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How to play Mancala - a fun game for kids

How to Play Mancala: A Guide to the Ancient African Board Game

A quick guide to how to play the classic game of Mancala

When it comes to board games, there are classics that stand the test of time, transcending generations and cultures. Mancala is one such gem, with roots tracing back thousands of years to ancient Africa. Today, Mancala remains a beloved game that combines strategy, skill, and even a dash of luck. Whether you're a seasoned player looking to sharpen your skills or a beginner eager to learn, this guide will take you on a journey through the captivating world of Mancala.

Mancala is a great game for kids

Unravelling the History of Mancala

Before we delve into how to play Mancala and the intricacies of gameplay, it's important to understand the history and cultural significance of this fascinating board game. Mancala is believed to have originated in Africa, with evidence of its existence dating back over 1,000 years. Mancala is not just a game; it's a reflection of the rich traditions and strategies of various African communities.


Mancala boards have been found in archaeological excavations across the continent, demonstrating its widespread popularity. Today, Mancala continues to be played and celebrated not only in Africa but also around the world, making it a truly global pastime.

The Mancala Board and Setup

Learning how to play Mancala begins with understanding the board and its setup. Mancala is played on a board consisting of two rows of small pits or cups, typically carved out of wood or dug into the ground. Each player controls one row, with six cups in front of them. At the ends of the board are two larger pits, known as "Mancalas," which belong to each player.


Here's how to play Mancala by setting up the board:


  1. Place the Mancala board horizontally between the players.
  2. Each player sits in front of the row of six cups on their side.
  3. Place four stones or seeds in each of the 12 small cups. This is the starting configuration.
Mancala board

Objective of the Game

Now that you know how to play Mancala in terms of setup, let's delve into the game's objective. The primary goal in Mancala is to capture as many stones or seeds as possible from your opponent's side while securing your own. The game ends when one player's side is empty, and the remaining stones are captured by their opponent. The player with the most stones in their Mancala at the end wins.

How to Play Mancala: Rules and Strategies


  1. Sowing: On your turn, select one of the cups on your side and scoop up all the stones from it. You then distribute these stones, one by one, counterclockwise into the cups, including your Mancala but skipping your opponent's Mancala. If your last stone lands in your Mancala, you get another turn. This is a fundamental aspect of how to play Mancala effectively.


  1. Capturing: If your last stone lands in an empty cup on your side, and the opposite cup on your opponent's side has stones, you capture those stones and place them in your Mancala. Captures are a key strategy to gain an advantage in Mancala.


When one player's row is empty, the game ends. The remaining stones on the other side are captured by the player who still has stones in their cups. Understanding the endgame is crucial in learning how to play Mancala effectively.

Mancala stones

Variations of Mancala

There are numerous variations of Mancala played around the world, each with its own unique rules and strategies. Some popular variations include:


  • Kalaha: A variation commonly played in the United States, featuring a larger board and different rules.
  • Oware: Popular in West Africa, Oware is known for its deep strategic elements.

  • Bao: East Africa's version of Mancala, often played on beautifully crafted boards with intricate rules.

Benefits of Playing Mancala

Aside from being an enjoyable pastime, Mancala offers various benefits:


  1. Critical Thinking: Mancala encourages critical thinking, as players must plan their moves ahead of time to outwit their opponents.
  2. Cultural Appreciation: Playing Mancala can foster an appreciation for the rich cultural heritage from which the game originates.
  3. Social Interaction: Mancala is a social game that brings people together, promoting friendly competition and communication. These benefits are just some of the reasons why you should learn how to play Mancala.


So, gather your stones, set up the board, and embark on a journey through the captivating world of Mancala


With practice, strategy, and a touch of luck, you'll master how to play Mancala and create lasting memories with those you play with. Now that you've learned how to play Mancala, may the Mancala board forever be one of your favourite board games!