It’s hard to imagine an Armenian who does not play the game of Nardi. I recall when I was a kid, I saw men of all ages from my neighborhood hanging out in a small “bisetka” (that’s how we call gazebos colloquially) to play Nardi. That was the most common time-pass option. Sure, times have changed and people spend more time online, in front of their screens these days. But even today, you see many people on the streets and backyards in Armenia playing Nardi.
In this blogpost, we will talk about the Armenian Nardi game covering anything from the origin to the rules of playing. If you like the blogpost, don’t forget to ping me on Twitter or Instagram with #ArmeniaTravelTips .
Popularity of Nardi game among Armenians
For an Armenian, playing Nardi is more than fun. It’s part of national identity and also a kind of self-expression. I’m not kidding! We take Nardi very seriously, as part of our culture.
Armenians play Nardi everywhere – at home, in the neighborhood, with friends and fellows when they visit someone, etc. Without exaggeration, it’s a nationwide game. We have gone so far that we take a Nardi board with us when we go out for a picnic.
Armenians also organize Nardi championships all the time. A typical local competition would be between neighbors of an entire block. All enthusiasts can take part. So, if you’re in Armenia and you know the rules, don’t hesitate to join. But be ready for intense emotions! And if you get some insults at the damn luck while playing, don’t be surprised. Learn more about 12 funny Armenian insults to get ready.
We love Nardi so much, we even have a statue dedicated to it near the building of Hrachya Ghaplanyan Drama Theater. It shows, obviously, a man playing Nardi.
Nardi: Is it Armenian?
Nardi is very similar to regular Backgammon. As you might know, Backgammon is one of the oldest games known to humanity alongside Go and Chess. The origin may go back to about 5,000 years. It is believed that it originated in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq).
Ancient cultures like the Sumerians, Assyrians, Akkadians, and Babylonians are associated with Mesopotamia. So, if we believe these nations lived in this area some 5,000 years ago where the first records of Backgammon are reported, we can say that Backgammon is not Armenian.
But if we go even deeper and refer to the exact word “Nardi”, we come across a game called “nard” (Persian: نرد, also narde or nardshir; from Middle Persian: nywʾlthšyl nēw-ardaxšīr) which is believed to be a historical Persian table game that is considered ancestral to Backgammon. So, even though Nardi or Backgammon cannot be considered an Armenian thing, the game is 100% built into our culture.
Armenian Nardi game vs Backgammon
Unlike regular Backgammon, Armenians play Nardi, which has short and long versions. The short version is very similar to Backgammon. In the case of the long version, the checkers are placed on each side of the board. Unlike with the short version, you can’t game out a checker. Hitting a checker is not allowed for the long game.
Regular Backgammon is played with 4 dice with each player having their own pair. The Armenians play with 2 dice only, each player throwing the dice in their turn. It was funny for me to play Nardi with an American guy once. I was picking up his dice every time he rolled them which drove him mad. 🙂
The Backgammon players even have a dice cup to shake the dice! This is a bit off for an Armenian player. They shake the dice in their hands which becomes part of the ritual, a folk art form if you wish. 🙂
How to play the Armenian Nardi game?
The Armenian Nardi game is played by two people. The players roll dice and move checkers to their home board. The trick is to get to the home board and remove the checkers from the board first. A player can begin to remove their checkers from the board only after all of them are on the home board. The first person to remove all checkers from the home board wins the game.
In Armenia, whoever wins the first 5 games, is the winner. Yes – you gotta play 5 games in order to determine the winner. So, the Nardi sessions over here can last till very late at night.
Here is a video on how to play Backgammon. If you know this, playing an Armenian Nardi game will become super easy.
Luck or logic?
Because Nardi is a dice game, it is sometimes viewed as a game of luck. Chance certainly plays a role, sometimes even a big role. I scored two doubles just because of luck playing with my American friend, and he wasn’t twice happy about it.
Having said that, we should also admit that Nardi/Backgammon is a game of strategy to a certain extent. Just like with poker and bridge, the best player will always win in the end. You gotta think about your steps in advance, calculating the moves and the likelihood of landing certain numbers on the dice.
Where to buy Nardi in Armenia?
The first place that comes to my mind is Vernissage. It’s an open-air market in downtown Yerevan where artists sell their artifacts. Quite an interesting place to explore Armenian art. Here you can find an abundance of Nardi boards sold by various artists.
If you prefer shops, check out the Ohanyan shop. It is one of the best shops specializing in Nardi, chess, and other woodwork. You can also shop online. The prices range from USD 110 to USD 500 for the most part. Normally, walnut and apricot wood types are used to make an Armenian Nardi.
The Armenian Nardi game is not just fun. It’s a way of socializing with friends. If you want to piss off an Armenian, win a Nardi game against them! We’re so passionate about it because it’s so ingrained in our culture. By the way, if you want to learn more about our culture, check out my post with facts about Armenian culture and some other Armenian board games. I think you might like them.
If you happen to be in Armenia and play this amazing game with an Armenian fellow, tell me who eventually won the game! I would love to listen to your stories about how it went. Ping me on Twitter or Instagram with #ArmeniaTravelTips.
Featured image credit: Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels (edited)