GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — A group of Palestinian programmers have transformed Brwanjeya, which has long been one of the most popular board games in Palestine, into an e-game for today’s screen-friendly generation.
Brwanjeya, known as Nine Men's Morris worldwide, is a two-person game played by both adults and children. Its board has three interlocking squares connected by four lines. Each player has nine pieces to move. Players who place three of their pieces on contiguous points in a straight line, vertically or horizontally, have formed a mill and get to permanently remove one opponent's piece from the board.
Salim al-Madhoun, the head of Pixel Group, the team that developed the electronic version of the game, told Al-Monitor, “As a group of Palestinian programmers, we wanted to keep the game alive because it is part of our Palestinian heritage."
The game is widely played in Palestine and the Middle East, but the roots of the game are in dispute. Some historians say it dates back to ancient Egypt, whereas others link it to ancient Rome.
“We started in early November 2016 by designing several electronic models, until we finally decided on the one available today on Google Play and the Apple Store. We launched the game on April 1, 2017,” Madhoun said.
He said his team took into consideration older and younger generations while programming the game. The team chose the English language to reach the largest possible number of users around the world and to make it compatible with Facebook so two players anywhere around the globe could play against each other.
Madhoun said his team had originally planned to finish the game in three months. But due to the long hours of power outages in Gaza, it took six months; the team also had to pay extra for designers and programmers as well as an advertising campaign, all of which amounted to $25,000.
Izz al-Din Mushtaha, a programmer who helped develop the electronic version of the game, told Al-Monitor, “After the game went online, it took us four months to fix all the bugs we found, especially since the game relies on artificial intelligence and has a chat-room option for players to converse.”
Mushtaha said 18,000 users download the game every month, most of whom are from Palestine, Israel, Pakistan, India, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. He said Brwanjeya is free on both Google Play and the Apple Store.
Abdel-Hamid Ayyad, a senior Palestinian in his 70s who enjoys Brwanjeya, said it was one of the games he learned from his grandparents.
“It is a game of intelligence that requires great focus before moving any stone [playing piece], just like in a game of chess,” Ayyad told Al-Monitor, “Years ago, I started to teach some of my grandchildren Brwanjeya, and drew it on a board and kept playing it until they became great players. Today, they taught me how to play it on my computer,” he added, praising the programmers who turned it into an e-game for the purpose of keeping it alive, since relatively few people still play the board version.
Atef Askoul, the director general of arts and heritage at the Ministry of Culture in Gaza, told Al-Monitor that such innovation was encouraged and supported by the ministry. His department contacted those in charge of the project to congratulate them and to offer them help to undertake other projects related to the preservation of Palestinian heritage.
Still, Askoul said his ministry’s budget was too small to provide financial support for such projects. He said the Israeli siege, economic conditions and high unemployment rates in Gaza prompted the Hamas administrative committee to allocate the bulk of financial support to the main ministries such as education, health and economy.
Meanwhile, Palestinian author and critic Yusri al-Ghoul said the programmers have played a major role in preserving Palestinian heritage by designing the electronic version of Brwanjeya. He appealed to the Palestinian presidency and government as well as Palestinian cultural institutions to support such innovation and talents in order to encourage similar initiatives.
Ghoul told Al-Monitor that many of the old Palestinian games have become extinct and the rest are going down the same road in light of technological development, which is why every Palestinian should be required to preserve ancient Palestinian heritage and present it to the world through modern tools.