The Rules of Mancala

Probably more than any other game, variations of the board game Mancala are multitudinous.  Throughout Africa, the West Indies, India and Arabia literally hundreds of variations exist.  The first game listed here is Oware which is played on a two-rank Mancala board and which is common to West Africa and the Caribbean.   Oware (or variants of it) is the most commonly played Mancala game in international competition.  Oware Nam Nam is a game played on the same board by children in and around Ghana although it is just as complicated and quite different to Oware.

The third game is simply called Bao (although Bao is a generic term referring to a number of Mancala games played in East Africa). We have two versions played on a 2 x 8 board in Kenya - Bao for children and beginners and a version of Bao from Kenya played with 32 pieces.

The fourth game is a version of Bao Kiswahili; another very popular game played on a four-rank Mancala board, which is played in Zanzibar, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and eastern Zaire.   The full game of Bao Kiswahili is one of the most complicated of all the Mancala games so for this reason, a beginners version called "Bao La Kujifunza" has been outlined.

These rules are not intended to be a complete set of standard regulations encompassing all situations that might be encountered in play.  Instead, they are a full set of instructions for friendly play and include additional comments designed to assist with the understanding of the game.

 

Oware

Equipment

The game of Oware is played on a surface consisting of two rows of six hollows.  The playing pieces should be hard objects small enough so that 12 or 15 of them will comfortably fit in one hollow.  The materials used are not important - the hollows might be scraped in the ground or in sand, they might be carved in a soapstone board or made from an old egg box.  Similarly the pieces might be small stones, marbles, shells or seeds.  A typical combination is a wooden board with eight hollows carved in it and 48 small round seeds for pieces.

On more ornate boards, there are often two extra hollows normally placed centrally at the end of each pair of rows.  These are called "stores" - players place their captured stones in the store to their left.

 

Preparation and Objective

Each of the 12 hollows is filled with four seeds.  To decide who goes first, one player holds a seed in a fist.  If the opponent correctly guesses which fist holds the seed, the opponent starts.

The objective is to capture more seeds than the opponent. 

 

Play

Players take turns to play seeds.  To take a turn, the player first chooses a non-empty hollow from one of the six in the near row and picks up all the seeds contained in it.  The player then drops a single seed into the next hollow in an anticlockwise direction, a single seed into the hollow after that and so on until the seeds run out.   This is called "sowing" the seeds. When the player reaches the end of a row, sowing continues in an anti-clockwise direction in the other row. 

When a player picks a hollow with so many seeds (12 or more) that one or more laps is done, the 12th (and 23rd) seed is not played in the originating hollow - the originating hollow is skipped and the seed is played in the next hollow on.  This means that the originating hollow is always left empty at the end of the turn.

If the last seed is sown in the opponents row and the hollow concerned finishes with 2 or 3 seeds, those seeds are captured.  If the hollow that immediately precedes it also contains 2 or 3 seeds, these seeds are also captured and so on until a hollow is reached that does not contain 2 or 3 seeds or the end of the opponents row is reached.

 

Finish

If a player cannot play because all six hollows are empty, the game ends and all the seeds on the other side of the board are captured by the other player.  However, a player is not allowed to deliberately play passively so as to cause this situation - if the opponent's hollows are all empty, the player is obliged to play so that at least one seed is sown onto the opponents side of the board if possible.

On the other hand, it is perfectly legitimate to play so as to capture all the opponents seeds thus leaving the player with no move and therefore also capturing all the remaining seeds in the near row.  Such a play is known as "cutting off the head".  A common tactic is to attempt to cut off the head by collecting a large number of seeds in one hole while forcing the opponent to empty most of the hollows on the other side of the board.   Then at some appropriate point, the collection of seeds is played so that they are sown completely around the board once and into the opponents territory again resulting in several hollows with 2 or 3 stones in a row being captured.

When one player has captured 25 seeds, the game ends and that player is the winner.

