How to Play Mancala

In this article you will learn about Mancala and how it is played.

So let’s begin.

What is Mancala

Mancala is a game of African origin. It is very popular in many countries in Africa, the Arab world, parts of Europe, and the Indian subcontinent.

mancala - how to play mancala

The game involves a board with small pits on it that are set up in two rows of seven.

There are two players on either side of the board, each on their own row on one end.

The players have pieces that look like beans; they put them in the pits and take turns either moving one piece per turn or taking all pieces from one pit and transferring them to an adjacent pit.

The winner typically does not depend only on sheer luck: skillful play and strategic thinking will typically improve your chances, although there is some element of chance involved; this is the reason why it has also been called “the game of luck”.

Mancala is not only a game but also a family of games. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of mancala variants played throughout the world; most versions have pieces move on barter, rather than capture.

The modern board game form of mancala is a development of the very old, traditional board games.

It evolved from an ancient family of board games played in Africa and Asia for thousands of years before it was modernized into the very popular version that people play today. The word “mancala” comes from “nkalakalla”, meaning “sowing”.

The game is believed to have originated in Africa thousands of years ago. It was first known as “sowing” or “count-and-capture”. The game spread throughout the world over time, and regional variations developed; each region had its own name for the game which were based on the local language. In some countries, such as Sudan, it is still known by these antique names.

Although the exact origins of mancala are unknown, archeologists have found digs in Africa where boards were used with different pits meant for keeping seeds.

There are also accounts of board games being created out of depressions in the sand with stones or shells to mark them. It was not until the 19th century that mancala was introduced to southern Europe and began spreading throughout the east.

In 1874, British anthropologist William Henry Wilkinson theorized that Arab traders brought the game from East Africa and spread it across the world. Much of his theory was based on old records and accounts of people who were interested in studying the game.

However, he failed to realize that the game was much older than these accounts suggest. Wilkinson also believed the accounts of people who said that Arabs introduced mancala into Egypt, but there are no records to support this claim.

Although it is unknown exactly when mancala first originated, there are some scholars, such as Carol Edison, who have done extensive research on the game.

She has found evidence to suggest that the mancala-type board games may date back as far as 3500 BC. However, there is not much evidence for this claim other than the shape of the boards and early hieroglyphics that are similar to mancala boards.

There is no real proof that the board games and mancala were one in the same at that point in time.

By the 20th century, mancala had been widely played throughout Africa. The wide distribution of mancala evoked interest from numerous outside cultures, leading to a number of theories about its origin.

In 1874, English anthropologist Sir William Henry Wilkinson theorized that the game was brought to Egypt and the Sudan by Arab traders.

However, this claim is baseless as there is no evidence to support it other than accounts of people who claimed that Arabs introduced mancala into Egypt.

Later research suggests that mancala originated in sub-Saharan Africa around present-day Sudan and spread from there to the rest of Africa.

How to Play Mancala

Objective: The objective of the game is to collect all the seeds from one’s side of the board.

Number of players: One player per side, with a maximum of four players on each side.

The Board: The board is a flat surface divided into two equal size, identical rows of holes. There are two rows or tracks called cups or pits, arranged perpendicular to each other and one row called a “wadi” or river, lying between them.

There are between 8-64 pits in each row. In some variants there may be special pits called “houses”, which hold four extra pieces that can only be captured by an opponent’s stones that land in that house. In some variants there may be different houses with different function.

Each player owns the cups on one side of the board, while the wadis are used for carrying seeds by both players. Seeds are placed in each cup in alternating colors with red and black being referred to as “man” or “male”, while yellow and brown are called “woman” or “female”.

Pieces: Two sets of seeds (typically more than one set are required; there may be different ways to draw pieces for each side); the jacks or champions, typically 4-8 per player. The champions are placed in front of their respective players on either ends of the board. Each player’s seeds are divided into two groups (also called houses), one group for each player.

Moving the Pieces: A player may not move any of their pieces into an occupied cup or one that is full. When a piece lands on an opponent’s seed, it captures that seed, removing it from play. Captured seeds are expended. Only champions may land on wadis. If a champion lands in an empty cup, all the pieces in that cup are captured.

Capturing is not mandatory, but capturing all of the opponent’s seeds wins the game. The winner places any one of their remaining pieces on their side of the board in an empty cup, and their turn ends.

There are two main types of mancala boards used today: A smaller, easier to transport version called a “travel mancala” and a larger version used in schools called a “classroom mancala”.

Travel Mancala: The smallest kind of board is made up of six cups arranged in a straight line. This manageable size makes it perfect for travel. It can easily fit into a backpack or a bag, making it perfect for road trip or vacation. No large space is required as the pieces hardly take up any space. This smaller version is also much easier to store and transport than larger versions since it does not require as much room.

The next smallest kind of board has 12 cups that form two rows of six each. These sizes are usually the most common, but the number of cups can vary between players.

Classroom Mancala: Other kinds of boards used today are larger and require more space for storage, transportation, and gameplay. The next largest kind is called classroom mancala, which features 24 cups arranged in two parallel rows with 12 cups to a row.

So this is how to play Mancala.


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