Lets Play Mancala

A Brief History of Mancala

Basics of Mancala

Mancala is a game that possesses a rich heritage, with many variations on the game played around the globe. It is essentially a game where two players sow and capture seeds. It can be played with equipment as simple as stones and holes dug in soil, or colorful marbles and elegant wooden playing boards.

The game first begins with the players placing an equal number of tokens (often marbles, seeds, or stones) in to the pits on the game board. On each turn, a player removes the tokens in one pit and then places them, one at a time, in the proceeding pits, including two larger pits, one at each end of the playing board. These are where the captured tokens are placed. Both players control one of these larger pits. Whoever has the most captured tokens at the end of the game is the winner of that round.

  • The Mancala board is made up of two rows of pits.
  • Four tokens—marbles, shells, stones, etc—are placed in each of the 12 holes.
  • Each player has a collection (called a Mancala) on either side of the Mancala board.
  • The game begins with one player picking up all of the tokens in any one of the holes on his side.
  • Moving counter-clockwise, the player places one of the stones in each hole until the stones run out.
  • If you land into your own collection, place one token in it. If you run into your opponent’s collection, skip it.
  • If the last piece you drop is in your own collection, you get to go again.
  • If the last piece you drop is in an empty hole on your side, you collect that token and any tokens in the hole directly opposite.
  • The game ends when all six pits on one side of the Mancala board are empty.
  • The player who still has pieces on his side of the board when the game ends collects all of those tokens.
  • Count all the tokens in each Mancala. The winner is the player with the most tokens.

Origin and History of Mancala

Archaeologists have found evidence of Mancala being played as far back as 500-700 AD in places such as Ethiopia and Eritrea. In North Africa and the Mideast, the word Mancala refers generally to a class of game rather any one particular style, and the word itself is derived from the Arabic word ‘naqala’, meaning ‘to move.’

There are references to the game going back thousands of years, potentially earlier due to the fact that it could be set up on an earthen surface, without leaving any solid archaeological evidence. Due to the similarity of some aspects of the game to agricultural activity and the simplicity of the game, there is the intriguing possibility that it could date back to the beginnings of civilization itself. Ultimately though, there is little verifiable evidence that it is older than 1300 years.

Mancala arrived in North America with the slave trade, later becoming popular in places such as Louisiana. A traditional mancala game called Warra was still being played in Louisiana in the early 20th century, and later a version called Kalah would become mainstream in the 1940’s. It is also quite popular in the Cape Verde population of New England, originally brought by Cape Verdean immigrants.


JOntheRun wrote:

mancala board

P2: Moves #6

P1: Moves #2, moves #6

P2: Moves #3, moves #6, moves #2

P1: Move #3

If you have any tips or strategies to share, contact me here

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Will D wrote:

Finally someone who plays this game correctly!

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Ashleigh wrote:

Here’s a tip:

Empty your rightmost pit early in the game as this is directly next to your mancala zone. Whenever you pick up a single stone from that pit as your move, you will score a point and get another move. Your next move should be to drop stones into your mancala zone for a free point, and then move again.

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Todd F wrote:

Here’s a tip:

Love this game! Try this next time you play: Try the hoarding strategy. Place several tokens in one pit and have it act as an inventory. This serves two possible purposes: it keeps more tokens on your side so that when the game ends, you get to capture all those tokens. It also limits the number of pebbles your opponent has to work with.

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Joe wrote:

Awesome write-up. One of my favorite games.

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Isaac wrote:

Loved this game when I was kid.

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