The game is drawn if both players accumulate 24 seeds or very occasionally in a stalemate situation when it becomes clear that the last remaining seeds are just being moved around the board with no chance of capturing.

 

Oware Nam Nam

This is a game played on an Oware board by children in Ghana. It goes by a variety of names and slight variations in the area and surrounding countries including "Num Num", "Adi", "Mewelad" and "Lamosh".

The "laps" style of play, capturing by fours and the fact that the objective is to capture hollows as well as seeds make this a quite different game to Oware. Although it's a children's game, the rules are not any simpler than Oware...

Equipment

The game is played on a 2 x 6 Oware board (see above).

 

Preparation and Objective

Each of the 12 hollows is filled with four seeds.  To decide who goes first, one player holds a seed in a fist.  If the opponent correctly guesses which fist holds the seed, the opponent starts.

To start with, each player "owns" the 6 hollows nearest to the player. The objective is to capture and own all the hollows. Hollows are won by capturing progressively more seeds in a round than the opponent.

 

A Round

Players take turns to play seeds.  To take a turn, the player first chooses one of the non-empty hollows owned by him and picks up all the seeds contained in it.  The player then drops a single seed into the next hollow in an anticlockwise direction, a single seed into the hollow after that and so on until the seeds run out.   This is called "sowing" the seeds. When the player reaches the end of a row, sowing continues in an anti-clockwise direction in the other row. Nothing special happens when the sowing reaches the hollow from which the seeds were taken - a seed is placed in this hollow and the sowing continues.

At any time, if a seed is sown into a hollow with 3 seeds (thus making 4 seeds in that hole), the player who owns that hollow immediately removes and captures the four seeds concerned. If a player neglects to capture four seeds in a hollow and a fifth seed is played into the hollow, the chance is lost and that player can no longer capture the four.

  • If the last seed falls into an empty hollow, then the player's turn ends.
  • If the last seed is sown in a hollow with 3 seeds (thus making 4 seeds in that hole), the four seeds are taken by the player whose turn it is, regardless of who owns the hole, and the turn ends.
  • If the last seed falls into any other hollow, the player takes up all the seeds in that hollow and starts sowing them, beginning from the next hollow. A turn may therefore go round the board several times (laps) before ending.

If there are no seeds in any of a player's hollows, when it is that player's turn to play, the player misses a turn .

When there are eight seeds left on the board, the player who captures the next 4 also captures the last 4 and the round ends.

 

A Game

At the end of each round, the player with the most seeds puts four seeds in each hollow on his side of the board. The remaining seeds are then placed in fours into the hollows of his choice on the opponents side of the board. These hollows are now owned by the leading player and should be marked as such. For the next round, that player can use them in exactly the same way as the other hollows owned by him.

The other player puts the rest of the stones into the remaining hollows in fours on his side of the board and these are the hollows owned by that player for the next round.

 

Finish

The game is won when at the end of a round one of the players has managed to win all of the seeds and therefore all of the hollows.

 

 

Bao (Kenyan Children's Game)

This game was kindly taught to the author by two ladies in Kenya. When asked for the rules to the game, they took a pitying look at the author and informed him that they could only teach him the Children's version of Bao. The author has long wondered what the adult version of Bao is like but it seems unlikely that he will ever be sophisticated enough to find out, regrettably.

Equipment

The game of Bao is played on a surface consisting of two rows of eight hollows.  The playing pieces should be hard objects small enough so that 12 or 15 of them will comfortably fit in one hollow.  The materials used are not important - the hollows might be scraped in the ground or in sand, they might be carved in a soapstone board or made from an old egg box.  Similarly the pieces might be small stones, marbles, shells or seeds.  A typical combination is a wooden board with eight hollows carved in it and 48 small round seeds for pieces.

This version of Bao requires a board with two extra hollows placed centrally at the end of each pair of rows.  These are called "stores" - players place their captured stones in the store to their right.

