Learn About the Game of Mancala


Mancala is a long-lived game that is entertaining and simple to play. It’s among the oldest games still played today; it is a count-and-capture board game with a long history and a thousand variations worldwide. In a world dominated by digital entertainment and high-tech gadgets, Mancala is a game that has endured through the ages because of its elegance, complexity, and subtle strategic intricacies. Mancala delivers an immersive experience that fosters analytical thinking and flexibility. Mancala’s humble beginnings, which date back to ancient Africa and the sixth century CE, are a big part of what makes the game so endearing. Its popularity crossed national boundaries and enthralled players from all around the world. The game’s goal is simple: to gather as many seeds or stones from the center pits as the player can. 

Explore the various Mancala strategies and techniques that players use to outwit one another. In this article, we’ll examine Mancala’s ability to improve players’ critical thinking, numeracy, and spatial awareness and its educational advantages. Read on to learn the secrets of this classic strategy game and uncover the mental skills necessary for success. 

What is Mancala?

Close Up Mancala Board

Mancala refers to diverse games that demand planning, strategy, and close attention to detail. Mancala is a form of a historic two-player strategic board game. The term “mancala” means to move in Arabic in reference to the physical activity that occurs during the game. The usual equipment for mancala games is a board with rows of holes and a set of stones. The goal of the game is to take all your opponent’s pieces. These games have a variety of playing styles as well as modified boards and rules. Although anyone can play them, mastering them requires some time and effort. Regardless of the size or kind of board, the strategy game MancalaMancala pits two players against one another. It’s a game with several various variants that are made for players ages 8 and up. However, each region of the world has its own most widely used variant. These include to name a few, the Kalash in North America, the Bao in East Africa, and the Oware in West Africa and the Caribbean. Numerous variations have spread over the globe, and some are undoubtedly more well-known than others in certain regions.

History of Mancala


Over 7,000 years ago, Mancala, one of the world’s oldest two-player strategic games, was first played in Asia and Africa. In the earlier versions of Mancala games, the game board was carved out of stone, and the instruments were crudely made of wood or clay. It has roots in prehistoric Egypt; in fact, the roofs of Kurna temples in Memphis, Thebes, and Luxor have been discovered to have stone used in Mancala boards from 1400 BC engraved into them. From Egypt, the game expanded to numerous regions of Africa and later the Middle East. Evidence was discovered at Palmyra, Syria. A Mancala board was found in the agora of Izmir, proving that the game was played by the Romans and the ancient Greeks.

It’s likely that humans have been playing the game for thousands of years in various forms and that it has been handed down through the generations because of how simple the original board design was and how simple it is to play. Initially only present in parts of Africa, the game eventually spread to parts of India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and China as commerce between and within these regions continued. Although it did not cross all of Europe, it is still present in some parts of the continent, such as the Baltic region. Although the game later expanded to North America via the slave trade and then via immigrants arriving in the country, other areas do not appear to have modified it.

In the 1940s, this “count and capture” game was released on the American market. It was simple to love and simple to play. The western hemisphere’s most popular Mancala game is still Kalah, which gained popularity quickly. It remains one of the most popular board games in the world today. Beautiful mancala boards are available online and may be ordered and delivered to your home. The amount of effort that was once necessary to play has dramatically decreased with the influence of technology on the game. The traditional mancala board has mostly remained the same, even though the game’s name may have changed because of regional contextualization. 

How to Play Mancala?

Men Playing Mancala

Both children and adults like playing board games, which allows them to learn many crucial academic and life skills. Mancala is a fantastic game for youngsters at home or in the classroom; it teaches children social skills, such as taking turns while harnessing their critical thinking skills and many other equally important skills, such as problem-solving, forecasting, counting, and strategizing.

1. Game Objectives

Each player’s primary goal when playing Mancala is to finish the game with more seeds or stones than their rival. Each player aims to strategically sow and disperse their pit’s seeds while occasionally taking an opponent’s seeds or stones. Each player must have a plan and set of techniques to accomplish the main objective. Players must make judgments that increase their chances of obtaining seeds and winning by planning their moves in advance, anticipating their opponents’ moves, and thinking strategically.

