Learn the Ancient History of the Mancala Origin

Mancala is a fun and easy game that has been loved for ages. In fact, it's one of the oldest known games in the world.

If you love playing mancala, you'll be interested to know its story and how it became so popular. Read on to learn more about mancala origin!


Mancala Origin and History

Mancala is one of the oldest known two-player board games in the world. It is believed that the game began in ancient Africa.

Evidence of the ancient board game has been found dating back to the year 700 AD. These archeological treasures were first found in Aksumite settlements in Matara, Eritrea) and Yeha, Ethiopia.

It is believed that Arabian traders brought the game with them when traveling to distant lands. The game's modern version, "Mancala," is a derivative of an Arabic word - Naqala, which means "to move."

Its name seems to be quite suitable as this ancient game was quickly adopted around the world. In fact, the travels of Arabian traders helped cement the game's international popularity.

Even hundreds of years ago, this beloved game was commonly played in a variety of countries in southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, the Baltic states, and North America.

While mancala took longer to catch on in Europe, it continued to grow elsewhere. Its simple and enjoyable nature contributed to its popularity.

These historical origins map the story of a game played thousands of years ago. From a single point of creation to its vast consumption across the world, this ancient game bears little difference from the version played today in your own home.

Carved Wood Mancala Board with Handle


Modern Gameplay

Mancala was believed to have been brought to the United States along with the enslaved African people. Today, it's still one of the most widely played board games in the world.

Beautiful mancala boards are available online and delivered to your door with the click of a button. This is far different from the amount of effort that was once required.

While the name of the game may change, the traditional mancala board has largely stayed the same. Its modern version, which is most commonly played in the west, is commonly referred to as Kalah.

This "count and capture" game was introduced to the American market in the 1940s. It was both easy to play and easy to love. Quickly, Kalah became a popular pastime and is still the most popular Mancala game in the western hemisphere.


Mancala: The Legend Continues

Through the ages, the appeal of mancala has never disappeared. This simple game has been played by both kings and commoners and still brings joy to modern players.

If you're new to it, learning the rules is simple. If you're an experienced player, you may have an interest in gameplay strategy.

Regardless, our website offers great insight into the magical world of mancala. To learn more about mancala origin or improve your technique, check out our other posts for helpful tips.

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Learn How to Play Mancala in 5 Easy Steps


Are you looking for a game to play that is simple and fun for all ages?

Enter mancala. Mancala is one of the most beloved board games around the world, and it's actually been around for quite some time. In fact, archeologists have actually found evidence of the game in Africa dating back to between 500 and 700 AD.

If mancala has made it through hundreds of years of history, it's clear that it's definitely a game worth knowing about.

But, how exactly do you play mancala?

Read this guide to learn how to play mancala in 5 easy steps.


1. Set Up the Board

First things first, you need to make sure you have the right set up.

Place the board between you and the other player, with the long side of the board facing you. You should see two rows, each with 6 cups, and one long cup on each end, also known as the "mancala" (meaning "to move").

Your side is the 6 cups closest to you, and your mancala is the one to the right of you.

To set up the board, place 4 stones in each cup, with the exception of the mancala cup. In total, there should be 48 stones on the board.
Wood Mancala Board with Polished Stones

2. Gameplay

To decide which player goes first, you can either flip a coin or play Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Then, the game begins by the player picking up all the stones in one cup on their side of the board. They can choose to pick up stones from any of the cups on their side, however, they must drop the stones in the succeeding cups, and they must drop them in a counter-clockwise direction.

Players can place stones in their own mancala cup, however, they cannot place stones in their opponent's mancala cup. But, they may place stones in the other player's cups.

If your last stone falls in the mancala, then you are allowed another turn. If your last stone falls in a cup that is empty on your side of the board, then you take all the stones from the player's cup that is directly opposite yours.

The goal is to get as many stones on your end and in your own mancala as possible.

The game ends when one player does not have any stones left on their side of the board. At this point, each player is to count their own mancala stones. The player with the most stones at the end wins the game.


3. Extra Tricks and Tips

As we said earlier, if the last stone you place is in your own mancala, then you get to take another turn.

Therefore, if your turn is first, then you should play the cup that is five cups away from your own mancala.

After taking your second turn, if your opponent chooses to play a cup that is one or two cups away from their own mancala, then make your next move from the cup that is 6 away from your own mancala. Again, you will get a free turn!


How to Play Mancala: Have Fun!

Of course, the most important part of playing mancala is having fun!

You can pretty much take a mancala board anywhere, so get ready for this to be your new favorite game.

