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.

Mancala Fun
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. 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.


Cool Places to Play Mancala

It's fairly easy to find public places to play chess or domino's, but what about Mancala?

Well, we found one in Canada! Introducing the board game cafe Mancala Monk located in Hamilton, Ontario. 

Of course, you can find much more than Mancala games to play within their current library of 1018 games.

Places to Play Mancala
Mancala Monk's library of 1000+ games

What a better way to spend the afternoon, enjoying a Cameron's Smoked Ale, while playing Mancala at a place named Mancala Monk. 

While mancala is really a family of games the version up for play is the popular North American version of Kalah.

Time to schedule a Mancala party!


Mancala in the Classroom

More often then not our favorite board games originate from games that were introduced to us in our youth. 

Whether from our parents, friends, family, or peers we can all remember the first game we fell in love with.

Mancala in the Classroom
Ouri project by Miceu Tavares, Portugal

Mancala in the Classroom?

Absolutely! The classroom was designed to be a place to learn and most board games require us to learn or sharpen a skill. 

Our educators continue to explore ways to bring learning experiences into the classroom that integrate both non-cognitive and cognitive skills which are an important combination of real-world success.

Yes, games can be played through a computer, however, board games, such as Mancala, can combine the skills of patience, discipline, and hand-eye coordination along with math and problem-solving. 

More importantly, research has shown that making the connection between in-person play and learning increases adoption and interest among children, develops social skills, and creates a stronger foundation for formal education.

Why Mancala?

Overall, Mancala is a great game. Continued gameplay develops hand translation and math skills, and incorporates history and critical thinking.

Picking up a pit full of stones with one hand and distributing one by one into neighboring pits requires the movement of a single stone out of the group from the palm to the fingertips. 

Math skills are sharpened when instead of counting each stone or resulting distance traveled a child can instantly see the total of the group or skip count to the final position. Mancala is one of the oldest games in the world and has origins from South Asia, Western Africa, and Eastern Europe. 

The Mancala family of games can be integrated into history lessons and brought to life through in-classroom gameplay. 

Finally, thinking before acting or planning ahead is a very important skill to master. 

Combining multiple problems to be solved in succession require a great deal of strategy. Just like Chess, mastering Mancala requires strategic problem-solving skills. Skills, no doubt, that will prove beneficial in the foundation of life.


Best Offline Family Board Games

A primary motivation for establishing Mancala Games was to join the movement away from digital devices. 

Even Google's newest Andriod mobile operating system includes ways for us to track and limit our digital device usage. 

As society attempts to become more aware of our actual surroundings a demand for "offline" human interactions will increase.

Offline Family Board Games
Children Learning Mancala

Although, almost every board game ever created has an "App for that", board games are meant to be played using all of our senses. 

Humans have evolved through natural selection with two dominating traits that attract us to board games: problem-solving and pattern recognition. 

Combine those traits with some friendly competition and a little free time and have the perfect recipe for the birth of a board game.

As our self-awareness evolves, engineered digital games will eventually exhaust their tactics to keep our attention. 

We will eventually become wise to the fact that staring into and tapping a smooth back-lit surface that radiates radio waves may not best for our health. 

After all, our fingers were designed to experience texture, our eyes were designed to see three-dimensional unpixelated objects, and we all desire companionship. These realizations will be the revitalized driving force behind the continued demand for board games.

Offline Family Board Games
Brothers Playing Mancala

Playing a family board game around a kitchen table in the evening with some low amber lights or candles, and maybe a glass of wine is the recipe for a good time. 

Take time to feel the weight and texture of the game pieces and let your eyes adjust to the depth of a "front-lit" game board. Soak up some good conversation, both verbal and non-verbal queues, and enjoy the game!

Mancala Boards From Around The Web

We are always searching for beautifully crafted Mancala boards. 

Of course, visual appeal is only one factor, we also consider durability, functionality, and materials used.

Here are some of our favorites:

Mancala Boards
Made by Three Trees Workshop
Mancala Boards
Made by JohnEs Woodworking
Mancala Boards
Sold by Yellow Mountain Imports

Do you have a favorite Mancala board? 

Do you sell or manufacture a Mancala board? 

If you answer is yes, please comment below.

Sowing Mancala Seeds: Connection Between Farming and Mancala

Did Mancala Games Originate From Early Farming?

Mancala gameplay revolves around "sowing" your pieces around a game board. According to Wikipedia Sowing is "the process of planting". 

Thousands of years ago humans very much depended on farming as we do today. However, there were no grocery stores, supply chains, machines, and the robust worldwide economy that we have today.

It's interesting that most Mancala boards consist of long rows of pits or stores. It's also very interesting that most seed based farming consists of long rows where seeds are sowed. 

As you can see from the images below one can only imagine how Mancala originated.

Mancala Seeds
Planting Galic in Rows

Mancala Seeds
Sowing Seeds in Rows

Mancala Seeds
Playing Mancala in Dirt with Seeds
Mancala Seeds
Playing Oware on Ground with Rocks

Perhaps one hot sunny day, several thousand years ago, two farmers decided to take a break in the shade of a tree. 

