mancala materials

Mancala may be the oldest board game in the world. Archaeologists have found evidence of ancient mancala games carved into stone in Egypt. Mancala is a “count and capture” game, and the word mancala in arabic means “to move.” There are many variations of the game that exist in different cultures, and it is a great game for developing math and strategizing skills for kids.

Back when I taught elementary school, I used to have my students create their own mancala games using simple items found in the home. Creating your own two-player mancala game is easy to do and pairs well with counting units in math or cultural units on Ancient Egypt.

You will need:

  • egg carton(s)
  • paint (optional for decoration)
  • paint brushes (optional)
  • 48 counting pieces
  • scissors
  • Cut off the top of the egg carton. Use the bottom half for the game tray. Paint the tray if you so desire.

    mancala tray

    Count out 48 games pieces (four in each hole of tray). Be as simple or creative as you like with the game pieces. I’ve used beans, pennies, buttons, gems, pebbles, beads, and small lego pieces in the past.

    You will also need two cups, one for each player to keep their captured pieces. Paper or plastic cups or boxes work well.

    mancala pieces

    The game is simple. Players sit on opposite sides of the game tray. Each player has a cup or box to the right of the tray where he or she keeps captured pieces. The game moves counter-clockwise, and the purpose of the game is to capture the most pieces.

    The first player chooses a cup to empty and drops one piece into each cup counter-clockwise. If the player passes his or her own cup, a piece is dropped into it as well. If the player passes the second player’s cup, skip it and do not drop a piece into the cup.

    The second player then repeats the process.

    mancala play

    There is another bonus rule. If a player places the last piece during a turn into an empty cup on the tray, he or she gets to capture that last piece plus all of the pieces in the cup directly opposite. This is where the strategy comes in for kids.

    The game ends when one side of the mancala tray is empty. Players then count how many pieces they have in their captured cups. The player with the most pieces wins the game.

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