Diving back to quick games: Mancala

3.5 - 5


Number of Players: 2

Year of Publication: 550

Creator(s): Unknown

So, having been pretty quiet for a while, I’m making a return to my quick games chain of posts, with Manacala. I’ve been playing this game my whole life, although, as children my brother and I played it as a mini game on an educational computer game we owned and it was called Mother Bird’s Eggs. I wasn’t introduced to it as a non-virtual reality game until a few years later.

The board, the pieces, and how to play!

Objective: The objective of the game is to have the most pieces in your Mancala at the end.

It ‘s a very quick game to learn, the board is (usually) made of wood, is oblong in shape and has several hollows carved into it. There will be one long hollow carved vertically into each of the short ends, so that they run parallel to the end of the board. Then there will be six small circular hollows carved into each long side of the board. Each of the circular hollows will then have three playing pieces placed in it before the game begins. Pieces could be anything, from small stones to pieces of glass, to counters you’ve borrowed from another game.

A Mancala board set up for play (with three "connect four" pieces used to make up for three missing dragon drops)
A Mancala board set up for play (with three “connect four” pieces used to make up for three missing dragon drops)

Each player plays to their right, so the long hollow on the end of the board to their right becomes their “Mancala”, similarly, the hollows on the side of the board you are sitting on, are yours – this is very important – you are not allowed to move pieces from your opponents hollows.  Before play begins you will determine who plays first and they will then choose one of their hollows, and move the pieces from it. To move your pieces, you pick up all the pieces from the hollow you’ve chosen and place one in every subsequent hollow (including your Mancala if you have that many, but excluding your opponents Mancala) until you run out. You may find, when moving pieces from a hollow containing a lot of pieces, that you place pieces in all of your hollows and then have to continue round to those of your opponent. This is often irritating, as you are providing them with the opportunity for more pieces, but is sometimes unavoidable.

A game in mid swing.
A game in mid swing.

Apart from what i’ve already described, there are very few rules to this game. If a player  is moving their pieces and, in placing them in the hollows, manages to place the last one in their Mancala, they take another turn. This can be both advantageous and disadvantageous as your opponent may have strategically stockpiled some of their pieces in one hollow, and, to force them to move it, you are trying to stall, by moving as few pieces in each turn as possible, so you would not want to be giving yourself extra turns if you can avoid it.

Taking Pieces:

Players may also take their opponents pieces. If, when you are moving your pieces, your last piece lands in one of your hollows, which is empty, and your opponent has pieces in the hollow directly opposite it, you take these, and place them in your Mancala.

Ending the Game:

The game ends when one player runs out of pieces in their six hollows. When this happens anything that remains in their opponents hollows is added to their opponents Mancala, and the number in each is counted. The winner is the player with the most pieces stored in their Mancala.

Someone quite obviously won that one!
Someone quite obviously won that one!

Due to a lack of photos of us playing the game (this has now been amended), this description has been pretty wordy, however, I hope it makes some sense and is even a little interesting. If you’re bored of game play info, keep going down to find out a little of the history of this very old strategy game!

History and Things (my 10ish interesting points):

  1. This is the only ancient game surviving in the world with an Arabic name – the name does not apply solely to this game, but to this family of games.
  2. It is possible that this is the oldest game in the world, one of the reasons for this being that it is simple and can be played using whatever materials are to hand – tribes in Africa would scoop out hollows from the earth and play on the ground with pebbles.
  3. Although there is now a generally played version of the game, with six hollows for each player and three pieces per hollow, the game can be played in many different ways as it has been played for thousands of years in Africa and the Middle East. Here each tribe would have a slightly different way of playing the game, varying from the number of pieces used to how many “ranks” (rings) there were around the board.
  4. Mancala is the most widely-known (at least in the Western world) name for the game, however, there are many others, a small sample here: Wari, Warri, Ware, Walle, Awari, Aware, Awaoley, Awele, Oware, Owari, and Wouri.
  5. The game is, and was, played for recreational purposes, but there are also some areas, such as the West Indies, that have associated it with religion. It was played in a house of mourning in the belief that the soul of the departed would be amused until burial.
  6. Despite its primitive origins, the game is completely mathematical, and some of the more complex versions of it have as much standing as Chess.
  7. Two-rank boards have historically been found North of the Equator, whilst the four-rank boards are found South of the Equator.
  8. Stone Mancala boards found carved into temples in Memphis, Thebes and Luxor date the game in Egypt back before 1400BC.

I made eight points, that’s not bad going. 10 may have been slightly ambitious of me…

For anyone interested I found a selection of my interesting history points here, and here! Happy reading and hopefully there’ll be some more regular posting going on from now on!


Don’t Rock the Boat – Balance Game – Part 1

1 - 5

Number of Players: Theoretically unlimited

Year of Publication: 2013

Creator(s): Tiger

Unfortunately due to life being… Well, life, having time to play games and time to write about them has been difficult recently, it’s at times like this that I’m quite glad no one cares about this as it means we don’t let anyone down! However we also want people to start caring so any suggestions on how to achieve that would be appreciated.

Anyway, to the point! A very obscure balancing game (or two) purchased from the shop “Tiger” and without more of a name than “Balance Game” (or Balancespil, which I assume is Balance Game in Danish as Tiger is a Dutch company) and instructions that read “Roll the dice and place a brick of the same color as shown on the dice on the tipping moon.” We thought we could do better than this, well we thought they could probably do better than this but apparently some very obvious things to make this game better just never occurred to them!

