The bones are collected and used for traditional games and fortunetelling throughout Central Asia, and games involving the ankle bones may also be referred to by the name of the bones. They may be painted bright colours. Such bones have been used throughout history, and are thought to be the first forms of dice. In English language sources, shagai may be referred to as "ankle bones", and playing with shagai is sometimes called ankle bone shooting.
Shagai games are especially popular during the Mongolian summer holiday of Naadam. In shagai dice, the rolled shagai generally land on one of four sides: horse, camel, sheep or goat. A fifth side, cow, is possible on uneven ground.
Mongolians still exchange shagai today as tokens of friendship. The shagai may be kept in a little pouch.
In addition, Mongolians (usually male) also collect wolf shagai, which are viewed as good-luck tokens.