2. Setting Up a Mancala Board

A mancala board is easy to set up, but you must first be familiar with the components of a mancala board and the equipment required for the game. The larger holes on each end of the boards are known as mancalas or shops, while the smaller holes are known as pockets. The game of Mancala will not be complete without the seeds, stones, or beads. Each participant should complete 48 pieces. The players should sit opposite each other, with the board placed longways between them so that everyone has six pockets in front of them. Each participant has a mancala, the one to their right; each player should put 4 beads into each pocket until all 48 beads have been utilized. 

3. Deciding Who Will be the First Player

The mancala rules are silent on how to determine who goes first. Instead, you can implement your own agreed house rules for selection, such as allowing the youngest person to go first or flipping a coin; the traditional rock paper scissor technique can also determine the first player.

4. The Act of Sowing Seeds

Players begin each round by picking seeds from a pocket and placing them one at a time on each pocket—a practice known as sowing. The match is considered a single-lap game if the game ends after the last seed is eliminated. However, you can also play other variations of this game that involve many laps or relay sowing. Still, some of these variations may not be common. In relay sowing, for example, if the final seed falls in a pocket that is already occupied, the player must pick up the contents of the pit once more and sow them out one at a time. The cycle continues until the last seed touches an open pocket.

5. The Capturing Process

Players may capture pieces from the board depending on the final pocket sowed in a lap. The prerequisites requirements and the means of collecting the pieces vary widely between games. A capture typically involves ending across the board from stones in particular arrangements: sowing to end in a hole with a precise number of seeds landing in an empty pocket next to your opponent’s pocket, including one or more seeds.

The capture mechanism is a key element of most Mancala games. Some games permit the capture of pockets in addition to the capture of seeds. If separate players own the pockets, seeds can typically only be captured on the opposing side of the board. However, there are some games where you are allowed to capture for your own team. However, there are games where seeds are captured en passant while going around the board. Typically, the capture is influenced by the last seed dropped.

6. Winning the Game of Mancala

The game is over when a player fills all six holes on his side, as stated in the rules. The number of stones in the Mancalas is counted to decide the winner. At the end of the game, the player with the most marbles in their MancalaMancala is declared the winner. Mancala is a game of critical thinking and strategy. If you want to guarantee your victory in the game, you must create a strategy. Playing the opening movements strategically should be your priority. Your greatest advantage will come from following the rules because you won’t make mistakes. Plan out your strategic plays and try to control your actions in the middle of the game so you can gradually manipulate the board to your favor. 

Mancala Game-Winning Techniques


Mancala is a game of sheer skill and strategy in every definition of the word. Every sowing must be evaluated regarding how it will affect your and your opponent’s capacity to capture the stones in the other’s pockets and pits. Here are some strategies to help you win your next Mancala game.

