An Ancient Native American Game

Handgame is also referred to as the stickgame and is an ancient Native American guessing type of game. Handgame is widely played amongst Native American tribes and has been classified as a Class 1 Game by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act making it regulated within individual tribes.

The game has been played for fun, for various prizes and for money. Tournaments are held for the tribes to compete in Handgame with the Battle of Nations Stick Game Tournament having been the largest tournament to date where more than 170 tribes competed.

A Brief History of Handgame

Handgame is said to predate any recorded history. It is believed and told through oral tradition that the game was originally played by people after learning it from the animals. Written documentation states that the game had been played for land and female companionship and later it was played for cattle and horses.

Today the game is played as a popular pastime at various gatherings; celebrations and powwows. The popularity of the game also led to the various tournaments held. Over the years various versions of the game were modified to include certain rules like the use of a kick stick.

Introduction to the Rules of the Game

Handgame or Stickgame has been referred to as a simple game of intuition, but the intensity of the game can increase tremendously. The traditional game consists of hand drums or poles used for the rhythm or beat of the music, rattles to distract opposing teams, counting sticks and both marked and unmarked bones or plastic pieces.

Originally only men played the game while the women sang and cheered from the side-lines but today women take part and play the roles of hiders and guessers. The men however have always been the ones to play the drums.

How to Play the Handgame

Handgame begins with two teams of typically five or players each sitting in a row facing each other. Each team has a leader who holds the bones and each has a chance to guess the unmarked bone in the others hand. The winner will be the team to receive the kick stick. The kick stick is hidden from the other sticks, which are two sets of five sticks called the live sticks. The winner offers the choice of sticks to the opponent and the two teams then have a set each.

The aim is to prevent the other team from correctly guessing the bones, which result in them losing all of their sticks. The winning team will be the team holding all of the sticks. Guessing and hiding the bones will continue until all of the live sticks have been won from one team. If that team has the kick stick they may use it as a final play. The eventual winner will have all of the live sticks and the kick stick.

The songs and beats of drums, among other things, are used to distract the opposing team as they try and guess in which hands the marked and unmarked bones are.