Mancala is an ancient board game of counting and strategy. It's one of the oldest known board games, and one of the oldest games I built in Flash.

Many of you may know Mancala from Club Penguin. But I created several different versions of Mancala years before I made Penguin Chat or Club Penguin.

A brief history of the Mancala versions I've made:

  • December 2, 2000 - Mancala Snails released here on the RocketSnail website. I built Mancala Snails in Flash 4. Since then, it's been played well over 1 million times. https://rocketsnail.com/blog/2000/12/02/mancala-snails-is-released

  • December 15, 2000 - Mancala Snails makes first place on the Flashkit Arcade top 10.

  • July 2001 - Added a classic version of Mancala to the RocketSnail site.

  • July 2002 - Added a harder difficulty level to Mancala Snails

  • July 10, 2005 - Beta testing for the Penguin Chat 3 Mancala game begins. During beta testing, Mancala was in the Coffee Shop. https://rocketsnail.com/blog/2005/06/10/mancala-multiplayer-beta-test

  • August 24, 2005 - Mancala moved to the Book Room in Penguin Chat 3.

  • September 6, 2005 - Mancala is the second most popular game on rocketsnail.com. The most popular? Penguin Chat 3, later known as Club Penguin.

  • October 24, 2005 - Club Penguin launches with Mancala in the Book Room.

What is Mancala?

Mancala is a type of ancient two-player strategy board game. According to archeologists, it could be the oldest board game in the world. Mancala games are commonly played using stones and a board with rows of holes. The objective of the game is to capture all of the pieces from your opponent.

Game Basics

  • Players - Two players.

  • Age Range - Best for ages 8 and above.

  • Duration - It takes around 15-20 minutes to play a game, perfect for coffee breaks.

  • Genre - Abstract strategy board game.

How to play Mancala

Mancala is really easy to play. It involves two movements: sowing and capturing.

Objective

The primary objective of Mancala is to capture as many of your opponent’s stones as possible.

Sowing

At the beginning of a turn, players pick seeds from a hole and drop them one by one on each hole; this process is known as sowing.

Sowing is an appropriate term, since not only are many Mancala games played with seeds, but placing seeds one-by-one depicts the physical act of sowing. If the action stops after dropping the last seed, the game is considered a single lap game.

There are also multiple laps or relay sowing versions of this game, although they aren't universal. In relay sowing, if the last seed lands in an occupied hole, the player must once again pick up the contents of the pit and discard them one by one. The cycle will only stop once the last seed lands on an empty hole.

Capturing

Players may capture the pieces from the board depending on the last hole sown in a lap.

The method of obtaining the pieces as well as the requirements differ considerably among games. Typically, a capture requires ending across the board from stones in specific configurations:

sowing to end in a hole with a certain number of pieces

landing in an empty hole opposite to your opponent's hole that contains one or more pieces

What does “capture” mean in Mancala?

In most Mancala games, the capturing mechanism is an essential feature of the game.

Aside from the capture of marbles, some games also allow the capture of holes. Usually, it is possible to capture marbles only on the opponent's side of the board if different players own the holes. But there are also several games in which it is permitted to capture on your own side.

The capture is usually affected by the last seed dropped, but there are games in which seeds are captured en passant (a term used in chess about pawns moving two squares at the beginning of its movement) while moving around the board.

In most games, the captures are removed from the board and are kept in a special hole called the "store". In some games played on four- or six-row boards, captured seeds are reinserted into the game.

The symbolic meaning of capturing is usually hunting, fishing, cattle-stealing, harvesting, or eating and drinking in traditional Mancala games.

Here are some of the classifications that distinguish the different types of capturing according to the place where seeds are captured.

Capturing by Opposition

It occurs when the seeds opposite of an empty hole are captured, or the seeds opposite an occupied hole.

Capturing Seeds from Following Holes

Sometimes the marbles inside the hole that follows the holes where you last dropped a marble are also captured.

Capturing by Reaching a Particular Hole First

In some games the first player to reach a certain hole captures its contents.

How to win Mancala?

According to the game rules, the game is over when a player empties all six holes on his side. The winner is determined by counting the total number of stones in the Mancalas. The player with the most marbles in their Mancala at the end of the game wins.

Mancala is a game of strategy and critical thinking. You have to plan a strategy if you want to ensure your win in the game. Here are some pointers if you want to win the game.

  • The first thing you need to keep in mind is to play the opening moves strategically.

  • Master the basic rules. Knowing the rules will give you the ultimate advantage of avoiding errors.

  • Try to control the middle part of the game

  • Plan out your strategic moves and attempt to control your moves so you can slowly manipulate the board and use it for your own advantage.

How to win Mancala every time?

  • As I mentioned earlier, winning the game requires strategy and critical thinking. To help you set up a good strategy, here are some quick tips that could help you secure a win every time.

  • Start the game by moving the contents of the third hole as an opening move. This will let you land your last stone inside your mancala. Not only will it give you a point, but it will also allow you to make another move.

  • Next, play from your rightmost or second-rightmost hole. This will allow you to drop a stone into your opponent's third hole and prevent him from making the same opening move.

  • Try to make a move that maximizes the number of marbles going inside your Mancala.

  • Try to let the last stone land inside your own Mancala. This will grant you additional turns.

