- Mancala Board
- 48 small stones or “counters”
Additional Setup Notes
- Place 4 stones in each hole except for the larger ovals on the ends, popularly called the ‘mancalas’ or ‘stores.’
- The board should be positioned horizontally between both players.
- Select which player goes first by rolling a die or flipping a coin.
The objective of Mancala is to gather as many counters into your mancala as possible before the game ends. Your mancala is the one to your right when facing the board. The person with the most stones in their mancala at the end is the champion!
The first player will begin the game by selecting a pocket from their side of the board and picking up all four of the stones inside. Beginning with the space to the pocket’s right, continue dropping a single stone into the pockets going counter-clockwise.
If you reach your mancala space within your turn, you should drop a stone inside. If you reach your opponent’s mancala, skip that space and continue as usual. If there are enough stones to go past the player’s own mancala, they should continue to place stones into the side’s pockets.
Each person’s turn will last until all of the stones they picked up have been deposited. If your final stone lands in your own mancala, you are allowed an Extra Turn. This turn should be taken immediately. The other exception to the typical rules is if a player can Capture the other player’s stones.
A player can capture another player’s stones if the final stone in their hand is placed in an empty pocket on their own side of the Mancala board. If there are any stones directly opposite of this pocket on your opponent’s side, you can feel free to yoink both your stone and all of the stones from the opposing pocket and place them in your own mancala. Capturing and identifying opportunities to capture are important game-changers in Mancala.
Mancala ends once players have taken turns until one of them has no more stones on their side of the board. Anytime one side of the board has all six pockets empty, the game ends instantly. Any stones remaining on the opposing player’s side are automatically added to their mancala. Each player then needs to tally up their respective stones from their mancala. The player with the most stones in their mancala wins!
Mancala Strategy & Tips
- Capitalize on Extra Turns: Many players will spend their first turns by deliberately choosing the fourth pocket from the right because they know it has 4 stones and will automatically grant them an extra turn. Also make sure to take note of how many stones have been placed, because you can keep an eye out for additional opportunities for extra turns throughout the game.
- Don’t Forget Your Mancala: While it might be tempting to grab at the fullest pockets on the board, it’s more important to focus on identifying moves that will drop a stone into your mancala. This means you should always be looking out for capture or extra turn opportunities to get as many mancala visits as possible.
- Empty the Rightmost Pocket First: The rightmost pocket is realistically the pocket you want to empty and keep empty the fastest. This accelerates your mancala’s store because anytime a stone is placed inside it once emptied, it can be immediately played into the mancala on the next turn and prompt an extra turn.
- Stay Defensive: If you think one of your pickets is threatened by a potential capture, make sure to spend your next move either playing the stones from your side or filling the opposing side’s pocket before a capture can occur.
- Look Ahead to Play Aggressive: The best games of Mancala are based around planning and staying on top of potential moments to add stones to your mancala. There are dozens of Mancala strategies, all centered around planning, accommodating future moves, and baiting your opponent.
Can you play Mancala with more than 2 people?
Mancala is typically played with 2 people but can be easily altered to include 4 players if teams are willing to alternate who takes a turn.
Can you shorten the game of Mancala?
Mancala can be easily adjusted for shorter windows of playing time by simply subtracting a stone from each pocket. Playing with 2-stone or even 3-stone pockets can make for a speedy but equally fun game.