Mancala Rules: How to Play Mancala

If you’re looking to play a game and learn a little about how people in the past entertained themselves, Mancala is the best way to put yourself in their shoes. Or perhaps you played this game in the past and just want to relive your own childhood. In either case, this game will allow you to entertain yourself while gaining special benefits. Mancala is a game with a rich heritage and history. Mancala is a game that has been around for centuries and will probably live on for a few more. Mancala rules have almost 80 variations in this day and age but the essentials remain the same. However, among these, Oware, Bao, Kiswahili, and Wari are the most predominant ones.

Also known as the ‘sow and catch’ game, Mancala depends on your ability to collect as many seeds or stones as you can, and the winner is declared based on this same principle.

Make sure you don’t skip out the vital information.

Origin of Mancala Game

The origin of Mancala can be traced back to North African countries like Ethiopia between CE 500 and 700. It is said that Mancala was used as a means of keeping track of agricultural produce, with its ‘sowing’ and ‘capturing’ of seeds. Some sources, however, speculate that Mancala was used in rituals in African temples and shrines. They say the board represents the earth, the holes represent the months of the year while the stones represent stars. And moving along the East to West set up board represents the movements of Gods while the game itself predicts the people’s fate.

The name of the game originates from the Arabic word ‘naqala’, which means ‘to move’. The game is played in the Baltic areas of Europe but didn’t spread through Europe. It traveled with Arab trading to India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and China. The game was brought to Europe by the slave trade.

How to Play Mancala Game

Equipment Required to Play Mancala:

To play the ancient and fun game of Mancala you only need two, very simple things; the Mancala board and some marbles.

  1. The board: the board is 17.5 inches in length and 5.5 inches in width, consisting of twelve small holes along the longer sides, called the non-Mancala cups and two large, elongated holes on each short end, called the Mancala cups. If you do not have a Mancala board, you can always use an egg carton or simply dig small holes in the ground to make a Mancala board in the ground.
  2. The marbles: a total of forty-eight marbles are needed to play the game. Four marbles are placed in each small hole. Any small objects like stones or sunflower seeds can be used in place of the marbles.

How to Setup a Mancala Game

To set up your Mancala game you will need to have the above equipment. Once you’ve bought the given equipment, it will be very easy for you to get started.

  • To set up the game you need to find a table or comfortable cushions to sit on the floor. Then you need to layout the board.
  • Both players need to sit on either of the two sides of the board.
  • Once everyone is settled in, four stones should be placed in each hole.

Now the game can begin by choosing who goes first and starting the collection of stones in one’s own Mancala cup.

How to Make a DIY Mancala Board

If you think going out to buy a Mancala board is too much work, and ordering online will just take too much time, don’t worry! You can easily make a Mancala board at home. No need to go through the hassle of running to the market or the wait for online shopping. To make your very own Mancala board, you’ll need to follow the following steps.

  1. Get an empty twelve egg container or an ice cube tray. The holes in these are perfect to use as your Non-Mancala cups.
  2. Place two larger cups on the longer sides of these to create the Mancala cups.
  3. Now open up a bag of peanuts or sunflower seeds and use these are your marbles or stones.

That’s it! Your DIY Mancala game is ready to be played!

The Objective of Mancala Game

The main objective of the game is to gather as many stones as possible in your Mancala cups since whoever has the most stones here at the end of the game is declared the winner. You can do this by picking the Non-Mancala cups in such an order that most stones end up in your Mancala cup. The details of this strategy are explained further in the article.

Rules to Play Mancala Board Game

The game is fairly easy to understand and very straightforward. The following rules and regulations will make it clear to you how you’re supposed to play the game.

  • The board of Mancala is set up in such a way that each long side is placed towards the players, with the players facing each other.
  • Four marbles are placed in each small hole while the larger hole is left empty.
  • Choose which players get to go first, using rock paper scissors, dibs or whatever way you prefer.
  • The chosen player should then pick up the four stones from any one of his non-Mancala cups and drop them into the following cups using an anti-clockwise movement. The player must not drop any stones into the Mancala cup of the opponent. He can, however, drop them into his own Mancala cup and the non-Mancala cups of both the players.
  • Step 4 should be repeated over and over by each player in turns until one long side of the board is completely empty.
  • Then the stones in each Mancala cup are counted and the player with the most stones in his or her Mancala cup wins that round.

Along with these basic rules, there are also some special rules that make the gameplay interesting.

Special Rules

  • When the last stone in your hand lands in your Mancala cup, you get to take another turn.
  • When the last stone in your hand lands in one of your own Non-Mancala cups and that cup has been empty you get to keep all of the stones in your opponent’s cup on the opposite side. Put those captured stones, as well as the last stone that you just played on your side, into your Mancala cup.

