Make a Mancala Game

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mancala game boardMancala, an African game of counting and strategy, is believed to be the oldest game in the world. Meaning "to transfer" in Arabic, Mancala involves moving playing pieces from one container or bin to another. The object is to be the player with the most pieces in the large bin at his right at the end of the game.

Mancala boards can vary from holes scooped out of the ground to finely carved game boards. A beautiful example of a hand carved Mancala board can be seen at the British Museum. There are hundreds of variations of Mancala. Check with your school librarian to see if he or she can find additional rules for playing the game.

You Will Need:

Egg carton
Wax paper
Wallpaper paste
Masking tape
Colored art or tissue paper
Paper towel tube Latex gloves
Utility knife
Container for mixing paste
Beads or other counters
 mancala beads sources

How to:

Cover your work area with newspaper, and place a sheet of wax paper on the surface. Have an adult use the utility knife to cut the lid from a carton that holds a dozen eggs. Now cut the lid, saving at least one-third from each end. Securely tape the two pieces to the bottom of the egg cups, making a large container at each end of the carton. Cut two pieces from the paper towel tube to serve as legs, and tape them to the bottom of the egg carton.

Tear the tissue, art paper, or newspaper into two-inch square pieces. Mix the wallpaper paste according to the manufacturer's directions. Wearing the gloves to protect your hands from the paper's dye, and working on the wax paper, apply some of the paste to the bottom of the egg carton..

Click on image to enlarge it.Smooth on the paper, and continue covering the carton, slightly overlapping the pieces as you go. After completely pasting pieces on the bottom and legs, turn the carton over and and cover the top rim and insides of the egg carton cups.

If necessary, replace the wax paper with a new piece. Now add a second layer of paper to both the top and bottom of the carton. If you wish, you can add more layers to make the game board stronger. When finished, set the board aside to dry. Turn the board over the next day to allow the other side to dry thoroughly.

The playing pieces can be anything that's small and fairly uniform, including marbles or dried beans. To add color and interest to the game, reuse old jewelry to make the counters. Cut apart bracelets and necklaces, saving 48 of the smaller beads. Once the game board is dry and you've collected the playing pieces, you're ready to find an opponent and play Mancala.

Tips and Tricks:

Some people are very sensitive to Latex, so wear the gloves only if you are not allergic. If you work without gloves, choose light colors of tissue to avoid staining your hands.

Use white glue, which has been watered down, in place of the wallpaper paste.

Reuse colored tissue gift wrap to help save natural resources and landfill space. If you prefer, buy art paper at fine art and craft stores. Some interesting types include Thai banana paper and Unryu paper.

Instead of using tissue paper, cover the egg carton with newspaper and wallpaper paste. Paint the finished Mancala board with acrylic paint. Varnish the game board to help preserve it.

How to Play Mancala

Setting up

Place the Mancala board the long way between you and your opponent. Each person takes 24 playing pieces, and puts four pieces in each of the six bins on his side of the board. The two larger containers at each end of the board are left empty at the start of the game. They are called Kalahas.

The Rules

The color or design of the playing pieces has no importance in the game. Rather, your ability to move them is determined by their location. You can move any of your playing pieces, but you are not allowed to move pieces on your opponent's side.

Decide who will go first. To start, gather all the pieces from any bin or cup on your side of the game board. Now drop one piece into each bin that you come to as you move to the right.

Click on image to enlarge it.If you reach the large container or Kalaha on the right, drop a playing piece into this bin. If you have additional pieces left after you place one in the Kalaha, continue moving around the board, dropping the remaining pieces into your opponent's bins.

If you come to your opponent's Kalaha, you are not required to deposit a playing piece. Just skip over it. However, if your last piece lands in your Kalaha, you earn another turn.

In addition, if you drop the last piece into an empty container on your side, you collect all of your opponent's playing pieces in the bin that's located directly across from it. Captured pieces go into your Kalaha, and your opponent takes his turn after you make a capture.

The game is over when all six bins on your side or that of your opponent are empty. The person who still has pieces in his bins puts the remaining counters into the large cup or Kalaha on his right. The winner is the one with the most playing pieces in his respective Kalaha.

© 2008 Marilyn J. Brackney (updated 2018)

Volume 17 No. 2

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