The contents of the box - One "Tipping Moon", 6 different color sets each with three circular pieces of different sizes and two dice with each of the colors shown on each of its sides.
The contents of the box – One “Tipping Moon”, 6 different color sets each with three circular pieces of different sizes and two dice with each of the colors shown on each of its sides.

So to begin with we played the game the way they suggested, which was good, you could see the potential in the idea and if the box had had an age range on it saying 4 – 10 or something similar I would say the game was perfectly acceptable and needed no help. However it did not and therefore needs lots of help! The fist problem we ran into was that it’s possible to stack all of the pieces onto the “Tipping Moon” without any of them falling off… So no one can win!

The "Tipping Moon" with all the possible pieces on it
The “Tipping Moon” with all the possible pieces on it

So at this point we decided this wasn’t good enough and we could do better! So we tried various versions of the game to find a better way of playing. The first thing we did was get another copy of the game (however the other copy was written off and therefore missing some pieces, but was good enough for our needs).

Variation 1:

We played the standardized version of the game with almost double the amount of pieces – using the second set. This worked much better as it was now impossible to fit them all on so someone had to lose! In fact if they had made the original with four pieces to every color set instead of three this would have sufficed.

The game with another (almost full) set of pieces.
The game with another (almost full) set of pieces.

Variation 2:

So being the adventurous types that we are (board game enthusiasts) and not just happy that we’d found a good version of the game we decided to go even further and assign a value to each piece depending on its size. We tried a few values but found that it works best using 4 for the largest piece, the middle piece as 2 and the smallest as 1. You now roll both the colored die and a standard die together and must place the value of the standard die in the color the other die shows. If you cannot play because there are not enough pieces in that color you re-roll one of the dice and if you still cannot play you re-roll the other die and keep re-rolling until you can play a piece/s.

A standard dice showing a 6 with the color orange so a large piece that equals 5 and small that equals one are added together to make 6. (this was our original attempt at this idea where we used 5, 3 and 1 but found two many 1 pieces where needed.)
A standard dice showing a 6 with the color orange so a large piece that equals 5 and small that equals one are added together to make 6. (this was our original attempt at this idea where we used 5, 3 and 1 but found too many 1 pieces were needed.)

We found this to be a great way of playing which lead to the idea to make a better version of the game altogether! Why have a “tipping moon” when you can have a boat with barrels with numbers indicating their weight on them, and you have to add the weight to the boat and you can call the game “Don’t Rock the Boat” or something to that effect!

Variation 3:

Still not happy that we’d found the best version of the game we continued to make alterations! This time we played the same as before but we made the purple on the dice a wild color meaning you could play any color you wanted and added the purple pieces into the other colors to increase the amount you had to work with. All the other rules still applied!

This we found to be good too as it meant you spent less time re-rolling dice as the game came to the end.

Variation 4:

Now still not happy we decided to scrap the color idea altogether and lose the color dice but keep the weight/value system. So now all pieces were only judged by their weight… Not the color of their skin… Which is a step in the right direction but perhaps not all the way to a harmonious society! In addition we added the idea that you could remove pieces from the boat to make the number. So say you roll a two you can add a large piece that equals four and remove a two piece that’s already on the boat, this adds an addition tactical element to the game as you can change the weight distribution of the boat drastically quite easily. We ruled that you had to place your piece or pieces (up to two per turn) before removing your piece or pieces (up to two per turn). This made the game very interesting, and a lot more fun as you had a “steady hands” Jenga type aspect to the game of removing the other pieces.

Variation 5:

Then finally (happy we had found the best way of playing with one boat or “tipping moon”) we decided to see what would happen if you played with two! We changed the point distribution to make the biggest piece worth eight but keep the others at two and one and kept rolling a single six sided dice and ignoring the colors.  We then made one “tipping moon” a Plus boat and the other a Minus boat and you had to make up the number by adding to both boats but the Plus boat counted towards the number you had to make and the minus counted against so if you rolled a six you could add an eight piece to the Plus boat and a two OR two one pieces to the Minus boat (again a maximum of two pieces could be placed on each boat each turn). The first one to tip either boat lost.

The one on the left is the Minus boat and the one on the right is the Plus boat.
The one on the left is the Minus boat and the one on the right is the Plus boat.

This was very interesting, and requires a very large number of pieces to play properly, but holds great promise!

Don’t or Do Rock the Boat:

After all our experimenting we decided just to make our own version of the game called “Don’t Rock the Boat” OR “Rock the Boat” OR something else if we come up with a better name. (Feel free to throw out suggestions)

We decided our game should be like this:

  1. The “tipping moon” should be a boat and the pieces should be barrels that you have to load onto the boat.
  2. The pieces would have no color classification just weights of 4, 2 and 1 and it would be played with one standard die that would dictate the required weight to be added to the boat.
  3. You could play the game in two variations. One just by adding pieces to make the required weight and two by adding and then taking off barrels to make the required weight.
  4. The loser would be the first one to make pieces fall off the boat, excluding the piece they are placing. Any piece(s) that moved but stayed on the boat didn’t count as a loss.
  5. Additionally we decided that you could make it so if you got two copies of the game you could play it with Plus and Minus boats so we would paint a Plus and Minus on opposite side of the boat so with two sets you could play it how we played in variation 5.

I addition to all of this we decided that there needed to be more of each of the pieces per set so it was impossible to fit them all on the boat. However due to time and horrible things like having to work to live, this wonderful concept for this game has not been made yet but hopefully will get made soon so keep you eyes peeled for “Don’t Rock the Boat – Balance Game – Part 2” post sometime soon… Hopefully, I make no promises as to when!