A Complete Guide on How to Play Mancala

About the only thing complicated about Mancala rules is that there are a number of variations of the game. Depending upon which variation you're playing, and to some extent which country you are playing it in, the terminology can be different and the rules slightly different. For the most part though, a 3 or 4 year old could understand the rules, but would obviously fall a bit short when it comes to implementing a strategy.

Mancala is a board game widely played in Asia and Africa and, since there are many variations under many names, Mancala is really a type of game. The board game called Mancala you find in the stores is usually only one version, although you can play numerous versions on that board if you know some of the different Mancala rules. We'll start by ignoring all the variations, and pretending there is only one way to play the game, and the name of the game is Mancala.

The Game Board - A typical Mancala game board is rectangular in shape, has a holding area on either end, and has 12 depressions, 6 on each side, between the holding areas. If you have difficulty visualizing this, think of having two plastic cups as the two holding areas, and an egg tray or half an egg carton (6 egg containers on each side) between the cups. All you need is the pieces and you're ready to play.

The Pieces - There are no specific Mancala rules regarding the pieces in terms of their size, shape or color. You're going to be taking them out of and putting them into the egg carton pockets, so you'll want pieces that are small enough so that a number of them can fit in one pocket at a given time. Mancala pieces can be pebbles, marbles, pumpkin seeds, buttons, or anything else that makes sense. Buttons might be a good choice for practical reasons. As we have said, the size or color doesn't matter, and you can play the game with a mixture of sizes and colors. Neither player (there are two players) "owns" any of the pieces. The game is simply one of capturing and counting pieces, irrespective as to where those pieces were at the start of the game.

Let's start playing the game first and figure out what the objective is as we go along. You are sitting on one side of the board (or egg carton). Your pockets are labeled A though F from left to right (we label them here only to help describe how the game is played). Your holding area (cup) which is called your Mancala is on your right (after pocket F). I am your opponent and am sitting across the table from you. My pockets are labeled G through L, from my left to my right, and my holding area (my Mancala) is on my right (after pocket L).

Put The Buttons In The Pockets - We each have 24 pieces, (let's use buttons). We'll start by placing 4 buttons in each of the 6 pockets in front of us. You'll put 4 buttons in each of pockets A through F, and I'll do the same with my buttons, in pockets G through L. I'll let you move first, which is very nice of me, since in Mancala  the person who moves first has somewhat of an advantage, but only can understand the advantage and capitalize on it once they know the game quite well. Since your just starting, forget about advantages.

The Mancala Rules - You start by taking all of the buttons out of one of your pockets. Which one is up to you. As you learn the game you may find starting with one pocket is better than starting from another. Anyway, you take all four buttons out of one pocket, and distribute them, one button at a time, starting with the pocket on the immediate right of the pocket you removed the buttons from, and going in a counter-clockwise direction, placing a button in each pockets you go. It's like sowing seeds, in fact Mancala is often called a sowers game.

If, as you are "sowing" you buttons, you come to your Mancala, place a button in it and continue. If it happens to be the last button in your hand that is placed in your Mancala, you get another turn, and then you'll select buttons from another pocket. When your last button ends in a pocket, your turn is over.

As the game progresses, you'll find yourself placing buttons in your pockets, in my pockets, and in your Mancala. When in the course of moving counter-clockwise, you come to my Mancala you simply skip over it, and place the button in the next pocket. Now it's my turn, and what I am going to do is similar to what you just did. I'll take the buttons out of one of my pockets, my choice, and sow one in each pocket going in a counter-clockwise direction. If I come to my Mancala, I'll place a button in it, if I come to yours, I'll skip over it. If my final button lands in my Mancala, I get another turn, otherwise it's you turn again. (continued...)