 

Preparation and Objective

Each of the sixteen hollows is filled with three seeds.  To decide who goes first, one player holds a seed in a fist.  If the opponent correctly guesses which fist holds the seed, the opponent starts.

The objective is to capture more seeds than the opponent. 

 

Play

Players take turns to play seeds.  To take a turn, the player first chooses a non-empty hollow from one of the six in the near row and picks up all the seeds contained in it.  The player then drops a single seed into the next hollow in an anticlockwise direction, a single seed into the hollow after that and so on until the seeds run out.   This is called "sowing" the seeds. When the player reaches the end of a row, that player sows the next seed in the store and then continues sowing in an anti-clockwise direction in the other row. 

When a player picks a hollow with so many seeds (12 or more) that one or more laps is done, the 17th seed is not played in the originating hollow - the originating hollow is skipped and the seed is played in the next hollow on.  This means that the originating hollow is always left empty at the end of the turn.

If the last seed is sown is in the store on the player right (the player's own store), the player immediately has another turn.

If the last seed sown is in the row nearest to the player and the hollow concerned is empty, any seeds in the opponent's hollow opposite are captured and placed into the player's store. 

 

Finish

If a player cannot play because all hollows are empty, the game ends and all the seeds on the other side of the board are captured by the other player. 

When one player has captured 25 seeds, the game ends and that player is the winner.

The game is drawn if both players accumulate 24 seeds or very occasionally in a stalemate situation when it becomes clear that the last remaining seeds are just being moved around the board with no chance of capturing.

 

 

Bao (Kenyan with Laps)

Equipment

The game of Bao is played on a surface consisting of two rows of eight hollows.  The playing pieces should be hard objects small enough so that 12 or 15 of them will comfortably fit in one hollow.  The materials used are not important - the hollows might be scraped in the ground or in sand, they might be carved in a soapstone board or made from an old egg box.  Similarly the pieces might be small stones, marbles, shells or seeds.  A typical combination is a wooden board with eight hollows carved in it. This version of Bao uses 32 pieces with 2 in each hollow at the start.

On more ornate boards, there are often two extra hollows normally placed centrally at the end of each pair of rows.  These are called "stores" - players place their captured stones in the store to their left.

 

Preparation and Objective

Each of the sixteen hollows is filled with two seeds.  To decide who goes first, one player holds a seed in a fist.  If the opponent correctly guesses which fist holds the seed, the opponent starts.

The objective is to capture more seeds than the opponent. 

 

Play

Players take turns to play seeds.  To take a turn, the player first chooses a non-empty hollow from one in the near row and picks up all the seeds contained in it.  The player then drops a single seed into the next hollow in an anticlockwise direction, a single seed into the hollow after that and so on until the seeds run out.   This is called "sowing" the seeds. When the player reaches the end of a row, sowing continues in an anti-clockwise direction in the other row. 

This version of Bao features "laps". When the last seed is sown, if it lands in a hollow with other seeds, the turn continues - the player picks up all the seeds from that hollow and continues to sow them.

The turn only ends when the last seed in the hand falls into an empty hollow. If this hollow is on the opponent's side, nothing happens but if the hollow is on the player's side, then any seeds in the opponent's hollow opposite are captured.

A player cannot start a move from a hollow with a single seed unless all the hollows on the near-side are singles.

 

Finish

If a player cannot play because all hollows are empty, the game ends and the other player captures all remaining seeds.

The game is drawn if both players accumulate 24 seeds or very occasionally in a stalemate situation when it becomes clear that the last remaining seeds are just being moved around the board with no chance of capturing.

 

 

 

 

Bao La Kujifunza (4 rank Mancala)

 

Equipment

The game of Bao (meaning "Board") is played on a surface consisting of four rows of eight hollows.  A hollow is called a "shimo", the plural being "mashimo".   The playing pieces are called "kete" and should be hard objects small enough so that 15 of them will comfortably fit in one hollow.  The materials used are not important - mashimo might be scraped in the ground or in sand, they might be carved in a soapstone board or made from an old egg box.  Similarly the kete might be small stones, marbles, shells or seeds.  A typical combination is a wooden board with small round seeds for kete. This variation is a simplified form of Bao Kiswahili played across East Africa.

