See also William Julius Champion Jr. (SPOV).
William Julius Champion Jr. designed Kalah, which soon became the most popular modern mancala game. His early success, however, was founded on a dishonest marketing campaign based on untrue statements.
While Champion patented his game, he always kept a low profile leading the public to believe that he had discovered the game rather than inventing it. The rules were created by him and thorough research has proven that the game he promoted isn't known to exist elsewhere. His creation, however, wasn't very inventive, because it isn't more than a mere variation of Congkak. He probably found this game's rules in the work of Stewart Culin and yet he never admitted that he knew Congkak or another South-East Asian mancala variant with similar gameplay. Kalah differs from Congkak as follows:
- Each row of the board numbers just six holes (instead of seven, which is most frequent in South-East Asia).
- All moves are turnwise. (No simultaneous opening move.)
- Moves are single-lap (instead of relay sowing/multiple lap moves).
William Julius Champion Jr. claimed that he traced Kalah "back some 7,000 years to the ancient Sumerians, who evolved the six-twelve-sixty system of keeping numerical records". Thus he called Kalah the "ur-game of board games". He also said that he had found an urn painting of Ajax and Achilles playing it during the siege of Troy, African chieftains playing for stakes of female slaves, and maharajahs using rubies and star sapphires as counters. All these statements cannot be confirmed by archaeological or ethnographic research. It is universally agreed that the Royal Game of Ur, which was found in the Royal Tombs of Ur in Iraq by Sir Leonard Woolley in the 1920s, is a race game played with dice. The game dating from 2600 BC may be a predecessor to the present-day Backgammon. The game that Achilles and Ajax were playing was also a dice game since the players called out the numbers on the dice, which were inscribed on the urn (dated about 520 BC) as if "issuing from their mouths" (Clark, Elston & Hart). The urn that he supposedly "found" is in the Etruscan Museum, one of the Vatican Museums in Rome. No ethnograph has ever reported that a mancala game was played "for stakes of female slaves" or that maharajas knew the game. In fact, Indian mancala games are mostly played by females and children and could be considered a pastime of the lower classes. It appears that Champion intentionally misled the public to increase his sales.
Unfortunately many took him by face value and were deceived. A prominent example is the "Oware Society" in London, which writes on their homepage:
"William Champion developer of Kalah a modern version of the game in America, as well as a researcher of the game found an urn painting of Ajax and Achilles playing it during the siege of Troy. These and many more archaeological findings testify to the ancient pedigree of this game."
One can hardly imagine a statement more embarrassing than this nonsense.
- Pits & Pebbles. In: Time Magazine June 14, 1963: 67.
- Clark, A. J., Elston, M. & Hart, M. L.
- Understanding Greek Vases: A Guide to Terms, Styles, and Techniques. Getty Trust Publications, Los Angeles CA (USA), 2002, 41.