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I first became horribly addicted to Mancala when I found it lurking on the pre-loaded games on my old Nokia phone. I started out by playing it on the train as I commuted, but quickly became so determined to beat my own score that I found myself playing it during my lunchtimes or in the evening. Eventually, it was no surprise when I found a real game of Mancala in my Christmas stocking, to replace the virtual game. Now I could play Mancala for real - against a human opponent rather than a virtual one.
Mancala is famous for being the oldest board game ever played. I always understood that evidence for this came from ancient Egypt, where stone boards were found with regular holes that indicated that the game was played. However, Wikipedia indicates that some of the earliest evidence of the game are fragments of a pottery board and several rock cuts found in Aksumite Ethiopia in Matara (now in Eritrea) and Yeha (in Ethiopia), which are dated by archaeologists to between the 6th and 7th century AD.
I like the idea that this very simple and ancient game is still being played today, and the thought of those ancient Egyptians squatting around their stone somehow makes my enjoyment greater.
~~The Mancala Board ~~
Mancala has to be played on a Mancala board. This consists of a series of 12 holes, arranged in pairs in a straight line. At either end of these paired holes is a much larger hole, or pit. In my version of the game, 48 counters are supplied for play.
I own the folding travel Mancala, but there are a variety of flat Mancala boards available which can be made out of wood or stone - of different sizes and a huge variety or prices and quality. My travel Mancala set is made out of pine and measures 11.5cm by 20cm when it is closed, and 11.5cm by 40cm when opened. It folds in half with a small brass hinge, and is held together with a small clasp. I bought my set for around £11 from an internet site, and the quality of the counters and the clasp is poor, although the wooden board itself is solid and nicely finished.
My set came with brown plastic counters which I found much to light and fiddly to play with. I chose to replace these over the years with small, polished stones which I bought from my local art shop. These are much easier to handle and do not fly out of the holes so easily as you start to move them around during play.
The name Mancala comes from the Arabic word naqala - which means to move, and the game is all about moving small glass beads around a board, from one hole to another, capturing the opponents glass beads in the process. It is very much a game of strategy, and one that can be played on a variety of different levels according to the age and abilities of the players. The winner is the person with the most glass beads in the home pit.
To play, the stones are laid out in the small holes; 4 to each hole. The bigger pits at each end are left empty. The first player to go then can pick up all the stones from any of the holes on his side of the board. Moving anti-clockwise round the board, one stone from the stones picked up must be dropped in each of the holes in turn. If you pass your own pit, deposit a stone inside it, and it is your to keep. If you pass your opponents pit, skip it.
If the last counter placed is on your side of the board, you get another turn, if it is on your opponents side, it is their turn to carry out the same procedure.
The aim is to place the last counter in an empty hole on your side of the board. If you do this, you can take that counter, and all the counters in the opposite hole (which is on your opponents side) and put them in your pit. You have now captured these pieces for the duration of the game.
The game finishes when all six holes on one side of the board are empty. Each player must then count up the counters in their pit, and the winner is the person with the most counters.
These instructions sound complicated, but the game of Mancala really is very simple once you have tried it. The addictive nature of the game for me is the strategy and planning. It is essential to count ahead ; to estimate the moves your opponent will make and to calculate how many moves you must make to capture their pieces.
I have played Mancala with opponents from 10 to 70 years old, and it has proved popular with all of them. The more you play, the more you understand the strategy and the subtlety involved.
I would recommend this game to anybody for a quiet and quick game that can be played whilst travelling or in the evenings.
It is not suitable for small children due to the small counters that are used and could be a choking hazard, but under supervision it can be a good way to teach them counting skills and patience!
I first heard about Mancala last year, when at a family Easter lunch we ended up playing the
Game many times as it was so addictive.
No one knows the exact origin of the game, but evidence has been found of this being played as far back as the 6th century in what are now Eritrea and Ethiopia. It is said to be an ancient game of counting and strategy.
The Manacala board is oblong, with six round pockets parallel to each other on each side and an oblong one at either end which runs the width of the board. There are also 48 stones with the box.
To play, four stones are placed in each of the round pockets. The aim of the game is to collect more of the stones in your oblong pocket than your opponent. There are many different ways of playing this game, but this is the version we have learnt and enjoy. You pick up all four stones from one pocket, and putting one in each of the next pockets, including your own oblong one, but excluding your opponents. The numbers of stones in the pockets will then go up and down so the number you collect from each pocket will vary. If you finish your turn by placing the stone in your oblong pocket, then you have another go. If it lands in any other pocket, it is the turn of your opponent. Once a stone is in the oblong pocket, it is not moved again, and the game ends when all the round pockets are empty.
One of the reasons I enjoyed playing this so much, was because I kept winning! I found it really simple, but my other half has still not figured it out so can never win! It is not a hugely tactical game when you are playing with someone who doesn't get it, but when you are playing with someone who does, you have to think a few moves ahead and try to anticipate their move, much like in chess.
When we first started playing, we used a children's board like the one pictured. The folding ones are best so that it is easy to secure the stones when not in use. Whilst in Cape Verde later that year, we started playing Mancala with one of the hotel reps on one very wet afternoon and brought a lovely wooden carved box complete with shiny stones.
Of course, there is 'an app for everything' so this game is available to download and play on your mobile phone.
Overall a great game to play for all the family, but you do need a good opponent or it gets boring!
Thanks for reading