Board game rules Mancala

Mancala games for kids

© 2009 Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., all rights reserved

Mancala games motivate young mathematicians

Looking for activities to motivate your school-aged kids to count and think strategically?

Try out mancala.

Also known as "count and capture" games, mancala games encourage kids to conduct thought experiments, counting tokens and comparing tactics in their heads before they move a game piece. Such qualities have inspired educators in Africa, Europe, and the United States to bring mancala into the classroom.

Does playing mancala actually sharpen math and thinking skills? To date, nobody has performed the relevant experiments to find out. However, competent performance requires counting and the mental movement of game tokens across a game board. And research suggests that good players use abstract or hypothetico-deductive reasoning (Retschitzki et al 1986).

Here I provide an overview of the games, and I describe two popular variants of mancala: Kalah and Oware. If you want to play the games with your kids, you can buy a game board. But one of the great things about mancala is that the game equipment is easily made from everyday materials at home. You can make your own macala set using an egg cartoon, two bowls, and some dried seeds, beans, or pebbles.

What is mancala?

Mancala games are played throughout the world, but especially in Africa, the Caribbean, South Asia and Southeast Asia. The earliest evidence of mancala may come from Eritrea, where archaeologists have found game boards dating from the 6th or 7th centuries AD.

Though there are many variants of mancala, most versions share these elements:

• A set of counters (e.g., seeds)

• A series of small pits arranged in 2 or 4 rows

• Two large storage pits (where players keep the seeds they “capture”)

• General rules of play that include

(1) beginning the game by placing a specified number of counters in each small pit,

(2) having players take turns “sowing” and “capturing” seeds.

A player “sows” seeds by choosing a pit, scooping up all the seeds in that pit, and-moving in a specified direction-dropping one seed in each of the pits immediately adjacent to the starting pit.

Depending on which variant of mancala is played, there are different rules for capture. In most versions, the object is to capture the most seeds.

Let’s review two mancala games. The first, Kalah, is usually considered a children’s game. The second, Oware, can be enjoyed by kids and adults. However, it is considered a more complex, grown-up game.

Kalah: A good beginner’s game for kids

Kalah is one of the most popular mancala games for kids. Inspired by traditional mancala games, the rules for Kalah were invented an American, William Julius Champion.


Best board games for a date?

by ---

Can anybody suggest a good, fun boardgame to play on a night in with a guy you've been dating a month and a half or so? He says he's always wanted to just hang out on a week night and play a board game but none of his girlfriends have ever been into it. I happen to LOVE board games, but my favorites are ones he doesn't like (Monopoly, Risk, etc.) I admit I haven't been board game shopping in a while, can anyone suggest something cool with rules that aren't too complicated?

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