They had been planting seeds all morning long and the hottest part of the day was upon them. They lifted their heavy sacks of seeds off their backs and sat down. 

Perhaps they became bored or maybe one of the farmers was just learning how to layout a farm plot, and the dirt beneath them was used to teach. 

Either way, the connection between farming and Mancala seems more than random. A game of sorts could easily develop between players with nothing more than seeds, dirt holes, and an imagination. 

Mancala is so old there really is no "official" origin or inventor so one must use their imagination. 

3 Issues with New Mancala Games

The team at Mancala Games have had a chance to try multiple newer generation boards. Here are the results:

From our own assessments and from researching online reviews we have found 3 similar complaints:

1. Pockets too shallow. 

When playing Mancala there are times when pockets can become fairly full, too the point the beads spill over into other pockets. Also, is a player is doing very well against their opponent their stores on the end can become full as well. 

This can make for some sloppy gameplay while accidents can happen and it may be hard to keep track. It's almost as if the game manufacturers have never played a full round of the game they created.

2. Beads easily break

It seems that the most common bead in store-bought Mancala is a color-filled glass bead. Combined with the issue above it does not take long for a bead to hit the floor and break. 

What you have left is a sharp piece of glass to play with. Unfortunately, most game makers do not provide spare pieces.

3. Lack of character. 

While not really a functional issue we at Manacla Games believe that if the roots of a game go back 5000 plus years it should display some of that history and heritage. 

Even though the most popular style Mancala on retail shelves is Kalah, which only dates back 50 years, a worldly or ancient appearance would increase adoption. 

Below are some examples of Mancala family boards that appear to address some of our complaints:

New Mancala Games

New Mancala Games

New Mancala Games


Kalah vs. Mancala

What is the difference between Kalah and Mancala?

Mancala is a family of ancient count and capture games that vary in layout, gameplay, and origin. 

Kalah, on the other hand, was recently introduced in the United States in the 1940s by inventor William Julius Champion Jr. Although the packaging on most commercially available games is labeled as Mancala, Kalah is actually the game you frequently see on online and on store shelves in the US.

difference between Kalah and Mancala
Kalah labeled as Mancala

In the early 1960s, game maker Kontrell marketed a game named "Kalah" which had the same board design and gameplay as the Mancala boards that are marketed today. 

However, Kontrell is no longer in business and the only indication of their board's existence was from its limited run which can now be found for sale used on eBay. The USPTO trademark for "Kalah" as used for playing board games was canceled on March 14th, 2009.

difference between Kalah and Mancala
1963 Kalah by Kontrell

Game makers across the United States and Europe continue to market the game Kalah as Mancala mostly for name recognition, however, it is important to understand the difference. 

This website will concentrate on the modern Kalah gameplay as introduced by Mr. Champion. 

We will explore the roots of the game which is interestingly enough is very similar to the Javanese mancala game Dako.

If you have any pictures of Mr. Champion's original games or any other early "Kalah" games please post in a comment below.

Why Mancala?

Why not Chess, Checkers, or Backgammon?

While all the above are great games and some date as far back as 5000 years, Mancala simply needs more advocates and some high-quality games to bring it back into the spotlight. 

In the United States most game players are introduced to Mancala in what is typically found on store shelves as pictured below:


A flat board with six pockets on each side and two large stores on the ends makes up most of what we see at the big-box stores. 

While retailers have kept Mancala on the store shelves in recent years, the quality of the boards has decreased. 

However, economies of scale and low-cost materials have allowed a low-cost Mancala game to be available to millions.

As we explore the world of Mancala, we will bring our readers where to find the very best games. 

If you have found a game or manufacture a Mancala style game please be sure to post it here.

Mancala in 2018

Many believe that Mancala is the oldest played game in the world. However, where does it stand today?

Mancala is actually a family of games that share a common origin or play style. Mancala style games consist of over 800 names or versions from over 90 countries. 

Today we are going to concentrate on some of the most popular variants as reported by Google Trends.

The Google search engine recognizes Mancala, Kalah, Pallanguzhi as games, however, Oware and Omweso were only identified as keyword search terms. 

Please note that Bao was excluded from our research as the keyword conflicted with other topics and skewed the results.

We compared the search trends since Google started collecting data back in 2004:

Although Google is a worldwide search engine we acknowledge that some countries have other search engines and also do not have the same Internet access as the United States. 

Not surprisingly both Mancala and Kalah far exceed search interest over time. Another interesting trend is the apparent decline in search interest from 2004 to 2008 across all of our game name search terms.

When adjusting our scope to the last 5 years another trend emerges. Every year in December a large spike in search interest occurs. 

This trend could very well be in-line with the seasonal holiday sales of board games:

Overall, Mancala based search term interest has declined. Perhaps the game has become less popular in e-commerce or only periodically trends. 

Either way, Mancala, and its variants will always be played and enjoyed by millions.