This game is usually played for the purpose of gambling, played either by two individuals, or by two sets of people often wagering all they have.
A large, rather shallow, symmetrical, nicely finished hemispherical bowl is one of the requisites; the others are the dice and the counting sticks.
The bowl is made from a large, round nodule of maple root, and is consequently a rare and expensive article for its size. It fashioned solely with the aid of an axe and a knife. A specimen at hand measures nine inches in diameter at the top and is two inches in depth. It is nearly one inch in thickness at the bottom, but gradually tapers to about one-fourth of an inch at the rim.
The dice consist of eight thinly cut pieces of deer-horn (or bone). These are marked with rather deep criss-cross grooves on one side which is also stained black, the other side being left its natural color. Four of these are round and about three-fourths of an inch in diameter. All of the dice are less than one-sixteenth of an inch in thickness. Two of the dice are knife-shaped, one and one-half inches in length, and one-fourth of an inch in width. Another is shaped like a gun, is one and one-fourth inches in length, and one- fourth of an inch in width. Another consists of the crude image of a person and has eyes and mouth marked on the unpainted side. It is one and one-half inches in length, the width being about one-half inch at the shoulders.
The counting sticks are eighty in number. They are about a foot in length and one-fourth inch in thickness. They are usually made of trimmed sticks of spruce or other wood, though twigs are sometimes used. Half are colored black, and the remainder red. The sticks are placed between the players in two piles when the game is about to be played, one pile belonging to each side; or sometimes the sticks are placed all in one pile. In the first case, the winner draws directly from his opponent's pile for every count he gains. In the second case, both players draw from the central pile till it is used up; then the winner draws from his opponent's pile until it is all taken. The player (or set of players) who gets the eighty counting sticks in his possession has won the game.
When the players sit down to play, the bowl containing the dice is placed on a blanket between them. Bets are then made. Then the player who won the last game begins the game with a song. If no previous game has been played, lots are cast to see who will play first. Then, at a propitious moment, the player strikes the bowl on the blanket by lifting it slightly and setting it down with a quick jerk. This causes the dice to fly upward and fall back in various positions, some of the faces becoming reversed, which, of course, changes their counting values. As they settle to the bottom of the bowl, the result is watched with keen interest. The play is continued in this manner until the game is won.
The following are the rules for counting points:
Terms used in the game of bowl:
Albert B. Reagan and F. W. Waugh (1919) Some Games of the Bois Fort Ojibwa. American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Jul. - Sep., 1919), pp. 264-278