And, now that you know how to play mancala, it is time to purchase your own board. Comment below if you have questions about choosing a mancala board.

And, if you're looking for cool places to play mancala, be sure to check out this post.


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Why is Mancala Fun For All Ages?

Chess, checkers, and backgammon are all classic staples of challenging board games. Mancala, however, is even older than those, dating back to 500-600 AD. You might have seen this game in stores, but never knew what it was about.

Mancala is a strategic game of math and positioning. Its simple appearance belies its deep and challenging qualities. It's a game that's great for all ages, even young children.

This can be a great activity idea for parents or teachers looking to keep kids engaged and sharpen their cognitive skills. For more information, keep reading about this ancient board game and how it works.

Older Sister Teaching Mancala


Benefits of Mancala

Like most board games that deal with positioning and counting, mancala requires lots of concentration. Players will require both abstract and deductive reasoning to gain advantages. Mancala has multiple variants, which differ in skill level.

Its simple design means that anyone in the world can play it without needing to buy set pieces. You can use various containers, seeds, beads, beans, or rocks. The barrier for entry is low, which is why it is one of the most internationally-accessible games.
Mancala is a fun activity in the classroom. The gameplay is easy to pick-up and doesn't require a lot of unique pieces like others. It has been used as a teaching counting tool for centuries in Africa.

How It's Played

All variants of mancala share the basic playing pieces: counting pieces and containers. There are two large containers that serve as captured pieces, while the middle contains rows of smaller ones. The game begins with the center rows filled with seeds of a predetermined amount.

Each player takes a turn "sowing" a chosen row of seeds by picking up a group and spreading them into adjacent containers. The concept is simple, but capturing more seeds than your opponent can get tricky.

The game rules will vary based on which variant of Mancala you are playing. The two main variants are Kalah for beginners and children, Oware for older and experienced players.

Kalah Rules

When you're playing Mancala in the U.S., you're likely playing by Kalah rules. This is the default variant to introduce new players. This variant starts with two rows of 6 containers, also called houses.

You each get your own storage for captured pieces. Each house will hold four seeds, totaling 12 houses with 48 pieces.

One player begins the game by taking seeds from their first house and sowing them in a counter-clockwise position. One seed in each house, dropping the last one into their stores, if they come across it. A seed into the storage grants another turn.

This process continues until no more seeds can be sewn and a final tally is counted. Sounds easy, right? Well, the rules of Kalah are what make it exciting.

Kalah Required Moves

Firstly, you can't drop seeds into another's storage, for obvious reasons. Dropping your last seed into an empty pit means you get all the seeds next to it and the last seed dropped. If you run out of seeds on your side of the board, the opponent gets to gather all their seeds on their side.

When it comes to strategy, you're going to have to pay attention to where you choose to start your sow. If you play the sides, you may end up with empty houses in the middle. If you play the middle, you will shuffle seeds to the sides.

Movements must be made for your benefit and the opponent's detriment. Shift some of their seeds to your side and migrate them to your storage.

Oware Rules

While Kalah can be played for hours without getting boring, adults may want something more competitive. Oware is the Chess as Kalah is to Checkers. It is recommended for players 11 years old and up.

The board is identical to Kalah, two rows of 6 houses, 4 seeds in each house, and storage pits. You will also be sowing seeds in the same fashion. The game begins with each player taking seeds from their closest house and sowing them counter-clockwise.

Oware Required Moves

Oware breathes new life into the game by changing the requirements of capturing seeds. You won't be dropping seeds into the storage pits from the act of sowing. In order to capture, you need to end your move in one of the opponent's houses.

Not only that, but you need to do it in a specific order. When you end your move in their house, you need to have 2-3 seeds in it to capture. Not one, not four, but 2-3 seeds.

If you don't have the necessary seeds in it, then your turn is up. If you do get to capture those seeds, you will continue and look at the next-to-last house of your opponent. If it has 2-3 seeds, you get those seeds, too.

This opens up a whole new world of strategy on the Mancala board. The long-term strategies open up further and mistakes can turn the tide permanently. Oware can also expand into larger playing fields for even more challenge.

Family and Friends Game Night

Mancala is a game that should be a staple in any family game night collection. It offers a great pick-up and play opportunity needing little explanation. Like Checkers, it is easy to remember; like Chess, it is hard to master.

Mancala is also playable in a group setting. There are team Mancala boards where multiple players work together to beat the other side. This is where lots of comraderies and team sports traits can surface.

Put together your family board game night with help from our guide here at MancalaGames.net. We have all the information you'll need to get started.

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