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How to Play Mancala – the ancient game of strategy!

If Strategy Is Your Specialty, Then You’ll Love This Board Game

Perhaps one of the most frustrating features associated with any game is those won purely by luck. Us gamers like to pride ourselves on skill, so those games that are driven via chance and require no strategy infuriates us, especially when we are on the losing side! Not to worry, as mancala is won by absolutely no luck, and purely strategy and skill. The game itself dates all the way back 5000 years ago, where it was reportedly played in Sumeria. However, it later spread to other regions of Africa and Egypt such as Iraq thanks to Arabian trade routes. If this game is that old and still survived, then it must be fun!


The game of mancala requires quite a few pieces, but all of them are readily available. Alternatively, you can just buy a premade mancala set that comes equipped with all the materials you need all ready. First and foremost, you need a board of two rows and six holes/cups, thus totaling twelve holes/cups. An egg carton works wonders for this. Next, you need forty eight stones. This can be pebbles, marbles, or any other small, typically round object that can be divided amongst two players. Next, you’ll need two larger bowls – one at each end. After obtaining these pieces, as well as able bodied spirits who are eager to play, then that’s it and you are ready to begin your fun strategic game of mancala!  Read on for the Mancala rules.

How To Play Mancala

  1. Place the board with 2 rows of 6 holes/cups lengthwise between you and your opponent.  You’ll see 1 larger hole (mancala) at each end; your mancala is to your right.
  2. Divide the total 48 stones by placing 4 stones in each of the 12 holes – mancalas remain empty.
  3. Decide which player will go first (Rock, Paper, Scissors, coin flip, etc.).
  4. Per turn, a player will grab all the stones from 1 of the 6 holes of their side then drop them one at a time in succeeding holes going counterclockwise around the board until the stones run out.
  5. Players cannot place their stones in their opponent’s mancala but may place stones in their own mancala.  
  6. Take a free turn if the last stone you drop is in your mancala!
  7. If the last piece you drop is in an empty hole on your side, then you capture that piece and any pieces in the hole directly opposite by putting them into your mancala.
  8. Then, the next player may go and do the exact same process. The first player to completely fill their mancala, thus having no holes with stones left in them, wins!

Team Size

Mancala may only be played amongst two people. Yet, a larger party can easily take turns with the game, creating a tournament fashion similar to a game of chess or checkers.

Playing Time

Time of rounds of the mancala game are dependent on the skill and strategic aptness of each player. Evenly matched players typically take longer, while novice players are on the shorter end. Yet, a round should not exceed more than fifteen minutes, and time can be called before the holes are actually empty. In the latter case, a winner will be determined by the number of stones in their respective stores.

Mancala Video Tutorial