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Subject: A Review of Mancala rss

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Cyrus Kirby
United States
Farmington
Minnesota
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The Basics:
o Ages 3 and up
o For 2 players only
o About 10 minutes to play

Geek Skills:
o Counting
o Math
o Tactics
o Strategy

Learning Curve:
o Child – Easy
o Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:
o None

Endorsement:
o Gamer Geek approved!
o Parent Geek approved!
o Child Geek approved!

Overview

Mancala is technically not the name of the game, but rather a group of games that all share the same game mechanics. Those mechanics being hollowed out “pits” and beads of some type that go in and out of the pits. The Mancala board I play with (as see in the article image above and below) is comprised of 12 smaller pits, 6 per side, and two larger pits located on the far left and right of the board. A total number of 48 beads are used and evenly distributed in the 12 smaller pits (4 beads per pit). The players face off with the board between them, six pits per side, and the larger pits to the immediate left and right of the players.

The rules of Mancala also shift depending on the game you are playing. For reasons of maintaining sanity, I will only address one version of game play here, but I encourage you to go find other ways to play the game if my description is not to your liking.

The object of this version of Mancala is to move your beads into the larger scoring pit to your immediate right. This is done by collecting all the beads in a smaller pit (that is, taking all the beads out of one of the six smaller pits and placing them in your hand) located on your side of the board. You then drop one bead per cup in a counter-clockwise direction (i.e. to your right). The first bead is dropped in the pit immediately to the right of the pit where the beads were collected. In this way, you “seed” the other smaller pits with a bead and eventually get to drop one of the beads into your larger scoring pit to the far right. These beads are now out of the game, as you never take beads from the larger pits, and count as points. The only pit you never drop a bead into is the opposite player’s larger pit. That is, the pit to your immediate left as you face the board. That means, in total, each player only seeds 13 pits; 6 on your side, 6 on your opponent’s side, and their larger scoring pit to your immediate right.

There are only two small rule exceptions that need to be noted.

If a player drops the last bead in his or her hand into the larger scoring pit, they immediately get another turn.
If a player drops the last bead into an empty cup on their side of the board, they can remove that bead and any beads directly opposite of that pit on their opponent’s side, and immediately put all those beads into their larger scoring pit. This is called “capturing”.
The game ends when one of the player’s no longer has any beads in any of their six smaller pits on their side of the board. Each player counts the number of beads in their larger pit to their immediate right. The player with the most beads wins.

That’s it. That’s the game. Sound confusing? Don’t worry, it isn’t. I taught the game to a 3 and 6 year in less time it took for you to read this.

Final Word

I really like this game. It’s simple, abstract, and fast. Best of all, it teaches my sons to count, use simple math, and start to use tactics and strategy in a very comfortable fashion.

Counting wise, my sons have to pick up all the beads in a pit and then I ask them to count each one of the beads they drop. ”One, two, three…”, they say. This reinforces number recognition and also requires them to do simple math as they need to understand how many beads it will take to drop at least one into their larger scoring pit.

Regarding tactics and strategy, this game does a fantastic job of introducing the two concepts in a way that is easy to grasp. Strategy wise, my sons need to determine how they want to win the game. The object of the game is not the strategy; it is simply the end goal. Strategy is the plan of action to achieve the specified goal. Some of the strategies include scoring points by simply moving all of their beads into their larger scoring pits or doing as much as possible to force bead placement for easy capturing.



Once my sons have their strategy for victory, they must then work on their tactics. Tactics being “how” they accomplish their strategy. In game terms, this is almost always maneuvering. Do my sons want to force their father to move beads or do they want to make sure they move as few beads as possible onto my side of the board? Their individual tactics are based on their understanding of their strategy and it is fascinating to watch them think things through.

That being said, strategy and tactics are fairly light. This isn’t Chess, but there is more than enough there to make my sons really think about what they need to do, how best to do it, and then execute their plans. And there is more than enough for the adults, too. My sons have already beaten their father a number of times at the game.

I couldn’t be prouder (*sniff sniff*).

Respectfully submitted by the Father Geek
fathergeek.com
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Ralf Gering
Germany
Germany
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Some remarks:

Even Kalah (the game you describe) has deeper strategies than most may think. For a good challenge put six seeds into each pit and play with the pie rule to balance the first move advantage. Play on igGameCenter, where you can meet some outstanding experts who will teach you that the game is subtle and far beyond your comprehension. Children's games are often unfairly labeled lighter than they are! (http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/571896/are-abstracts-games-w...)

