Mancala is an awesome board game of pits, Kalahas and stones.  I love Mancala and have been playing the game for many years.  Many versions have existed throughout time but today we will focus on the popular version with 12 pits, lined side-by-side with two Kalahas or goals on either end of the wooden board.  


How to Play Mancala

The game is simple. To start, the stones are divided evenly between all the pits on both sides of the board. On your turn, pick up the stones from any single pit on your side of the board. Moving counter clockwise, plop one stone in each pit while moving toward your goal. If you reach your own goal, plop one stone into it. If you pass your goal and still have stones, continue to plop them into the pits on your opponents side of the board. When you reach your opponent’s Kalaha, you skip it. If you finish with the last stone in your own Kalaha you gain an extra turn!  You can also capture stones from your opponent’s pits: if you end with your last stone in an empty pit on your side, then that stone along with all the stones in your opponent’s pit opposite of yours go straight into your goal.  The game ends when one side of the board is empty. The other player gets to keep any stones remaining on their side of the board. Whichever player has the most stones wins.

Now that we know how to play let’s take a look at 6 great tips to make you a great Mancala player.


Memorize your opening moves

The opening set of moves will set the tone for the rest of the game.  Gaining an advantage early on will make your opponent play catch-up the rest of the game.  Going first or second isn’t as important as having a solid opening. Make it your goal early on to capture one of your opponent’s pits.  If a free pit does not present itself early on, then a few stones cached from earning bonus moves can be enough.  Memorize several combo moves that will allow you to capture your opponent’s pit.  One pit and safe play has won me many games.  

Mid game

Use combos

Combos are simply two or three extra moves to set you up for a pit capture.  Look for every opportunity to gain extra moves.  Drop a stone in your Kalaha and use your extra move to move into your now vacant pit and gain your opponent’s stones.  Plan moves a turn in advance and force your opponent to overreact and make moves they wouldn’t want to make to save their stones.    

Every Stone Counts

Take your time, and make sure you are cashing in on every stone possible.  Big steals are not the only way to win.  Set yourself up for multiple extra moves or combos even if you aren’t able to steal your opponent’s stones.  Cashing in on every stone is crucial in close matches.  If your opponent is hoarding stones but is behind, your extra moves could win you the game. 

Around the World

Hoard stones in the pits closest to your goal, while keeping clear your other pits. Once you have enough stones to go all the way around the board, and you have an empty corresponding pit to land in on your side pull the trigger and cash in on some free stones.

Stare your Opponent Down

A little trash talk and eye contact will unnerve your opponent.  One mistake can cost them the game and if you have them fearful or enraged then you will win.  You can also make a play on distracting them during their turns.  Either way a misplay is to your advantage.


End Game

Hold Stones and Starve Your Opponent

If your opponent runs out of stones on his or her side, then the game ends and you keep all the extra stones on your side.  A game can easily be won by starving your opponent.  So whenever possible make a play to hold stones at the end.  Remember, if your opponent is on to his or her last stone and has an opportunity to steal a few of your stones and is not in danger of winning it is in your best interest to end the game immediately than be forced to prolong the game by moving more stones on to their side.

Mancala is a fun and easy way to spend 15 minutes with a friend.  If you haven’t tried it out yet, pick one up and give it a whirl.  Remember these 6 steps and you’ll be sure to enjoy it more.