Discover Kenya – How to make and play Mancala

Mancala is a popular boardgame that has been played for hundreds of years in many parts of Africa; in East Africa the game is often referred to as ‘Bao’. We decided to make our own board as part of our Kenya study. There are many variants but essentially this is a ‘move and capture’ game where you want to end up with more tokens than your opponent.

Mancala boards can range from digging pits in the earth, to simple wooden boards, to stunningly carved and engraved affairs using wood or tin. They are also easy to make at home with a few simple materials!

How to make a Mancala board

Materials

  • 12-hole egg carton
  • Scissors, tape / glue.
  • Optional: paint
  • 48 tokens.

The great thing about making your own Mancala board is that you can customise and decorate it; Miss 6 chose to paint ours a vibrant pink and add some lizard spectators. The tokens can be whatever you want; aim for around small marble size. This home-made game board is great for practising fine motor skills and pincer movements!

  • scoop out and dry seeds from pumpkin or butternut
  • small river stones
  • small sea shells
  • marbles
  • beads

Directions

  1. Remove the lid of the egg carton.
  2. Optional: Paint your egg carton and allow it to completely dry.
  3. Cut the lid in half. Attach one half at each end using tape and/or glue. These create a long ‘mancala’ for each player to place their captured pieces.

How to play Mancala

There are many variants to Mancala; this is the version that has worked best for us:

  • Set up the gameboard by dropping four tokens (or ‘seeds’) into each ‘hole’ / ‘pit’. The six pits closest to your Mancala are controlled by you; the further six pits and Mancala are controlled by your opponent.
  • The player who begins chooses one of their ‘pits’ and picks up all of the tokens in it. They then proceed in an anti-clockwise direction and drop a token in each pit as they move forward. They do not drop a token in their opponent’s mancala. They do drop a token in their own Mancala. We like to think of this as sowing seeds.
  • If their turn finishes by dropping a token in their own Mancala, they get another turn. Players can use this to their advantage and may strategically repeat it several times before play passes.
  • If their turn finishes by dropping a seed in an opponent’s empty ‘pit’, they capture (‘harvest’) the token they just dropped and all the tokens in the ‘pit’ opposite. They place the tokens in their Mancala; then play passes to their opponent.
  • If their turn finishes by dropping a token in one of their own pits, or an opponent’s pit that contains tokens, then play passes.
  • The game ends when one player cannot move. Each player then collects (‘harvests’) all the tokens (‘seeds’) in their six pits (or ‘field’) and moves them to their Mancala. Players may strategically anticipate this end game result in how they move their pieces.
  • Players count the tokens in their Mancala at game’s end. Highest score wins.

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