It is important to say that mancala is a family of games, what you did. The games of this family vary in regard to their depth. It is as difficult to become a Toguz Kumalak, Bao or Oware master as it is to become a Chess master. These games are unfathomable and nobody will ever be able to play them perfectly. Other mancala games are pretty simple.

By far the most mancala games are for two. But there are a few which can be played by three or four.

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Driaan B
South Africa
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Thank you for the review! Didn't think old classics can still get a deep review like this one. Well old classic for my part of the world at at least.

Crafters have been selling Mancala/Oware boards (handcrafted and seeds from local tree species included as counters) since the dawn of the tourism boom in Africa.

I myself own 2 pretty foldable boards and many sets of different seeds I bought while visiting in Ghana. Even played a few games on a table sized board complete with seats and drink holders (was in a beach bar after all and yes I lost against the locals).

A great pickup game that stood the test of time, with many a variant and board layout.
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Cyrus Kirby
United States
Farmington
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DriaanB wrote:
Thank you for the review! Didn't think old classics can still get a deep review like this one. Well old classic for my part of the world at at least.


I never shrug off the classics. They are the fathers and mothers of the great games we know and love today.
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Ender Wiggins
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fathergeek wrote:
The game ends when one of the player’s no longer has any beads in any of their six smaller pits on their side of the board. Each player counts the number of beads in their larger pit to their immediate right. The player with the most beads wins.

The rules in my children's copy of the game (plastic Cranium edition) state the same about how the game ends. But after doing some research online I was surprised to discover what seems to be a fairly important omission in these rules. Nearly all copies of the rules I've seen subsequently state that when the end is triggered by a player having no beads on his side, the other player gets to place into his mancala all beads remaining on his side. This means it's not necessarily an advantage to be the first player to empty your pits, because whatever beads remain are added to your opponent's score.

I'm curious if leaving out this rule is an acceptable and common variant, or whether it's a serious omission. I realize that there are many Mancala variations, but is the absence of this particular rule a mistake? I'm hoping some experienced Mancala players can chime in with some thoughts on this point.
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lotus dweller
Australia
Melbourne
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EndersGame wrote:
fathergeek wrote:
The game ends when one of the player’s no longer has any beads in any of their six smaller pits on their side of the board. Each player counts the number of beads in their larger pit to their immediate right. The player with the most beads wins.

The rules in my children's copy of the game (plastic Cranium edition) state the same about how the game ends. But after doing some research online I was surprised to discover what seems to be a fairly important omission in these rules. Nearly all copies of the rules I've seen subsequently state that when the end is triggered by a player having no beads on his side, the other player gets to place into his mancala all beads remaining on his side. This means it's not necessarily an advantage to be the first player to empty your pits, because whatever beads remain are added to your opponent's score.

I'm curious if leaving out this rule is an acceptable and common variant, or whether it's a serious omission. I realize that there are many Mancala variations, but is the absence of this particular rule a mistake? I'm hoping some experienced Mancala players can chime in with some thoughts on this point.
Interesting the rules we have always played have the first finisher adding all the opponent's remaining "in play" pieces to the first finisher's mancala.
 
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Ender Wiggins
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Pinook wrote:
Interesting the rules we have always played have the first finisher adding all the opponent's remaining "in play" pieces to the first finisher's mancala.

That would really change things! For what it's worth, here's a selection of descriptions of the rules that I've come across, which consistently say the opposite:

Quote:
"Players continue taking turns until one of them has no more stones on their side of the board (in their six cups). The player with the stones left on their side gets to place them into their scoring mancala. Whoever has the most stones in their scoring mancala at that point wins the game."

"The game ends when one person does not have any more stones on their side of the board. Their opponent gets to claim any stones still on their side of the board, and places them in their cala."

"The game ends if you don't have any seeds on your side when it is your turn. In this case your opponent takes all the seeds on his side to his accumulation pit."

"The game ends when one player no longer has stones in his small bowls. The other player (who still has stones on his side) places all remaining stones into his own mancala (it is not necessarily an advantage to be the first player to empty the six bowls)."

"The game ends when all six pockets on one side of the gameboard are empty. The other player takes the remaining stones in his pockets and places them in his Mancala. The player who has the most stones in his Mancala wins. "

"The game ends when one player no longer has any seeds in any of his holes. The remaining pieces are captured by his adversary."

"If you do not have any pieces to move, your opponent gets the remaining pieces on his/her side and places them in his/her mancala."
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