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Home > Traditional Games (Parlor Games) > Table Games > Mancala / Kalah Rules and Strategy

Rules to Mancala (Kalah)
Game Rules and Strategy

Mancala or Kalah is a table or parlour game of strategy that can be enjoyed by casual and dedicated players, young and old alike. It is classified as a ‘sowing’ game meant for 2 players with origins in the African and Asian continents. For younger players, this is a good game to enhance counting and analytical skills.

Traditionally, Mancala uses a special game board crafted of wood. Small tokens (called ‘seeds’) are used to move and keep score.

Let's Play Mancala / Kalah! A sowing game that uses a special game board, traditionally a crafted wood appliance.

There are a number of Mancala variants. These typically have different game boards, or more tokens. Read on for Mancala game rules, tips and tricks on how to win a game of Mancala, and find our free printable Mancala gameboards at the end of this article.


What's Needed to Play Mancala:

* a Mancala gameboard or game appliance
* tokens or ‘seeds’ for playing (36 or 48 seeds are typically used)
* 2 players

About the Mancala / Kalah gameboard:

The Mancala gameboard is rectangular in shape, wide rather than tall. Players seat themselves on opposite sides of the Mancala board.
There are 2 horizontal rows of small pits (note: the traditional wooden game board has shallow carved pits). These small pits are also called ‘Houses’. Generally, the 2 horizontal rows are composed of 6 small pits on each row, for a total of 12 small pits. Although, in some variants, there can be 8 ‘houses’ per row, or even 10 ‘houses’ per row.
Additionally, there are 2 big pits -- one on each end of the game board. These big pits are known as ‘Stores’. The Store to the right belongs to the player, and his score corresponds to the number of seeds inside his store. At the end of the game, the player who has more seeds in this Store wins.

Objective of the Game of Mancala / Kalah:

To Capture more tokens or ‘seeds’ than your opponent.

How to Set Up a Mancala Game:

* The seeds are distributed equally among the houses. In a game with 48 seeds and 12 houses, each house receives 4 seeds. Some variants of the game uses 36 seeds and 12 houses, in which case, each house receives 3 seeds.
* Find our Free Printable Mancala / Kalah Game Boards with 8 houses in 2 rows. You can have 3, 4 or 5 seeds in each house.
* The game is set up and ready to play!

How to Play a Game of Mancala:

At the start of the game, the players must toss a coin to decide who moves first or use some other means of determining who moves first (e.g., rolls a dice and the player who rolls the higher number moves first).

Note: It has been proven that the player who moves first holds a distinct advantage.


A modern gameboard set used to play Mancala

Illustration: A modern Mancala game board crafted of wood. This example folds in half for easy storage, and uses stylized gems or jewels in place of the traditional 'seeds'.

Moving in a game of Mancala:

* First and foremost, the player has to decide which house he wants to move. The player can only move houses on his side of the Mancala board.
* Moving a house involves taking ALL the seeds inside the selected house and dropping or ‘sowing’ the seeds in counter-clockwise direction. To do this, 1 seed is dropped or ‘sown’ for each house, including the Player’s own Store, but NOT including the opponent’s Store.
* What happens next is determined by where the last seed falls:
** If the last seed falls into the Player’s Store: The player moves again by choosing another house to move.
** If the last seed falls into an empty house on the Player’s side of the board, he gets to capture all the seeds on the opposite house – the house on his opponent’s side. After this, the player’s turn ends.
** If neither of the 2 above conditions are met, the player simply ends his turn.

Winning a Game of Mancala:

* When all seeds are brought home to the Store, the scores are tallied and the winner is decided. The player who has more seeds in his Store wins the game.

Running out of Moves:

It is possible for 1 player to run out of moves while his opponent’s houses still contain many seeds on the other side of the board. In such a case, the game ends and the score is tallied thus:

* Score = Seeds in Store + all seeds that remain “in play” on own side of the board.

In this manner, it is possible for a player to win a game even if he actually drops or ‘sows’ less seeds into his own Store. This presents an advantage: to force one’s opponent to run out of moves while one’s own houses are still loaded.

Optional Rules for Mancala:

The game ends only when all seeds are brought to store: In this variant, each seed needs to be brought all the way to the Store before the game ends. Games played until this rule tend to last longer.

Mancala Variants:

One Mancala variant involves using a different gameboard configuration, such as 16 pits or houses (2 rows of 8 pits) rather than the more common 12 pits (2 rows of 6 pits).

Another Mancala variant involves placing less or more seeds in each pit at the start of the game. The common configuration is 4 seeds per pit, but games can be played with as few as 2 seeds per pit, or as many as 6 seeds per pit.

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Winning Tips & Strategies for Mancala:

Mancala Tips for Beginners/Casual Players:
* Your first move in each turn should always allow you to move again. This means your first move in each turn should always drop your last seed into your Store.
* In such cases where the above cannot be accomplished, the player should aim to capture the seeds on opponent’s side of the board.
* In case no such moves are available, the player should move his heaviest house (the house with the most seeds). Note: If 2 or more of your houses contain the same number of seeds, the house nearest your own store is considered ‘heaviest’ by far.


Mancala Tips for Regular Players:
* A player should remove the opponent’s ability to move more than once during his turn. This usually involves dropping a seed in a house on the opponent’s side – the house that would have allowed the opponent to end his turn in his store, and therefore move again.
* Conversely, the player should not give the opponent the chance to move more than once by dropping a seed into any of the opponent’s houses which would allow the opponent to end any move in his Store.
* A player should make more moves for himself by dropping enough seeds in his houses, allowing him to end his turn with houses that are loaded and primed for multiple moves in his next turn. In order to do this, the player should also take into account the moves that the opponent can and will make during his own turn.

Mancala Tips for Advanced Players:
Ideally, a player’s turn should proceed in this manner:
* Make several moves that end in one’s own store, which would allow further moves
* End the turn with a successful capture – which involves sowing the last seed in an empty house on one’s own side, which has an opposite house that contains seeds on the opponent’s side.
* All the while, the player should not give the opponent a chance to capture the seeds in any of his houses.
* Furthermore, the player should minimize the opponent’s ability to make multiple moves during his turn.

How to Play Mancala as an Adult Party Game:

Follow this link to read about our suggested game rules for playing Mancalah as an Adult Party Game. You will learn how to play Mancala as a Drinking Game, as an adult strip game, and you can combine elements of both to arrive at Strip and Drink Mancala.

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Animated GIF FreeFree Printable 6x2 Mancala Game Board
(download, print and play!)

[Whole.GIF] [Whole.PDF] [Leftside.GIF] [Rightside.GIF]

Free 4x2 Mancala Game Board

[Whole.GIF] [Whole.PDF]

Free 8x2 Mancala Game Board

[Whole.GIF] [Whole.PDF]
[Leftside.GIF] [Rightside.GIF]

The above are the necessary game board/s for playing Mancala or Kalah. You may download and print as many copies as you wish.

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