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Mancala Family

History

The origin of this family of games dates back to very ancient times in Africa. The first games of this family may have been played with little counters (usually seeds or pebbles) in holes dug into the ground, thus they are also called "sowing games" or "pit and pebbles" games. The lack of a physical board left little or no historical evidence, so it is difficult to date Mancala games. However, the oldest boards that were excavated in Ethiopia were made at least 1300 years ago.
The game is widespread in Africa, the Caribbean and in some parts of Asia, with widely different rules, often carried on by voice and thus different from village to village.

Characteristics

Mancala games are two-player perfect information abstracts; the aspects that identify a game in this family are usually:

  • Board consisting of many holes or pits, usually arranged in an even number of rows.
  • There may be two larger "storage" pits for the captured pieces.
  • Only one kind of piece (seed), without distinction regarding the "owner" player.
  • The pieces that a player can move are those in "his" pits, which are usually the ones in the nearest row.
  • Movement consists of emptying one of the player "own" pits and distributing ("sowing") the pieces in subsequent pits.
  • Goal of the game is usually to capture more seed than the opponent or to be the last one who is still able to move (sometimes the first player who has emptied his pits)

Main Traditional Variations

Game
Geographical region
Alternate names
Board Size
# Starting Pieces
Capture rule
Notes
Image
Oware
Traditionally played in Africa (Burkina Faso, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Senegal, Cape Verde), parts of South America (Guayana, Suriname, Brazil (current status unknown)), and the Caribbean (Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Santa Lucia, American Virgin Islands, Jamaica, Cuba); today also known in many European countries and the USA.
Awari, Awele, Awale, Aualè, Owari, Owani, Kale, Kboo, Poo, Langa Holo, Ti, Warri, Wari, Weri, Wori, Woro, Wahree, Wol, Ouril, Ouri, Ourin, Ayo, Ayoayo, A-i-ú, Adi, Adji, Adji kui
2 rows of 6 pits, plus 2 "storage" or "scoring" pits not used during play
48 total, 24 per player, 4 in each pit
Sow your last pebble in a pit of the opponent containing 1 or 2 pebbles. Capture all its contents (2 or 3). If the previous pit is also on the opponent's side and has 2 or 3 pebbles, capture them. Go on as long as the 2 conditions are met.
Tournaments: Ghana, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso (?), Togo (?), Portugal, Spain, Andorra, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, UK, Ireland, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Czech Republic, USA, Canada, Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados

Songo
Parts of Central West Africa (Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Congo)
Songo ewondo, Songa
2 rows of 7 pits plus 2 storage pits
35 per player (70 total) i.e. 5 per pit

Tournaments: Cameroon, Gabon, France

Bao
The Swahili coast of Eastern Africa and some areas in the interior along old trading routes (Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, Comores, Madagascar, Congo(Kisangani))
Bao La Kiswahili, Bawo, Morahha
4 rows of 8 pits


Tournaments: Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, Italy, Netherlands, UK

Omweso
Uganda
Mweso
4 rows of 8 pits


Tournaments: Uganda, UK

Toguz Kumalak
Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, parts of Russia, Mongolia and China, probably also played by the Kyrgyz minority in north-eastern Afghanistan), a related game in Turkey
Toguz Korgool
2 rows of 9 pits plus 2 Kazans storage pits in the center.
81 per player (162 total) i.e. 9 per pit

Tournaments: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Russia, Mongolia, UK

Sungka
South Asia and parts of Oceania (Philippines, Mariana Islands, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, southern Thailand, Maldives, Sri Lanka)
Sungca, Sunka, Chonka, Chonku, Chuncajon, Jungka, Chuka, Tchonka, Main Congkak, Congkak, Congklak Dakon, Galatjang, Mak khom, Naranj, Ohvalhu
usually 2 rows of 7 pits plus 2 Bahay (stores).
49 per player (98 total) i.e. 7 per pit

Tournaments: Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, France, South Africa, USA

Main Modern Variations

Game
Geographical region
Alternate names
Board Size
# Starting Pieces
Capture rule
Notes
Image
Kalah
USA, Germany
Mancala (colloqial AE), Kalaha (Germany, Netherlands), Bantumi, Sahara, Conference, Serata, Mop-up
2 rows of 6 pits, plus 2 "scoring" pits called Kalah and used during play
72 total, 36 per player, 6 in each pit (there are variants with 3,4 or 5 pebbles per pit)
Land with your last pebble on your side of the board and in an empty pit. Capture all the pebbles in the pit on the opponent side on the opposite straight across. Pebbles are sown into the own scoring pit, but not the opponent's one.
Invented by William J. Champion in 1940 and patented in 1952; Tournaments: USA, Germany

Oh-Wah-Ree
USA

2 rows of 6 pits (in the two-person game), plus 2 "scoring" pits
4 pebbles per pit

Mancala game system invented by Alex Randolph in 1962. One of the best known commercialized modern Mancala games next to Kalah.

Space Walk
Germany

2 to 4 rows of 6 pits, plus 2 "scoring" pits called Black Hole and used during play
9 spaceships per player

Invented by Rüdiger Dorn in 1997. One of the best known commercialized modern Mancala games next to Kalah.

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