Mongolian Bone Games

Bone Games

Bone Games, also known as Shagai, are games played with the astragalus (Talus) bone of a sheep or goat.  The bones themselves have three main uses: gifts as tokens of friendship, divination (fortune telling), or games.

ankle bones


The bones act like dice and each side has a different meaning: horse, camel, goat or sheep.  It took me a while to figure this out as I thought they were a mix of horse camel, goat, and sheep bones, until my students told me they all come from sheep.

ankle bones

Clockwise from the top

Horse– no ridges

Sheep– I don’t know

Camel- The ridge at the end is like the humps of a camel

Goat- See it kind of forms the horns of a goat



            Horse Race- Played it, but don’t understand it

            Birthing Camels

            Cat’s game- I think the students were playing this one to

            Full Toss

            Open Catch

            Twelve years

            Tossing three Shagai

            The four Shagai

            Four Animals

            Shooting- Outlawed by the communists, but they played it anyway

            Flick- Played it, understand it, but I’m terrible at it


Horse race

Line up all the bones except for one for each player as a playing piece, and four to be used as dice.  The orientation that the bones land in after you roll them determines the number of places you get to move.  I never was able to figure out all of it, but the kiddies were having fun.

bone games 


Gather up all the bones in your hand, and toss them into the circle of players.

bone games


You then have to flick two bones of the same orientation into each other without hitting any other bones.  If you succeed, you get to keep one of the bones, and keep on flicking.  When you make a mistake, it goes to the next player.  This continues until all of the bones are taken.  The player with the most bones wins.  I do actually understand this game and played with the kiddies.  The problem is I am terrible at flicking.

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