Oware Strategy and Tactics

As with many other board games, oware is not a game of chance. During the course of a game, the strongest players rely on well-planned strategies and execute well-known tactics with the clear purpose of obtaining the victory. Below we explain the basic strategy of oware and how to easily determine which player has a better chance of winning. Don't let them beat you again!

Foundations of Strategy

Oware's basic strategy consists in moving the game pieces in such a way that favorable positions for the player may be obtained. That is, the player shall try to obtain a distribution of the pieces on the board that makes it possible for him to capture more seeds than the opponent in later moves.

Therefore, it is important to minimize the number of holes that contain less than three seeds in the player's own row, as this will decrease the chances for the opponent to capture their seeds. At the same time, the player would want to maximize this variable in the holes of the opponent, so that the probability of capturing their seeds becomes higher.

Another well-known strategy in the game is to accumulate a large number of seeds in one of the holes belonging to the player. A hole of this kind that contains twelve or more seeds, so that it can be sown completing a full turn around the board, it is called a kroo.

Collecting seeds in such large groups makes it possible for the player to capture a huge number of seeds in a single move (up to fifteen in oware abapa). Allowing the opponent to perform such a capture is usually an unrecoverable strategic mistake.

Board Evaluation

Measuring the advantage of player at a particular point in the game is a difficult task that will depend on the peculiarities of each position. Still, it is possible to estimate the superiority of a player by giving a value to each hole on the oware board. So, if a player has captured five more seeds than his opponent, his advantage is about 10 points.

Similarly, each of the holes on the board also represent an advantage or disadvantage for the player by the number of seeds contained therein. This is an evaluation that can be estimated quite easily with the following table. Keeping in mind that it is only an approximation and that the actual value will depend on the specific position.

Empty One seed Two seeds Kroo

4 points

3 points

3 points

2 points

For each seed the player has captured add 2 points. Add 3 points for each hole in the opponent's row containing one or two seeds; add 4 points for each of the opponent's holes containing no seeds and 2 extra points if the player has accumulated over twelve seeds in any of his own holes. After doing the same calculation from the viewpoint of the opponent, it will be easy to know which of the two players has an obvious advantage.

As can be seen from the table above in oware the value of a kroo is relative. Accumulating more than twelve seeds in a single hole is only really useful if it can be used to capture a huge number of seeds, although since the opponent will certainly try to avoid it at all costs its outcome will often be only a slight strategic advantage.

Some Common Tactics

The game also admits a number of tactics aimed at achieving strategic goals. Amongst the most common we can find the following tactics.

  • Attacking two or more holes of the opponent simultaneously; so that the opponent cannot avoid the subsequent capture of their seeds.
  • Hoarding seeds in the player's own territory while sowing them in the opponent's pits only in small quantities. Thus forcing the opponent to make moves not favorable to his interests.
  • Winning time is an important tactic in oware consisting on forcing the opponent to provide seeds to the player in order to obtain a strategic advantage.
Oware position representation where south has captured 19 seeds and north 23. Playing holes contains the following seeds: 1, 0, 1, 2, 0, 1, 0, 1, 0, 0, 0, 0.

Oware abapa problem
In this position, south —who is to play— can win using a variety tactics.