Strategies to Win Mancala

Although Mancala may seem like a game of luck, there are certain ways that luck can be shaped in your favor. The following strategies, with make use of the special rules mentioned above, can help you win the game and give you an opportunity to show your friends just how smart you are!

  • Flight: if you are afraid that your opponent will try to capture your stones, just empty out the cup you think they are going to try and empty before they do so.
  • Threat: you can use the special rules and create a threat for your opponent, this will scare them and they will get too busy trying to elude your threat. They won’t have the ability to threaten you!
  • Hoarding: the act of refusing to play from one specific cup, this allows stones to accumulate there and when the game ends, they can all move to the Mancala cup. However, if this cup is captured, you could lose a major chunk of your stones! So beware while using this strategy.
  • Starving: in this strategy you can gather up most of your stones on your side of the Mancala and ‘starve’ the opponent, forcing his side to empty out and hence winning the game when the stones are counted. This strategy should also be used carefully as the risk of capture is ever-present.
  • Avoiding excess Buildup: you should keep track of the number of stones in each cup to make sure you only have enough to cover your side and your Mancala cup. This way you can avoid putting stones in your opponent’s cups.

Variations of a Mancala Game

Although there is one version of Mancala played in the United States today, there are multiple variations of this game that are played worldwide. Including the following:

  1. Congkak: This version of the game is played in Southeast Asian countries, predominantly in Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines. The board is usually decorated with more colors than the American version. This version of the game has seven cups on each player’s side with seven stones in each cup. The rules are mostly the same except, each player keeps taking turns until their stone falls into an empty cup of the opponent, only then can their opponent start taking turns.
  1. Omweso: This is the version that is played in Uganda. The board for Omweso has thirty-two cups or holes instead of the standard twelve, arranged in rows of eight. There are no large, elongated holes. Each player resides over sixteen cups. Four stones are placed in one of the eight holes closest to the players while both the middle rows are left empty. The player then moves their stones. The rest of the rules remain fairly similar.
  1. Bao: This is a traditional Mancala board game played in most of East Africa including Kenya and Tanzania. The board in Bao, like Omweso, has thirty-two cups or holes arranged in rows of eight. There are no large, elongated holes. Some pits that play a special role in the game have specific names. The game starts with each player putting one of the stones in their hands into one of the holes.
  1. Toguz Kumalak: This version is played in Central Asia. The board has nine elongated cups on each side. Each cup contains nine stones. Most rules are similar except that when you pick up stones from a cup, the first stone is dropped in the same cup instead of the next one. However, if the cup you’re picking up stones from has only one left then that stone goes to the next cup. And so on. This version also has some special cups like the kazan and tuzdik.
  1. Pallanguzhi: This Tamil version is played in South India which is played on a board with 2 rows of 7 holes each. A typical game involves using 146 seeds. 12 counters are placed in each cup except the middle of each row into which only 2 counters are placed.  The rules for a standard Mancala game also apply to this version.

Online Mancala Game Apps to be Played

Ancient Mancala Game 

The app can be enjoyed anywhere while competing with people around the world. You can pick whether you want to play online or offline and then also if you want to play with random people or your friends. The app also allows you to learn how to play the game, so it’s ideal if you haven’t played the game before. To play each round, however, you need at least fifty chips which means if you run out of chips, you won’t be able to play any longer.

  • Leaderboard
  • Exclusive how-to-play section with three subsections namely, Basics; Rules and Strategy. Each subsection is taught by showing you a game that is played by the computer, so you can truly understand everything instead of just reading a list.
  • It allows you to make in-app purchases for chips and different kinds of boards and stones, which you need to play a new game.

The offline version allows you to choose whether you want to play against the computer or with a friend, so you and your friend can play while sitting together instead of online.

Mancala Club

In this app, you’re given the option to either play online with players from around the world or play offline if you don’t have an internet connection. You can also choose the level of difficulty from three categories, easy; medium or hard. However, some users complain about a massive number of advertisements.

  • How to play section that shows you how a game is played from start to finish
  • Mini-games to help you practice how to apply strategies.
  • It allows you to play offline but only with the computer.
  • Online games can be played with friends and random people.
  • Three levels of difficulty to choose from when playing a game, allowing you to learn from easier games.

Learning Outcomes of Mancala Game

Games tend to prove useful in more than one way. It can be used in schools as well as at home to teach your children many skills.

  • If young students are told to pick and distribute the stones with one hand, it can help improve their motor skills.
  • With the much needed quick addition and subtraction, playing Mancala can prove to be a good math exercise for students and young children.
  • Mancala also gives room to develop deep critical thinking skills. These can aid children and adults alike in future decision making.

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