In Connecting Math to Our Lives and Communities, we often play games. Games can help children develop mathematical reasoning through logic and strategy involved in the games. One of our favourite games is the traditional Mi’kmaw game of waltes, which is being played in the photo. Waltes is a game of chance played with a bowl, 6 dice, 51 sticks, 3 Old Lady sticks and 1 Old Man stick. Through rounds of play, you try to gather the sticks, and win them from your opponent. The game is played on soft surface (blanket, jacket, etc.) to protect bowl and players’ fingers. The dice pieces are made from bone. Each player slams bowl onto blanket – points awarded only when 5 or 6 are face up or face down. At home, you can ask a parent or grandparent to teach you to play waltes if they know how. Learn ore about waltes by exploring the links below:

The story of Waltes on Atlantic Canada’s First Nation Helpdesk.

Aaron Prosper shares stories regarding the impact of colonization on the game he explored as a Show Me Your Math project in his high school days. He also discusses the game of wapnaqn described below.

Check out this news story with a link to an online version of Waltes.

If you don’t have a waltes game at home, you might use a paper plate with some 2-sided counters and straws or popsicle sticks to make an at-home or classroom version.


Wapnaqn in Mi’kmaq means playing all night. Wapanaqn is an old game that was played by the men in Mi’kmaq communities. The men would play the game until dawn and the winner would be announced at dawn. Wapnaqn is a Mi’kmaq traditional dice game that has been played for many years. Wapnaqn was known to be a gambling game. The men would play because they were the community members who had the most wealth.  The game is known to be a men’s game and waltes was known to be a women’s game

Meaning of the Dice (turtle eggs). Back in the days of wapnaqn, walruses would come to the waters of Unama’ki (Cape Breton) and that is why the dice are made out of walrus tusk. The game is made up of 8 dice in and two sticks. There are also counting sticks to keep score, but the players would bring their own sticks to keep count. They would need a total of 17 counting sticks (kitimaqn), and one straight stick (peka’ql) which was worth 5 points, similar to the counting sticks to Waltes. There is also a crooked stick that was used in the game and worth the highest points; this was also brought y each player. The dice are an important part of the game because they were the same dice that would travel to play the game throughout many communities. When an individual won the game, he would be the holder of the dice and the two sticks. Many of the Mi’kmaq terrorities would play against each other. We have been told that during the 1940’s and 1950’s the game was no longer played because the original dice were lost. Stories of the game tell us that the dice were lost between Wagmatcook and Pictou Landing. However, it is also the case that the Government of Canada, under the Indian Act, made such cultural activities illegal until the 1960’s so there may be more to this story. A copy of this game has been recently located in the Smithsonian museum in Washington, DC.

Why do you think the walruses no longer come to Unama’ki? Do some research to learn more about walruses, where they live, what they eat, and what their habitat is like. Are they an endangered species? How many Atlantic walruses are there? How big are they? How much do they eat?

More Games

We also like to learn about games from various cultural traditions, below are some games that have their roots in different African countries.

Shisima Game 

  • This game is from Kenya, a country in East Africa.  “Shisima” means “body of water”, because in the center of the board game is the “water”, and the game pieces are called “impalavali” which means “water bugs”.  Water bugs move very quickly, and it’s hard to keep track of where they are.  Likewise, shisima players move their pieces so quickly it’s hard to keep up! [In Swahili the game is known as Kisima which translates to “water well”] 
  • Cut up your postcard to create a postcard or print the one below.
  • Each player has 3 game pieces (counters or cubes) 
  • Game pieces are set on 3 consecutive points of the octagon, across from each other. 

  • Players take turns moving their game pieces one space.  A move must be to an adjacent corner or the center (shisima).  Jumping pieces is not allowed, and there cannot be two pieces on the same space. 
  • To win, the player must get their 3 pieces in a row, including one piece on the shisima (pond in the center) 


Play on Jamboard here.

Pumpkin Patch

Game for 2 players; Origin: Somali people of Africa

Materials: 5×5 grid for game board, A set of 12 counters each

  • Set the counters out as shown above:
  • Players take turns moving one of their counters at a time
    • Can move one square up, down, left or right.
  • Capture the other player’s counter by jumping over it and landing in an empty space. This is called “picking the pumpkin”.
  • The first player to pick all the other player’s pumpkins wins. If the game becomes blocked, the player with the most pumpkins left wins.


Game for 2 players; Origin: Egypt

Materials: 5×5 grid for game board, 12 distinctive ‘stones’ each.

  • Take turns placing two stones at a time on any two vacant squares, except for the central square which is left empty to begin with.
  • When all 24 stones have been placed the player placing the last couple in position begins the second stage.
  • A stone can move at right angles (but not diagonally) into any adjacent empty square including the centre one.
  • A stone is captured and removed from the board when an enemy stone is moved alongside trapping it by two enemy stones, one on each side. In the diagram, when the red stone is moved as shown, it captures all three blue stones simultaneously.
  • After making a capture a player can continue to move the same stone as long as it makes further captures.
  • Safe ground: a player can safely move a stone between two enemy stones and a stone on the central square cannot be captured.
  • When a player cannot move the opponent must make an entry by taking an extra turn.
  • The winner: a player wins outright if he can capture all the enemy stones.
  • Each player may make a barrier behind which there are only his own pieces and these can be moved without fear of attack. The initial placing of the stones is important in planning such a barrier or in preventing the other player from making one. If a barrier is set up, then the player with most stones on the board wins. If they have the same number of stones on the board the game is drawn.


  • The board may be increased to 7 x 7 or 9 x 9, each of you then has twenty-four or forty pieces.


Here is a great link to learn about the game of dara which also is a grid style game. you can play it on jamboard here.


Origin: Modern day Ghana

This game is a variation of the popular Mankala family of games.  Mankala games are based on the idea of sowing seeds in hollows scooped out of the ground or carved in a wooden board.

Play online at:


  • Place the dominoes face-down on the table and mix them up
  • Each player selects 7 dominoes, keeping them in front of you but hidden from your opponents.
  • The player with the highest double (six-six) places that double on the table to start the game. After the first round, the person who won the previous round starts first.
  • The next player to the left must then place a matching domino next to the first domino. For example, if the first player started the game with the double six, the next player must play a domino that has a six on it. Doubles are placed perpendicular to other dominoes when being played.
  • The first double played is called the “spinner”. The spinner may be played off of either end as well as its regular sides. The spinner is the only place where it can be played off of 4 ways.
  • If the player doesn’t have a domino of matching value, they must pick a domino from the “boneyard”. They keep picking up dominoes from the “boneyard” until they get a playable domino. If there is no playable domino then the player must “knock” or pass their turn onto the next player.

Points may be awarded during the play of the hand by making the exposed ends of the chain total to a multiple of five.

The winner at the end of each hand also scores points for all the remaining unplayed dominoes in the other player’s hands added and rounded to the nearest multiple of five.

The first player to reach 150 points wins.

You can play a similar game online at