Mancala Rules

Mancala Rules: How To Play This Ancient Game?

| December 16, 2023 | How To

If you are seeking a DIY board game to play with your friends or family that has a fine balance that will challenge you to strengthen your strategic thinking and counting skills, you have to try out Mancala. The mancala rules are not as simple as the rules of other classic board games like Pokeno or Parcheesi.

But once you get familiar with the rules, this might just be your next favorite board game.

Mancala has ancient roots, but the game has managed to survive generations, staying relevant across the Middle East and Africa. You can easily replicate this game and play a DIY version. You will need only a handful of materials that might already be lying around.

Keep reading to discover how you can play this game at home with ease!

But Before That, Mancala’s Ancient Origins: A Brief Overview

Before we talk about the Mancala rules, let’s briefly check out the primitive origins of the game.

Mancala is technically a type of game where players typically ‘sow’ as well as ‘capture’ seeds. Historians and expert professionals believe that the game might have originated as early as the dawn of civilization as a divination tool, a harvesting ritual, or a record-keeping technique.

There is enough evidence that the board game was played years ago in Egypt, Sudan, located on the Upper Nile, and Sumeria, or today’s Iraq. In fact, archaeologists have discovered ancient Mancala boards in Ghana, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

The game only made its way to the U.S. after enslaved Africans were taken to America. It is believed that the game reached American soil with enslaved Africans.

Mancala Rules: How To Play?

There are multiple versions of the Mancala game. Moreover, people across the globe continue to play this game. Technically, it is a kind of board game, but it is not really a trademarked game or a brand in itself. So, we decided to discuss a basic version of the game. This version is known as a two-rank Mancala.

The primary objective of Mancala is to get hold of more stones as compared to your opponent(s).


There is a brief list of things you will require in order to play Mancala at home. Of course, you will need a Mancala board. Traditionally, the Mancala board has two different rows accompanied by six pits or holes.

Now, you can buy a Mancala board online or at local board game stores. If you cannot find it at a store or online, you can always utilize an egg carton (of course, an empty one). Apart from the board, you will need a small cereal bowl for each player. This cereal bowl is known as a mancala store.

Apart from that, you will also require 48 marbles, stones, or chips of just about any shade. If you don’t find marbles, chips, or stones, you can always opt for pennies as a substitute.

Every player has to sit opposite each other, facing the longer side of the egg carton or board. You have to finish the setup by giving every player 24 marbles.

Every player has to place four marbles each into every hole that is close to them. On the egg carton or the board’s right-hand side, you have to place the Mancala stores. These have to be free from stones.


Just flip a coin to determine which player will begin the game. You can use some other method as well to figure this out. Now, the Mancala rules say that there are three primary steps to play the game, with each game lasting around five to ten minutes.

  1. First, place 4 marbles into each of the holes.
  1. The first player will grab all the marbles from one pit on their side. After that, the player will drop one marble after another into each hole around the whole board. You will have to move in a counter-clockwise direction. If this player ends up crossing a Mancala bowl, then they will also drop a stone there as well.
  1. Once the player runs out of marbles, the turn will pass to the next player, who will do the same thing.
  1. In case a player possesses enough marbles to drop in their own bowl, they can place a marble in the same. But if it happens to be the player’s very last marble, then they will get a turn to go again for free. Also, if the player passes over someone else’s bowl during their turn, then they will not place any marble in their hole.
  1. The gameplay ends when any one player is able to empty the six holes of marbles on their side of the board. The opponent player will then take all the marbles on their side before placing the same into their bowl.
  1. The game’s winner is the player who has the highest number of stones in their Mancala bowls.

Winning Mancala: Tricks To Make You Win

Now that you are aware of the Mancala rule let’s talk about some tips and tricks. This is where strategic thinking and maths come into play. There are different ways to win this ancient game, but you need to plan before moving your marbles.

Playing this game is very similar to playing Connect 4 since it also relies heavily on strategy.  So, here are a few tricks that you can hold on to when you are playing this primitive game.

Think Strategically:

If you are going first, ensure that you are picking up marbles in the 4th hole, located away from your bowl. That way, you will be able to place the very last marble in your own bowl, and you will also obtain a turn for free.

Gather More Stones:

One of the best ways to obtain more marbles is to drop your last marble strategically into an empty hole on your side of the Mancala board. That way, you will be able to move across the Mancala board, taking your opponent’s marbles kept inside the opposite hole.

Get A Free Turn:

When you are dropping marbles into the holes, don’t forget to drop one marble into your own store. In case it is your last marble, then you will obtain another turn.

And It’s A Wrap!

Now that you are aware of the Mancala rules and you are also familiar with the tips and tricks associated with this board game, what are you waiting for? Just get hold of an empty egg carton, some stones, and a few of your friends and get started with this ancient but exciting board game.

If you are a sucker for strategic thinking like we are, then you are going to love this one. Plus, we love how the game has managed to survive for years and has continued to be relevant even today!

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Barsha Bhattacharya
Barsha Bhattacharya

Barsha Bhattacharya is a senior content writing executive. As a marketing enthusiast and professional for the past 4 years, writing is new to Barsha. And she is loving every bit of it. Her niches are marketing, lifestyle, wellness, travel and entertainment. Apart from writing, Barsha loves to travel, binge-watch, research conspiracy theories, Instagram and overthink.


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