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!

Getting A Feel For History – Escape From Colditz

5 - 5 - Strike Thro

3.5 - 5

Number of Players: 2-6

Year of Publication: 1973

Creator(s): Bob BrechinBrian DegasMajor P.R. Reid M.B.E., M.C. (Designers) and Antonio Catalán (Artist)

This one is not, under any circumstances a quick game, and is likely therefore, to be a long-ish post. The fastest time we’ve ever played it in is an hour, and that’s because we set ourselves a time limit. Otherwise the game could take days.
Escape From Colditz is a game set in the World War II prison camp at Colditz Castle. The idea for the game came from a plan formed by a group of British POW’s (Prisoners of War) to escape from Colditz using sheets and floorboards to create a glider. The game itself is a little more complicated than that, but that is the story the game is based on.
We used to play Escape From Colditz when we were younger, and we never had our own copy of the game. So recently my brother decided that it was a game we definitely needed, and he bought a copy. Since it arrived in the post we’ve played it several times with different numbers of players and different time limits.

Escape from Colditz box

Rules and Interesting Things:

This game was created by Pat Reid, a British Army Officer, and one of the few to successfully escape from Colditz Castle in World War II. The game is for 2-6 players, and the board is the floor plan of Colditz. The rule book tells us that the board is based on a true plan of the castle, but that was adapted to have all necessary features on one floor. This accuracy to Colditz is one of its most interesting features.

At the beginning of the game each player decides who they are going to play as, there are five escape teams to choose from, British (red), French (brown), American (blue), Dutch (orange) and Polish (green) and one player must play as the Security Officer (black). A different number of POW’s and Guards are allocated depending on how many players there are, as follows:
2 players: 8 POW’s and 6 Guards
3 players: 7 POW’s per player: 12 Guards
4 players: 6 POW’s per player: 14 Guards
5 players: 5 POW’s per player: 15 Guards
6 players: 4 POW’s per player: 16 Guards

The fact that the Guards are always outnumbered by the POW’s is historically accurate, as, during the war, the prisoners always vastly outnumbered the Guards. It was only by the harsh way of living, random public executions, and other similar means, that the Guards were able to keep authority over the prisoners.

Pieces are moved by the throw of two dice. A player may use all their moves on one piece or otherwise split the roll between as many of their pieces as they like. They have to move the whole number thrown and they cannot allocate any of their number of moves it to another player’s pieces. A double entitles the player to another roll.

There are five packs of cards involved in the game, Personal Civilian Escape kit, Escape Equipment, Escaper’s Opportunity, German Security and Do or Die cards. The Opportunity cards, Escape Kits, Escape Equipment and Do or Die cards are all only useful for the escapee’s, the only cards the Security Officer can use are the German Security cards.

To attempt escape, each prisoner must collect an “escape kit”, this consists of food, a compass, forged papers, and a disguise. Once collected this cannot be taken from you or lost in any way. The items collected as part of the escape kit do not exist as escape equipment. To obtain the escape kit the player must get four of their POW’s into the rooms in the castle that have the relevant symbols for each necessary item, they can then claim an escape kit.

To make a successful escape attempt each player must also collect other escape equipment, this can be rope, which comes in 30ft lengths, wire cutters, keys and forged passes. Ideally each player would have some of everything. To collect equipment a player must get their POW’s into a room with the symbol of the piece of equipment they want, they must have either two POW’s in the same room, or one in each of the rooms with that symbol, before they can collect the relevant equipment.

Start positions if playing with two people. EO is playing as Britain.
Start positions if playing with two people. EO is playing as Britain.

Opportunity and Security Cards:

Opportunity cards are specifically for the use of the POW’s. Likewise with Security Cards, which are specifically for the Security Officer. To collect a Security or Opportunity card a POW or the Security Officer must roll either a 3, 7 or 11. They are then allowed to take a card from the top of the deck before they continue with their turn. Opportunity Cards can be used as soon as they’ve been collected, or they can be held for later. However, each POW or Security Officer can only hold three at any one time. POW’s have an advantage over the Security Officer here, as, if playing with more than two players, they can choose to either discard one of their Opportunity Cards or they can pass it over to another POW. The Security Officer must discard a card if he/she has collected more than three. Opportunity Cards and Security Cards are incredibly useful, an Opportunity Card might provide a POW with a piece of equipment, or allow them to hide from the Security Officer at some point, it may even allow them access to a tunnel, which will aid their escape attempt. For the Security Officer, Security Cards are a little different, they may allow you to search a room (the SO cannot enter any of the rooms in the castle without the relevant card giving them permission to search it, meaning that POW’s are generally safe whilst in the rooms), or call Appel, which recalls every players pieces to their starting position, and other similar things.

Do or Die:

A Do or Die card is dealt to every Escape Officer at the beginning of the game, these are not read and are kept face down until they are used. Once an EO has decided to use their Do or Die card, they then turn it over and read it. It will tell them how many rolls of the dice they have to try and get one of their prisoners out of Colditz. The prisoner starts from anywhere inside the grey area of the board (the inner courtyard) and must reach one of the safe targets outside of the castle walls within the number of throws specified. The prisoner must leave through the main gate and pass and key points no longer effect them. If the prisoner does not manage to escape, they are “dead” and their whole team is removed from the board and from play.

There are even more rules to this game than i’ve mentioned in my brief (haha) overview here, however, you can gather the general outline of the game. It’s quite strategic, and definitely a challenging game for anyone! We thoroughly recommend it for hours of fun, we played the other evening and had a very silly argument, that anyone who has either of us on facebook may well have seen, about whether or not I, playing as the SO could continue to shoot one of his escaping prisoners if he was playing  a diversion card (one of the Opportunity Cards). I said no, therefore I won. He said yes, which would mean he had won.

Our unresolved ending.
Our unresolved ending.

This argument has no resolution so far.

All the information presented to you here came either from our experiences of playing the game, or from the rule book itself, if you’re interested, go find a copy!