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Introduction to Mancala games

Mancala games may be the oldest board games that are being played today. Some sources say that the game is more than 3000 years old. The origin is unclear but it is assumed that the first games were played in Asia or Africa.

Mancala is a family of games and are also known as count and capture games. There is no element of chance, it is a pure strategy game. Variations are known with more than 200 different names such as: Adji-Boto, Adjito, Awale, Awari, Aware, Awele, Bantumi, Congklak, Dakar, Dao, Dara, Darra, Endovoi, Geshe, Halusa, Jodu, Kalaha, Kalah, Kale, Kalle, Oware, Ot-Tsjin, Solo, Songo Duala, Sungka, Vai Lung Thlan, Wari, Warri, Wouri.

Traditional Mancala boards come in different sizes and shapes. Although most boards are made of wood, other materials are used like metal, clay or stone. The boards can have two, three or four rows of cups or holes. Usually there are larger holes on each side to hold the tokens that are captured during the game. The large store holes are sometimes called Kalah or Mancala. The tokens used with the game can be any small objects like shells, seeds, pebbles or little pieces of wood.

General Rules

A move is generally made like this: a player takes all the tokens from one of the holes and sows them into the other holes. One token is dropped in the hole next to the hole where the tokens were taken then another in the hole next to that and this continues until all tokens are dropped. In some games the sowing is always counter-clockwise, in some always clockwise and others sow in both directions. If there are enough tokens the sowing goes round the board.

The store holes are skipped in some variations while other variations drop a token in the players store hole. Some rules also specify that the starting hole from where the tokens were taken is skipped when sowing goes round the board. The player can usually select any start hole on his side of the board although with some games the hole must have at least two or more tokens. There may also be rules that restrict a move that leaves the opponent without tokens.

Some games allow multiple sowing. Sowing continues with the tokens taken from the last reached hole and goes on from there. Multiple sowing usually ends if the last hole is empty. Some games allow the same player to make another move from any hole if the last token is dropped in the store hole.

Different variations exist for rules on capturing. One variation is where sowing ends in an empty hole and the tokens of the opposite hole are captured. Other variations capture the holes with a specific number of tokens. Multiple capture may be allowed if the previous hole also contains the required number of tokens.

The objective of the game is always to capture more tokens than the opponent. The game ends when a player has no tokens or valid moves. The remaining tokens on the board are divided among the players.