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How Parcheesi Works

Strategies and Mathematical Applications for Parcheesi

Rolling dice to determine an outcome seems like the epitome of chance, right? Well, that's true in many ways, but according to Karen Bell, associate professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz, the mathematical principle of probability actually plays a major role in Parcheesi and dice play in general.

In a study she conducted on the use of Parcheesi to teach math, Bell and her students calculated the probability of rolling any given combination of numbers on a pair of six-sided dice during a turn. Rather than just looking at each roll as an unknown, players can use these calculations to anticipate opponents' moves and to plan their own several turns in advance [source: Bell]. Parents and teachers can mimic Bell's lessons to help teach concepts of probability.

Also, the Parcheesi board itself is designed to encourage strategic play. In general, if you land on a space already occupied by an opposing pawn, you bump that pawn back to its home circle. However, each player's home row is safe, as are a few other spots on the board (usually marked by color or by circles within the spaces), including each player's pawn-entry space. While a pawn is on a safe space, it cannot be taken off the board by an opponent -- unless it's on an opponent's pawn-entry space and that opponent moves a pawn onto the board.

The exception to the bumping rule is when two of your own pieces land on the same spot. In this case, the pieces form what's called a blockade, which prohibits pawns from passing. This can allow you to move your other pawns ahead unencumbered -- an effective strategic move in a game that's all about being the first to reach the finish line. However, it's important to remember that no pieces, the blockading player's included, can pass a blockade.

So it's not all just a roll of the dice; Parcheesi is set up so that every move involves important strategic questions. Do I use the combined or individual numbers on the dice? Which pawn do I move? What are my priorities -- safety, blockading or bumping another player?

So where did Parcheesi's intricate rule and strategy sets come from?