Mancala Rules: How to Play the Mancala Game

mancala game

When it comes to board games, nothing is more ancient than mancala. It also remains widely played today.

Mancala comes in many variants with different forms of it played across Africa. It’s a two player turn-based strategy board game that uses seeds, beans, or small stones that are placed in rows of holes on a board, on the ground, or on other playing surface.

Game objective of Mancala

The idea behind the game is for the players to sow and capture seeds. The game move is inspired by the process of sowing, where seeds are dropped one by one into subsequent holes.

The goal is to capture more seeds or stones than the opponent.

This applies to most two- and three-row Mancala games.

In a game where there are four rows involved, the objective changes—to leave the opponent with no legal moves available. Another goal is to capture all holes in the front row.

Variations of capturing

The last hole sown or where the last seed is dropped, determines whether stones are captured.

In one variation, capturing requires that the last seed is dropped in a hole across a hole with a set number or specific configuration of stones.

Another is when a seed lands in an empty hole, all the seeds in the hole directly opposite are captured.

There’s also the notion of capturing holes, where all the seed in those holes will belong to the player who captured them at the end of the game.

How do you play mancala?

Because there are different variations of mancala, the rules also vary.

If you want to play the two-rank mancala or Kalah, the basic rules are as follows:

Set up the board or playing surface


Place four pieces of stones, seeds, and the like in each of the 12 holes of the board.

Each player has a Mancala or store to the right side of the board. In some cases, it is located at either end of the board.

The board should be placed between the players. One side of the board would belong to the person across it.

48 seeds or small stones are needed to play the game.

Mancala gameplay

1. The game starts with one player choosing a specific hole and then picking up all the seeds in it. If you’re it, you need to deposit one seed in each hole, following a counterclockwise direction, until all the seeds run out.

2. There are several ways to determine who should make the first move. Via the classic rock, paper, scissors or other games.

3. Every time you run into your own Mancala, deposit one seed. If it’s the opponent’s store, skip it.

4. If the last seed is dropped in your own store, you get a free turn. You pick all the seeds in your store and run the play again.

5. If the last seed is dropped into an empty hole on your side, you get that seed and all those in the hole directly opposite.

6. All the seeds you capture must be placed in your store.

7. You lose a turn when you run out of stones in your hand.

Winning the game

When all six spaces on one side of the Mancala board are empty, the game ends. If you still have seeds on your side of the board at this point, you capture all of them.

The winner is declared based on the number of seeds. The one with the most seeds in each store wins.

The winner is basically determined after all the seeds captured are counted.

If you want to win, there are certain strategies you can employ.

Since you get another turn if the last seed is dropped in your own mancala, you need to choose wisely which hole to start with.

If you get the first turn, choose a hole that is 5 holes away from your mancala. This way, the last stone will be dropped in your own store. This gives you another turn.

If you used up your second turn and your opponent played the whole that is one or two holes away from their mancala, play the sixth hole from your store. This will guarantee you another free turn.

Another strategy will be to play the hole where the last seed in your hand will land in an empty store on your side. If the hole opposite it has seeds, you capture all of them.

Remember, the goal of the game is to capture more seeds than your opponent.

Ready to play mancala?

Now that you know how to set up the board and the rules of the game, you can have fun with this ancient board game. Master the strategies mentioned above and find new ones to best your opponent every time.

Don’t stop at tow rows. Learn how to play four-row mancala as well.