 

Preparation and Objective

The 48 mashimo are filled with two kete each.  To decide who goes first, one player holds a kete in a fist.  If the opponent correctly guesses which fist holds the kete, the opponent starts.

The two rows of mashimo nearest each player belong to that player as do the kete contained within them.  Captured kete are moved from the opponent's mashimo into the player's mashimo and the objective is simply to cause the opponent to have no kete in his front row or to cause the opponent to be unable to move. 

 

Play

Players take turns to play kete within their own mashimo.  To take a turn, the player first chooses one of his mashimo that is occupied and picks up all the kete contained in it.  The player must play the kete either in a clockwise or an anti-clockwise direction around the players two rows.  The player drops a single kete into the next shimo in the chosen direction, a single kete into the shimo after that and so on until the kete run out.   When the player reaches the end of a row, he continues in the other row according to the choice of direction. 

A "mtaji" is a group of 2 - 15 kete in a shimo that are in a position to capture the kete in an opponent's shimo.  If a mtaji exists, the player must play a capturing move.  Otherwise, the player must make a Kutakata move.

 

Capturing Move

A capture is made when the kete of a mtaji are distributed one by one in one direction or the other and the last kete falls into a shimo that:

  • is in the front row
  • is occupied
  • is in line with an occupied shimo in the opponent's front row

In this case, the kete in the opponent's occupied shimo are captured and the player takes them and plays them in turn according to the following rules:

The captured kete start in the far left shimo of the front row and are distributed in a clockwise direction in the following cases:

  • The captured kete were in one of the two left-most lines
  • The captured kete were in one of the four central lines and the Mtaji was distributed in a clockwise direction

The captured kete start in the far right shimo of the front row and are distributed in an anticlockwise direction in the following cases:

  • The captured kete were in one of the two right-most lines
  • The captured kete were in one of the four central lines and the Mtaji was distributed in an anti-clockwise direction

If the last captured kete falls into an occupied kete that is in line with an empty shimo in the opponent's front row, the player takes all the kete in this occupied shimo (including the kete just deposited in it) and begins afresh with the new kete continuing in the same direction and starting with the following shimo.   The player repeats this until either the last kete played falls into an empty shimo or another capture is made.

If the last kete falls into a shimo that matches the 3 capturing rules above, the kete in the opponent's shimo are captured and play continues with the captured kete as before.

When the last kete falls into an empty shimo, the turn is over.

 

Kutakata

The Kutakata move constitutes the verb "to takata" and is performed when a player has no mtaji at the beginning of a turn.  The player decides upon a direction and proceeds to distribute the kete in that direction.  If the last kete falls into an occupied shimo, the player takes all the kete in this occupied shimo (including the kete just deposited in it) and begins afresh with the new kete continuing in the same direction and starting with the following shimo.   The player repeats this until the last kete played falls into an empty shimo whereupon the turn finishes.  Kutakata must obey the following rules:

  • Kutakata cannot be started with only one kete.
  • A player can takata from a back row shimo only if it is not possible to takata from a front row shimo
  • Having started to takata in one direction, a player cannot change direction during that turn.
  • Having started to takata, no captures may be made during that turn.

 

Finish

A player loses in the cases when:

  • all six mashimo in the player's front row are empty
  • a player has no mtaji and cannot takata because none of his mashimo have two or more kete

 

 

 


These rules are provided by Masters Traditional Games, an Internet shop selling quality traditional games, pub games and unusual games. For information on copying and copyright, see our disclaimer.

Our rules are comprehensive instructions for friendly play. If in doubt, always abide by locally-played or house rules.

Copyright Masters Games 2012. All rights reserved.

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