  1. Flight – Using the comparatively easy flight action to protect your stones from being captured. You can avoid being captured if you empty the pocket before your opponent can capture the stones in one of your cups. Suppose your opponent makes the intended move in this manner. In that case, his sowing will result in an empty pocket, and he won’t be able to capture any stones.
  2. Threat – To avoid a potential attack from your opponent, utilize the Threat strategy, a more aggressive tactic. In this case, you plan a counterattack that would immediately threaten the stones in your opponent’s pockets, compelling your opponent to defend instead of attacking.
  3. Overkill – Overkill entails changing your opponent’s sowing position to defend your threatened stones. In this situation, you can pick a pocket from which to seed, adding a stone to your opponent’s pocket that threatens your stones. Sowing from your adversary’s dangerous pocket will miss your exposed pocket with the extra stone.
  4. Reinforcement – When reinforcement is used, a threatening pocket is rendered ineligible for capture, resulting in a more covert defensive strategy.
  5. Hoarding – If a player lets stones build up in a particular pocket and chooses not to play that pocket, this strategy is called hoarding. In this technique, the pocket functions as a “virtual mancala .”To prevent that pocket’s contents from being swept into the MancalaMancala at the end of the game, the player must strive to avoid playing from it. But the player should be extra careful because your opponent will use it as tempting bait.
  6. Looping – Use this tactic when there is a big stake. You must go around the entire board to capture stones from an opponent’s pocket that is too far to the left to be reached without the loop. Looping is a successful ambush tactic in a game where the opponent is not carefully keeping track of the stones. The pit easily fills up to the point when counting stones by visual inspection is impossible. When you know that the quantity of stones has reached the desired level for a successful raid, you have the advantage of a surprise attack.
  7. Raiding – You can take a pit of stones from the other player by putting the final stone in an empty pocket on your side, right opposite the opponent’s pocket being raided.
  8. Sacrificing – Giving up stones for a bigger net gain or a smaller net loss is referred to as sacrifice, and it can be a good baiting tactic. A diligent player will balance the cost of being raided or of giving up stones by moving to the other side of the board against alternatives or concurrent benefits because the cost of an evaded raid can be higher. 
  9. Rushing – This strategy means swiftly going through the stones on your side of the board. Depending on the layout of the board, it’s occasionally feasible to complete a lengthy series of moves with good planning in a single round.
  10. Stalling – This strategy is the opposite approach to rushing, a coping mechanism for starvation. Stalling does not always mean avoiding tossing stones at the opposing player’s side. For the best results, both tactics can be applied simultaneously.
  11. Starving – You reject moving stones beyond your MancalaMancala to repopulate the other team’s side. When one has enough stones on their own side of the board to win the game and can get their opponent to leave fast, this is a strong tactic. To ensure that you can outlast your opponent, count carefully. Watch your stones on your side of the board since they may be captured by your opponent when they exit.
  12. Stuffing – To protect pockets from being rushed and raided, we here do the opposite of starving. This strategy calls for making planned plays to maximize the number of seeds grabbed and maintain control over the game’s flow. You boost your chances of catching your opponent’s seeds by doing this since you produce a dense cluster of seeds. Additionally, this tactic can aid in generating opportunities for several captures in a single turn.
  13. Avoid Excessive Build-Up – As much as possible, try to maintain the number of stones in each pocket below or equal to what is required to hit your own Mancala. This keeps the possibility of starving the opponent open and permits compound turns more frequently, swiftly building up the Mancala. 
  14. Interacting Strategies – Numerous strategies interact with one another or can be switched from one to another as the game develops. For instance, hoarding is compelling when done well, but it is incredibly challenging to sustain through the end of the game. Hoarding buys a looping option but can also be used as a stuffing tactic if necessary.
  1. Timing – This is the core technique among all the strategies. All strategies and tactics must be implemented at the right time. A skilled player must keep an eye out for opportunities to unwind hoarding strategies or can consider that issue when selecting when to empty too-full holes. This lowers the overhead expenses associated with a looping motion.

Different Types of Mancala Games

Mancala is one of the oldest board games in existence, with different cultural influences from civilizations all over the world. If you enjoy playing board games, you may be curious about the popular mancala board games worldwide. 

