Parcheesi is a traditional game from India. Played on a special board by four people, it is a skilled game not unlike backgammon. Also known as Pachisi (from the Indian word for twenty-five, pacis, which is the highest score that can be rolled with the dice), it consists of 16 playing pieces (four each, red, blue, green, and yellow), a cross-shaped track or playing board, and standard 6-sided dice (originally cowrie shells). The goal is to move all of your pieces counterclockwise around the track to the “home” in the center of the board. Play is complicated by the fact that if a player lands a piece on a space currently occupied by another player’s pawn, the original occupant is sent back to hir starting point. To avoid having pieces sent back, a player attempts to stay on the “safe spaces” that occur every 5 to 7 spaces on the board, or to keep two same-color pawns together on one space.
Once players have all four pawns on the board, if doubles are rolled on the dice, both the top and bottom numbers can be used. The value of the roll can be split between two pawns, as long as the pawns move the total number of spaces indicated by the dice. Three rolls of doubles in a row by one player results in a pawn being sent back to the start.
Original Pachisi boards were often made of felt or other fabric so that they could be easily folded and stored. In more affluent families, the board might be made of velvet, embroidered with gold threads. Life-sized playing boards for Pachisi and the related game Chaupar have been found at archeological sites at Agra and Allahabad; sixteen slave girls dressed in the traditional four colors would have acted as playing pieces on the inlaid marble squares in the palace courtyard, for the amusement of the royals.
Parcheesi was first copyrighted in the United States sometime in the mid 1800’s by James Hamilton, who sold the copyright to the game company Selchow and Righter, which was eventually bought by Hasbro, Inc. Pachisi—The Game of India was produced by the Milton Bradley Company in the U.S. in the 1930’s.
Versions of Pachisi have been published in Europe under the name Ludo. Other spin-offs on the same theme include Parker Brothers’ Sorry! and the Milton Bradley pop-o-matic favorite, Trouble.