
- What important strategies did you learn after playing a few rounds?
Their answers to some of these questions may change the more they play the game!
More traditional games from Africa:
- Dara, abstract strategy games from Nigeria
- Queah, fun thinking game from Liberia
- Tsoro Yematatu: 3-in-a-Row Game from Zimbabwe
Marcie Booth says
Hi Erica. I love your games and website. I'd like to invite you to join our community Twice Exceptional/ 2E Network International on fb and share your posts with our 2E parents and individuals. We have a wonderful Network of professionals. We have membership in 41 states and over 90 countries so far. I hope you'll join us. I'll try to send you a link. Marcie Booth
Jeanette Neese says
I saw this on your sight, only it was in a triangle shape. I would love to have you email me any of these that you have. I work at New Hope AScademy and we teach children who learn differently. these games would be a great addition to the life learning games we play.
brayden brown says
so my goofy ahh uncle tried 1 of the games he liked it and now hes addicted he wont stop playing please get him some help
I cannot locate the Shisima board template : (
The form to get the board is just after the text, "Their answers to some of these questions may change the more they play the game!" and before the text, "More traditional games from Africa:" You'll see the form titled "Want the Printable Game Instructions and Game Board? Enter your email and you will get the printable board in your email inbox.