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:




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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.

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.

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.
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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.
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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.
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