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Mancala

The word Mancala actually refers to a whole family of games in which counters are moved around a board with a number of little indentations in it. The most common version for sale has six on either side of the board, with a bigger trough at either end. The tagline is, “if you can count, you can play”, and that’s about right.

There are strategies that become apparent the more you play, but I have played this game quite a lot, and I really wouldn’t be able to put those strategies into words – just a few plays into any game and it’s really difficult to see how it’s going to turn out. No two games are the same, and it is really fascinating how much variety there is in this one simple game. This is an ancient game, and it’s still going strong.

Game Designer: Various

Game Publisher: Public Domain

Date Published: Unknown

Playing Time: Under 30 mins

Category: Classic/ Abstract/ Under 30 mins

Mancala has been played around the world for thousands of years. It’s a beauty, since all you need are some counters, and some little pots to keep them in. There are variations in how many counters or stones are used, and how many little pots each player has on each side.

mancala-board-and-piecesThe commercially marketed Mancala in the West is a little wooden board, with six little pots carved into it, and a larger trough at either end. You start with three counters in every pot. The aim of the game is simple – capture as many stones as possible, and keep playing until there are no more uncaptured stones.

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You pick up all the stones in one pot and moving around the board in an anti-clockwise direction, deposit one stone in each of the next pots going round the board. If your final stone end up in an opponent’s pot, and there are stones there, you capture those stones and put them in your trough. You count them at the end of the game to see who has won – it’s the player with the most stone, of course!

This super-simple formula has been entertaining human beings for more hours than you can imagine. Strategies develop fluidly through the game – whether you are focusing on evading capture, or on capturing for yourself. It’s a great game for beginners since it is relatively easy to hit on a winning strategy by pure accident – and the only skill you need at first is being able to count. The real longevity in the game comes from trying to working out what those strategies actually are – not such an easy job since the landscape of the game changes from one go to the next.

There are travel versions available with a folding board to hold your stones or counters in, but this game could feasibly be improvised anywhere.

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