What’s Mancala?

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Mancala is a group term for a family of board games played in Africa and Asia, with a history dating back to at least the 7th century BC. The game involves distributing counters on a board and capturing pieces belonging to the other player. Mancala is easy to learn but difficult to master, and has contributed to the development of other board games.

Mancala is an umbrella term for a large family of board games that are played throughout Africa and Asia, with a wide variety of variations and names. Archaeological evidence suggests mancala may be one of the oldest games played by humans, with clear examples of mancala boards found in excavations dating back to at least the 7th century BC. This large family of games also has a huge international following, because they are easy to learn, but it takes a lifetime to master the mancala.

The word “mancala” comes from the Arabic naqala, “to move”. Many English speakers are unaware that mancala is a group term, rather than the name of a specific game. The game that many Americans know as “mancala” is actually usually kalah, wari, or bao. However, the basic playing rules for the mancala games are essentially the same and the equipment is also similar.

To play a mancala family game, players need a board of some sort and counters. A mancala table can be as simple as holes dug in the earth, or as ornate as a lacquered and inlaid table in a monarch’s home. Seeds, pebbles, pebbles and other small objects can be used as counters; again, decorated mancala games can use valuable and distinctive counters.

To play, tokens are distributed on the board and players choose specific boxes on the board to start. They remove all tokens from selected boxes and distribute tokens in sequence until they run out of tokens. Depending on the variant played, players use different criteria to decide the end of a round; for example, if the last counter lands in a well that already has counters, the player can empty this well and start the sequence again until he runs out of counters, signaling the start of the other player’s turn.

As players move along the board, they capture pieces belonging to the other player, often storing them in special pits at the end of the board. A good game can involve strategy and complex mathematics, putting mancala on par with chess and similar strategy board games. Mancala probably also contributed to the development of board games such as backgammon and checkers, which also use counters on a specialized board.

Some people call a family of counting and catching games mancala, referring to the actions performed during the game. Others call mancala “seeding games,” as players alternately “seew” counters, which are sometimes made of seeds. Many game stores sell mancala equipment, often with directions for different variations.

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