Mancala fun

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When I found my board on a boot fair, I immediately fell in love with its beautiful carving and the lovely seeds. It is the Kalah version, one of the most popular Mancala games for kids: two rows of 6 small pits. It will motivate your school-aged kids to count and think strategically, encourage them to conduct thought experiments, counting tokens and comparing tactics in their heads, before they move a game piece. Grown ups will love it for its high degree of tactical play but watch out it is incredibly addicting for those who need to feel a sense of accomplishment! Mancala offers a nice parallel to real life, forecasting moves and considering consequences can have a real impact on your everyday decisions.


The word Mancala comes from the Arabic word “naqala” meaning literally “moved”/ “to transfer”; the name is a classification or type of game. More than 800 names of traditional Mancala games are known, the boards vary considerably in size.

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Whether it originated in ancient Sumeria (in what is today southern Iraq) or ancient Egypt, this classic board game has been played over thousand of years, with its 2-player turn-based strategy it is also known as the sturdiest game you’ll ever own. It will motivate to count and to think strategically, good players use abstract or hypothetico-deductive reasoning. Even on slow hardware, computer programs can easily defeat strong human players…

Several theories exist about its origin. The Sumerians, being considered the first and oldest civilisation in the world and the inventors of mathematics, are supposed to have used the technique of holes and pebbles with an accounting purpose as did the Kush civilisation in the upper Nile River. We might have to thank the Assyrians and the Babylonians, and later pre-Islamic Arab traders, for having brought these games to Egypt (where it was played before 1400bC) and other parts of Africa.

Another theory sets its origin in another part of Africa, because this game is very widespread over there in ever so many versions, to be later introduced to Egypt and the Middle East.

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It is certain that it wasn’t meant to be a game in the beginning, but it could have been a system of record keeping, having debit and credit entries or a spring planting ritual, with the holes representing fields and the laps of play, the seasons of planting and harvesting. As the game was found at African temples and shrines, the board might have represented the world (laid east to west in alignment with the rising and setting sun) and the seeds or stones would have represented the stars, whereas the holes the months of the year. The moving of the seeds could have represented the gods moving through time and space and thus Mancala could predict our fate.

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In the West Indies it was associated with religion, often played in a house of mourning, so the spirit of the dead would be amused until its body was buried…

It is a game that lasts and lasts, the rules to play are simple, but the subtleties of winning take a long time to master.
The board will have on the left and on the right a Mancala = a capture pit.
You’ll need seeds/stones.
In the board are hollows/pits.

The object of Mancala is usually to capture more seeds than the opponent. Don’t look at it as a primitive game, it is wholly mathematical and complex enough to give you a real contest. Since the first player sometimes has an advantage in Mancala, make sure to alternate who goes first when you play.
–           The strategy = picking up all seeds from a hole.

–          The sowing: sowing seeds one at a time from a hole (placing seeds one at a time in

different holes reflects the physical act of sowing)

–           The capturing

Basic rules:

Move around the board counter-clockwise.

The store on the right is yours, it collects the seeds you win.

The pits near you are your pits.

You play the game with one hand (picking up and putting down the seeds).

You only put seeds in your own store, not your opponent’s.

The start:

You pick up all the seeds of one pit and sow the to the right, placing one seed in each pit along the way. Arriving at your store, you add a seed to your store and continue ending up putting seeds in your opponent’s pits along the way.

Then it’s your opponent’s turn.

Add special rules such as:

When the last seed in your hand lands in your store, you can take another turn.

When the last seed in your hand lands in one of your won pits: if that pit had been empty you get to keep all of the seeds in your opponent’s pit on the opposite side (put your captured seeds as well as the last seed that you just played on your side into the store).

Game over:

Only when one player’s pits are completely empty; the other player takes the remaining seeds of out his or her pits and puts them in his or her store.

Count.

Whoever has the most seeds wins.

Another simple version:

If a player drops the last bead into the player’s own kalaha, the player gets to move again.
If a player drops the last bead into an empty pit on the players’ own side, the player takes that bead, plus the beads in the opponent’s pit directly opposite and places them in the players own kalaha.
The game ends when one player no longer has beads in his pits. This player takes all of the remaining beads in the opponent’s pits.

Game version with a twist:

The Ethiopians players may choose to move either to the right or to the left on each turn.
Players cannot use a pit with only one bead.

And many more rule versions exist.

We play it with two, but in Africa and the Middle East, large families play together and games can last hours. This game will will give loads of skills for personal, social and professional life. You’ll learn to live with and learn of the mistakes you’ve made. Be creative, dare to make decisions!

Wishing you some luck and thinking ahead! The game is afoot…

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