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How To Play Mancala (A Quick Guide)

How To Play Mancala (A Quick Guide)


The game got its name from the Mancala, which is the large hole or store at the short ends of the game board. On the long ends of the board, there are 6 cups, each filled with 4 stones. The main objective of the game is to gather as many stones as you can into your mancala by moving the stones around the board. Start by picking up the four stones from one cup on your side of the board and move counter-clockwise dropping a stone in each cup as you go. If your fourth stone ends up in your mancala, take another turn. As the play continues, the number of stones in each cup varies. If your last stone lands in an empty cup on your side of the board, then the stones in your opponent’s cup directly opposite that cup, and your one stone are put in your mancala and your turn ends. Alternately, your turn ends when all the stones in your hand are distributed around the board. When moving around the board, you can put a stone in your mancala but always skip your opponent’s Mancala. Your mancala is to your right and your opponent’s is to their right. Continue playing until one side of the board is empty. The remaining stones stay with the player and go into their mancala for the final count. The player with the most stones wins the game.

If you don’t own Mancala already, check it out here on Amazon.


The main goal of this game is to collect as many stones as you can by the end of the game.


The board is rectangle shaped. The long ends have six (6) small holes each, known as cups, and two large cups at the short ends of the board, known as Mancala or stores. The board is placed between two (2) players, each facing a long end. Four (4) stones are placed in each cup, except the mancala.


Players decide who goes first.

To start your turn, pick up the stones in one of your cups and moving counter-clockwise drop a stone in each cup, including your mancala until you have no more stones in your hand.

When moving the stones around, you always skip your opponent’s Mancala.

If your last stone is dropped into your mancala you get an additional turn.

If your last stone is dropped in an empty cup on your side of the board and there are stones in your opponent’s cup opposite to that cup, then you capture the stones in that cup as well as your one stone and put them in your mancala.

The game ends when one player has no stones remaining on his/her side of the board. The remaining stones belong to his opponent and they can put it in their mancala.

The player that has the most stones in their mancala wins.


This game is very mathematical, hence keeping count of all stones and thinking multiple moves ahead of time will make you win this game. Here are some of the strategies you can apply to your gameplay:

Start your gameplay by taking the stones from the third cup ensures the last stone is dropped into your mancala hence affording you another turn.

Try and keep the last cup empty or with one stone in it, this way you can capture that stone in your mancala and get additional turns.

Strategically keep empty cups so you can capture your opponent’s stones if you land one stone in your empty cup.

Rule Variations:

There are so many ways you can make this game interesting for you. There are a few I have come across:

The “no capture” rule: The basic idea is when the player’s last stone is dropped in their empty cup, they don’t capture the seeds in the opponent’s cup directly opposite that cup. Instead, the play continues as regular and ends the same way. This is a good variation when playing with children, to ease them into the game.

Continuous play:

Players continuously pick up and drop stones into cups until their last stone drops into an empty cup then the turn ends and the opponent can play.

Empty cups:

The goal is to be the first one to empty stones from your side of the board to win; or be the first to empty out your opponent’s cups to win.

Set number mancala:

This means that you pick a number between 1-48, whoever collects that many stones in their mancala first wins the game.

Game Variations:

Mancala is an ancient game, dating back to the 7th century. Through its movement in time and countries, there have been many adaptations of this game. As a matter of fact, Mancala is one variant popular in the west, sometimes called Kalah. Others include Bao (popular in East Africa), Pallanghuzi (popular in Southern Asia), Oware (popular in West Africa), and etc.


The game can take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes to play.

Player age:

6+ from the manufacturer and community.

Community rating:




If you like Mancala, you will also like:

Trajan, Theseus: The Dark Orbit, Istanbul.

If you don’t like Mancala, you should try:

Rummikub, Okey Dokey, Coal Baron: The Great Card Game