How to Play Dao

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Dao is perhaps the best game that most people don't already know about, and learning about Dao will greatly enhance your Christmas Game.

Dao is an abstract strategy game that is as simple as tic-tac-toe, yet as intricate as chess.

Dao has everything we look for in a game: there are just a few rules, it's easy to learn, it can be played with simple materials, it's engaging for both younger and older players, and you can play it over and over without getting bored.

The game board is a simple 4x4 grid.  Each player has four pieces.

The starting positions are crossing diagonal lines:

Players take turns moving a single piece. A piece can move in any direction, but it must move as far as it can in that direction, until it encounters the edge of the playing field or another piece.

There are four ways for a player to win:

1. By capturing all four corners

2. By placing all four pieces in a 2x2 grid

3. By placing all four pieces in a straight line: horizontal or vertical (but not diagonal)

4. By having one of your pieces cornered by three opposing pieces


Because the board is so small, and because there are so many ways to win, victory and defeat are never more than a few moves away. An inattentive adult can be bested by a child pretty consistently.

If you would like to pay money for a Dao game, that is possible, because commercial versions of Dao are available.

However, it is easy enough to make a set by drawing a 4x4 grid on a piece of paper and playing pennies versus nickels.

More elaborate sets can be built with boards made of wood or fabric, and any kind of object or statuette for playing pieces. The set pictured above uses Chinese Baoding or chime balls.  We have also seen owls play against elephants. Making interesting Dao Boards can become its own Christmas tradition!

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