The All-Around Amazing Game: Mancala

A standard mancala board: twelve holes, two pits, and four pieces in each hole.

A standard mancala board: twelve holes, two pits, and four pieces in each hole.

Tessa H., Staff Writer

Dear Reader, are you tired of the board games with lots of specific plastic pieces and page after page of long rules? Well, mancala is the game for you! It is very easy to learn — and once mastered, no two matches are ever quite the same. 

Mancala originated in Africa and was found in Ancient Egypt and the ancient Near East. Once mancala spread around to different regions and cultures, variants were created. Some versions of the game even trace back to the 7th century, making it one of the oldest known games to still be well-known today! 

Although no one game exists by the name of ‘mancala’, there is one main version of the game. It consists of a board with six circular holes for each player (the game is a two-player game), making the board a 2 by 6. Additionally, there are two slightly larger pits for each player to place their captured pieces in. To set up, you should place four ‘stones’ in each of the 12 smaller holes. You can look at the picture above for more information. The objective of the game is to capture more ‘stones’ than your opponent. So, to start a turn, the first player chooses one of the 6 holes on their side to move. They pick up all of the ‘stones’ and drop them into each succeeding hole, going clockwise around the board. If they come around to their collection pit, they place one in it and continue going around as needed. If their last ‘stone’ is placed into their collection pit, they get to pick up another pile and, basically, earn another turn. After they finish their turn(s), the other player picks up a pile on their side and takes their turn in the same fashion. An advanced rule for when you get the hang of the game is to implement: when you land in an empty spot on your side and there are one or more ‘stones’ on the opposite side (your opponent’s side) you get to capture all of their ‘stones’ (after, the opponent takes their turn as normal). The game of mancala is over when one player has no more pieces on their side. Both of the competitors count how many ‘stones’ are in their mancala, and the player with the most ‘stones’ is crowned the winner!

Mancala emerged more than hundreds of years ago — so, it was created with simplicity and minimal resources. Pictures of early setups show that the game was made by digging seven holes for each player in the ground (using rocks as the movable pieces). Later, boards were played with a whittled/carved wooden or stone tray. Mancala has no specifics for the pieces, so they can be virtually anything small and lightweight. Marbles, stones, beans, shells, and beads are all playing pieces used today. As for the board, it can be etched, drawn, carved, or even imagined. An easy way to make it is with an egg carton, too! You can find wooden mancala boards on most websites like Amazon. But, you don’t even have to pay for this game if you don’t want to — you can just make it in your backyard!

In conclusion, mancala is a simple and fun game that can be played in ten minutes or less. So, what are you waiting for? Get a board and some playing pieces, and challenge your family members!