  1. Kalah – Kalah was most widely used in the US during the 1960s, which shares Mancala’s gameplay and regulations. This Mancala variation uses a board with an even number of holes set up in two rows. The player picks up the little beads or marbles that are hidden inside each of these holes. Your next move is to pick up all the beads in the hole where your last marble fell and continue moving them about the board in the same manner. You continue repeating this until your final bead lands in an open space. To win the game, you must fill in every hole on your side of the board.
  2. Bohenspiel – One of the earliest forms of MancalaMancala is called bohenspiel. The German word “bohenspiel” means “bean game,” and it was first used in the late 19th century. The fact that this was a pit and seed game is probably where the term came from. When playing bohenspiel, you want to have two, four, or six seeds total in each hole. In contrast to Kalah, all the previous holes that contain two, four, or six beads are also filled with beads.
  3. Eson Xorgal – The most intriguing version of the game is Eson Xorgal from western Mongolia. Compared to Kalah’s twelve holes, this game’s 10 holes are known as cups. It is also customarily played with goat droppings, making it unique from other Mancala games. Instead of clearing the board in this mancala variation, your objective is to collect more droppings than your opponent. 
  4. Oware – Another fascinating mancala version is the Ghanaian Oware. Oware has four rows of eight holes for added entertainment instead of just two rows of six holes. 12 seeds were initially placed in each of the hollows. Players fill the holes and distribute the seeds alternately amongst themselves, just like in Kalah. You aim to capture more seeds than your opponent, just like in Eson Xorgal.
  5. AyoAyo – A version from Western Nigeria is called AyoAyo. In this game, the player takes pieces from the cell directly across from the one they finish in. However, before you assume this game is challenging before you even begin, you should be aware that it has another level of difficulty: players must memorize the full opening sequences before they start. 

Benefits of Playing Mancala

Playing MancalaMancala has several advantages that go beyond simple amusement. Playing MancalaMancala regularly can improve your strategic reasoning, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills. Mancala aids kids in developing their social skills, logical thought, critical thinking, and other abilities. Whether a parent or a professional educator, you’ll be astounded by how much this game can teach kids about self-assurance, teamwork, and even academic improvement.

1. Improves Math and Counting Skills

Mancala for Kids may be able to help when a child struggles with counting or fundamental math skills, math anxiety, or any of these issues. The game provides a tactile manner for kids to understand addition and fundamental counting as they physically pick up the seeds and count aloud while playing. Additionally, it improves the ability to substitute, which allows kids to count the number of seeds in front of them without really doing so. You can substitute candy and chocolate pieces for typical glass seeds or beans, especially if the student is not passionate about math.

2. Build Critical Thinking Skills 

Children frequently have trouble thinking things through before acting, and no matter how severe, a lack of critical thinking can affect your child’s academic and social development. Mancala requires kids to pause and consider their next steps, weigh the advantages and disadvantages of that choice, and consider their decisions from the perspective of broader issues. It also improves one’s capacity for strategic thought. Mancala is the appropriate game for younger learners because the rules aren’t quite as complicated as chess or checkers.

3. Development of Fine Motor Skills

Does your youngster struggle to properly tie their shoes or grasp a pencil or other object? If so, playing Mancala is a fantastic and enjoyable approach to practicing and developing fine motor skills. While holding a clump of the seeds in their hands, children must drop the seeds one at a time. Additionally, the game improves hand-eye coordination. Even physical and occupational therapists utilize it to assist their patients in regaining fine motor skills since it is so successful.

4. Encourage Social Development 

   Many kids have trouble sharing, taking turns, and obeying the rules. All three of these things are emphasized by MancalaMancala, which can also help kids develop more social skills. They could give and receive advice from one another, clarify things when they don’t grasp them, and even learn good sportsmanship. Mancala teaches kids that they can’t always come out on top despite their greatest efforts. Additionally, it encourages them to learn from their errors and gives them more self-confidence when they succeed.

5. Exposure to Many Cultures

Playing Mancala may help teach kids about other cultures, often ones that are very different from their own, which is perhaps one of the most underappreciated advantages of the game. It’s a great game to incorporate into a history lecture on Ancient Egypt or even on contemporary life in African nations. Children learn about different cultures’ unique and enjoyable things to teach and share with us from Mancala. This encourages curiosity, acceptance, and diversity.


Mancala is a delightful and much-needed diversion from electronic games and scrolling on social media that captures kids of all ages. The game is genuinely enjoyable for the whole family. It fosters critical thinking skills as well as an interest in various cultures. Additionally, it’s a useful, inexpensive, and simple teaching tool for academics. Mancala boards also have a long, rich history, with their ancient boards discovered carved onto ancient building roofs, in kings’ and pharaohs’ tombs, and in Greek and Roman ruins. As a result, when you play Mancala, you are participating in a game that has been played for thousands of years.