Mancala is one of the world’s oldest games. It’s still popular today because it’s fun to play and is deceptively simple. Playing mancala with kids can be especially fun because they make the game even more predictable.
Let’s learn how to play Mancala.
For this post, we used the Mancala for Kids board game from Pressman.
It features a solid wood board and 48 animal gems. This version is fun for kids because they enjoy moving the animals around the board.
What Is Mancala?
Mancala is an ancient board game, and its invention is a bit of a mystery. Some archaeologists date it back to 700 CE in East Africa. Others believe there’s sufficient evidence that it’s even older, to around 5870 BCE in Jordan.
Due to the counting and capturing nature of the game, some archaeologists estimate that it may have been developed near the dawn of civilization.
Though there are many variations, most feature a board with two rows of pockets, also called pits, and two larger holes called a mancala or store. Players try to move as many of their stones into their mancala as possible.
Why Play Mancala With Kids?
Not only are board games fun for kids, but they also teach many important academic and life skills. Mancala is a great game for the classroom or to play with kids at home. Kids learn social skills like taking turns.
Kids also learn skills like thinking ahead, counting, problem-solving, and strategizing.
The object of the game is to be the person with the most stones in their mancala or store.
How to Set Up a Mancala Board
Setting up a mancala board is simple. You or your child can do it. First, you need to know the parts of a mancala board. The smaller holes are called pockets. The larger holes on either end are called mancalas or stores.
You can use a set that you purchase, or you can make your own set. You can use a dozen-egg carton for the pockets, two small cups or bowls for the mancalas, and 48 small beads, gems, or stones.
Players should sit opposite one another with the board running longways between them so that each person has six pockets in front of them. Each player has one mancala, the one on their right.
Place 4 beads in each of the pockets until you’ve used all 48 beads.
Choosing Who Goes First
Mancala rules don’t state how to choose who goes first. Instead, you can use house rules for choosing, such as flipping a coin or letting the youngest player go first.
Playing the Game
Below are the rules for playing Mancala.
- The player going first chooses one of their six pockets. They remove all of the stones from that pocket and drop them, one by one, in each of the next pockets. They move in a counter-clockwise direction around the board until they’re out of stones.
- If the player passes their own mancala, they will drop a stone in it.
- If the player has stones after passing their mancala, they continue to drop them into the other player’s pockets.
- If the player passes the other player’s mancala, they do not put a stone in their mancala.
- If the player ends by placing their last stone in their own mancala, they get another turn.
- If the player ends their turn by placing a stone in an empty pocket on their side, they put the stone in their mancala along with any stones in the opposite pocket belonging to the other play.
- The second player takes their turn, following the same rules as above.
- The game ends when one player has emptied all of their pockets.
Determining a Winner
Once a player has cleared all of their pockets, the other player puts the remaining stones in their pockets into their mancala.
Both players count their stones. The one with the most stones is the winner.
Strategies for Winning Mancala
Mancala seems like a simple game to play because there are only a few simple rules. However, once you know how to play Mancala, you’ll see that the simple rules are quite deceptive. It’s easy to learn how to play but challenging to learn how to win Mancala.
However, the more you play, the more you’ll develop strategies for winning Mancala.
As you develop your Mancala strategy, you should always focus on getting stones into your mancala, as that’s the object of the game. Once stones are in your mancala, they can’t be removed, so you should always choose the move that will get stones into your mancala over others.
Below are a few simple strategies that can help you win Mancala.
Getting a Free Turn
One of the easiest strategies in mancala is getting a free turn. A free turn allows you to get more stones into your mancala. Anytime you end your turn by dropping your final stone in your mancala, then you automatically get another turn.
For your first move, always start with the third pocket on the left. It will have four stones, so you’ll drop the last one into your mancala.
For other turns, check all of your pockets to see if any have enough stones for you to finish in your mancala. Racking up free turns is a great Mancala strategy for winning.
If you’d like to strategize even further, you can also prevent your opponent from getting a free turn. This method works best when you’re the first player. First, empty the third pocket and get your free turn.
Next, choose either the pocket on the right or the second pocket from the right. Either of these pockets will give your opponent too many stones in their third pocket from the left, preventing them from getting a free turn on their first go.
How Do You Capture in Mancala?
There is only one way to get your opponent’s stones – you must learn how to capture. The only way to capture is by dropping your last stone in an empty pocket on your side of the board. You get to put the stone in your mancala. You also get to take any stones your opponent has in the opposite pocket.
Capturing is one of the best ways of winning at mancala because you can rack up quite a few stones in one turn. Before each turn, you should check your stones and see if there are any opportunities for you to end in one of your empty pockets. You should always try to capture before doing any of the other strategies, especially if your opponent has a full pocket.
You can set yourself up to capture by emptying your pockets as quickly as possible. The more empty pockets you have, the greater your chance of getting to capture your opponent’s stones.
Have you mastered the basic strategies? If so, then you’re ready to move on to more advanced strategies and make yourself into an unbeatable Mancala game player!
Right Pocket Strategy
When you can’t focus on your mancala, focus on emptying your right pocket. As soon as the pocket gets a stone, play it on your next turn. You’ll fill up your mancala and prevent having to put as many stones in your opponents’ pockets.
Stop Your Opponent
If you can’t put stones in your mancala, then do what you can to prevent your opponent from getting stones in their mancala and capturing your stones. Since your opponent can capture your stones by putting a stone in one of their empty pockets, try to fill their pockets on your turn.
You can also figure out ways that your opponent can end their turn by dropping a stone in their mancala and getting a free turn. Drop stones in their pocket to prevent them.
Follow these simple rules to have a fun game of Mancala with your kids. The more you play, the better you’ll get at developing strategies to win.