Pai Sho: Everything you need to know

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Welcome brother, the White Lotus opens wide to those who know her secrets.

Sha-Mo

There are board games made just for movies or tv shows: 3D chess in Star Trek, Double Cranko in M*A*S*H, and of course Jumanji. Still, Pai Sho stands out from the rest. The fictional games relaxed feel and the mystery surrounding it make it one of the most intriguing on tv. Fortunately, the story behind the game isn’t quite as mysterious.

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What is Pai Sho?

Meet Pai Sho, a game that originates in the Avatar series and helps fictional characters Iroh and Zuko dodge bounty hunters and sneak into backrooms. There is a lot of secrecy around Pai Sho. The order of the white lotus used the game as a clever way to let each other know they are members. Members would ask people they suspected of being members for a game of Pai Sho. Members placed a lotus tile in the center. If the guest formed a lotus symbol with them then it is confirmation of their membership.

This level of secrecy was required so the order of the white lotus could remain secret from the fire nation. The order of the white lotus accomplished many tasks together, but their most noteworthy is protecting and training the Avatar. Pai sho plays a critical role in the Avatar series and one might wonder what game inspired it.

The inspiration behind Pai Sho is a game called Go. Go originated roughly 2500 years ago in China and is the oldest game still played in its original form [1]. Go resembles Pai Sho because it is also an abstract two-player game. The Goal in Go is to surround a larger total area of the board with one’s stones than the opponent. This leaves interesting visual patterns on the board.

Image Credit: The Official AGA Youtube Channel

This is an example of a close game from the 2020 China-US Internet Go Tournament. It is easy to see why Nickelodeon, the creator of the avatar series, drew from this game to determine the visual significance of forming a lotus in Pai Sho.

How to play Pai Sho?

Skud Pai Sho is a website that allows avatar fans to play Pai Sho online or to purchase a physical version that includes a custom board and pieces. Often in tournaments, which are also hosted on this website, the winner gets to take home one of these luxury boards made out of wood.

Skud Pai Sho’s website also has a comprehensive rule list. Their rule list for the game is a variant based on the compilation of the various existing community rules [2]. Avatar fans have done a great job bringing a once fictional game into real life.

The object of Pai Sho is to arrange your tiles in a certain way to create Harmonies (when two tiles that belong to the same player are on the same vertical or horizontal line with no other tiles or Gates between them). Another important aspect is preventing your opponent from achieving the same goal. One can prevent their opponent from achieving the same goal by using Accent Tiles.

For example, the “rock” is one of the four accent tiles and when it is played on an open intersection, no tiles can form Harmony on the entire vertical or horizontal line that the Rock tile is on. This is one of the many strategies someone could use to prevent their opponent from creating the same goal as them. The game concludes when a player creates a harmony ring, which is a chain of Harmonies that goes around the center point of the board. For a more detailed look at how to play, Pai Sho click here.

What does the future look like for Pai Sho? Since the release of the Avatar series, the interest of Pai Sho has been overwhelming. Although there is great interest in the subject, there is not much traction in playing Pai Sho. Although there isn’t much interest in playing the game, Pai Sho will always be a fun way to dive deeper into a show we already love.

Resources

  1. usgo.org, American Go Association, https://www.usgo.org/brief-history-go, 11-06-2020
  2. skudpaisho.com, https://skudpaisho.com/site/, 11-06-2020

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