  • Do "defensive" plays. Make a move will prevent your pieces from being captured. You can do this by moving stones into your opponent's empty hole.

  • Capture stones and try to empty a pit opposite where your opponent's pit is not empty. It is also advisable to create empty holes on your side of the board which will allow you to capture.

  • Empty the rightmost hole on your board early in the game. This hole is directly next to your Mancala zone. Whenever you pick up a single piece from that hole as your move, you will get a chance to make another move and score a point. Your next move should be to drop stones into your Mancala zone for a free point and then move again.

  • Be alert and watch out for the captures of your opponent.

  • Plan ahead. The biggest key to winning at the game is planning ahead. It is kind of like chess. Try to plan out a few moves in advance depending on your opponent's move.

  • Try the hoarding strategy. This lets you place several pebbles in a single hole and turning it as a little store. This allows two possible purposes: it also limits the number of pebbles your opponent has to work with. It also keeps more pebbles on your side so that when the game ends, you get to capture all those pebbles.

  • Avoid excessive buildup. This retains the option of starving the opponent. It allows you to do more compound turns, which build up the mancala quickly.

How to win Mancala in one turn?

There are thousands of ways to play, but winning in one turn is impossible in most versions of the game.

Your best bet is to make the best first move. That is starting with the third hole. It allows you to place the last pebble in the Mancala zone. This will make you score a point and gives you the advantage of making a second move.

You can follow up your initial move by choosing the hole that drops a pebble in the opponent's third hole. This will keep them from repeating the same opening move you did.

Try to keep the hole next to the Mancala zone empty because anytime a player drops a stone in there, his or her next turn automatically scores a point and gives them an extra turn.

Mancala History

The name Mancala is believed to be a game classification rather than any specific game. It has different names in different areas. Here are some of the most popular:

  • Bao la Kiswahili - widely played along the east coast of Africa, and an integral part of Swahili culture. It is one of the most challenging games to learn because of its rather complex rules

  • Congkak - close variants in South Asia from the Maldives to the Philippines, known by many different names (e.g. Dakon, Ohvalhu, Sungka)

  • Kalah - the only modern game, which has become a favorite pastime (mostly played in the USA, where it is known as "Mancala," and Europe)

  • Oware - close variants are played in the Caribbean and throughout western Africa, also in immigrant communities in North America and Europe

  • Toguz Kumalak - extremely relevant in Central Asia, where it is considered a sport superior to Chess

There are more than 800 known names of the traditional mancala games, some of them denote the same game, while the others are used for more than one game. There are also almost 200 modern invented versions that have been described.

Mancala is an excellent game to teach to children. Not only is it easy to learn, but it is also a good game to use with children who are learning simple math or counting. It is entertaining and requires a hands-on approach to numbers and math.

Who Invented Mancala?

It's not clear who invented Mancala. According to archeologists, it could be the oldest board game in history based on archeological evidence, specifically the one found in Jordan (Mediterranean region) that dates around 6000 BCE. Samples of stones were engraved with holes in a similar setup as Mancala.

The Mancala is also often said to be invented in Africa, Ethiopia between 4th and 7th century AD.

The traces of the Mancala were discovered in the city of Gedera in Israel. It was seen inside an excavated Roman bathhouse where pottery boards and rock cuts were seen back in between the 2nd and 3rd century AD. Archaeologists also saw pieces of evidence in Aksumite Ethiopia in Matara (now in Eritrea) and Yeha (in Ethiopia), dating back to between 500 and 700 AD.

Richard Jobson, a European explorer of West Africa, observed and brought back accounts regarding Mancala in the early 17th century, and soon many merchants started to play the game. In 1940, William Julius Champion Jr. from Colorado invented the most successful modern version of Mancala, named Kalah.

How old is Mancala?

The history of the Mancala is unclear. However, the earliest evidence of the Mancala board was dated back in the 4th century AD. There were also traces found which was dated by archeologist between 6th and 7th century AD.

There are some similarities between the aspects of the game and some agricultural activity during those times. Also, the absence of a need for specialized equipment lays out the intriguing possibility that the game could have existed in the beginnings of civilization itself. However, there is very little verifiable evidence that the game is older than around 1300 years.

You will see many references to the game dating back thousands of years. It is a simple enough setup to be played on an earthen surface, with seeds and holes, but the substantial archaeological evidence doesn't exist documenting earlier origin.

Where did Mancala come from?

According to some historians, the Mancala might have been played centuries ago by in Egypt.

Some say it was from Sumeria (modern day Iraq), and ancient Sudan (on the upper Nile River). Although the actual origin of the game is unknown, one thing is for certain — the game is indeed ancient.

Perhaps the unfamiliarity with Mancala games in the West is somehow affected by the historical prejudice against primitives and the assumption that these games could not require any serious mental skill.

Starting from the 1940s, Mancala became one of the most popular games in America, and it was then known as Kalah. Now it is very popular in the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. People have even established Mancala associations. Each year they organize playing tournaments either for children and adults.

How to pronounce Mancala?

The word Mancala /manˈkɑːlə/ is a three syllable word and is pronounced as "man-cal-uh".

The term Mancala is from the Arabic word naqala which literally means "to move." There is no actual game called Mancala. It is actually considered as a classification of the game. This word is widely used in Lebanon, Egypt, and Syria but is not consistently applied to any one game, and has been used for backgammon in the ancient near east.

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