Wayfarer's League

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Ancient Games: Mancala

I first learned how to play Mancala in 7th grade Social Studies. It’s the only thing I remember from that class. We made game boards out of egg cartons and were supposed to play with the kid sitting next to you. The kid who sat next to me at the time was too cool to do anything in school, so I awkwardly sat with my board trying to figure out how to get the “bad” kid to play a game I actually wanted to play.

Since then, I’ve really grown a love for this game and have taught it to minions #1 & #2. I’ve also used our board to play counting games with minion #3. So versatile! haha!

The history of this game is interesting in that “Mancala” is, by definition, a turn-based strategy game involving two players. So pretty generic in description. There are several variations, which makes sense given how old it is. While there isn’t substantial evidence for it some historians believe it’s the oldest game in the world, dating back to 6000BCE in Jordan.

That’s pretty neat. But even if it isn’t that old, there is evidence of it being played in Egypt in 1000BCE. It’s gone through an obvious evolution over the millennia, but the game play at its basic form was consistent with having divets, stones, and a “sowing seeds” gameplay.

In western society, and as I’ve been taught, the board is made up of a dozen divets (two rows of 6) with a “bank” on either end. Players sit across from each other, each with their own “home row” being closest to them. In each divet are 4 “seeds.” Play is turn based and travels counter-clockwise, or widdershins, if you will. Or anti-clockwise, if you won’t. During your turn you pick up all the seeds in one divet and drop one seed, “sowing it,” into sequential divets, including your own bank at the end of your row (you skip your opponents if you have enough seeds to reach it, continuing back to your home row).

There is some strategy as additional rules come into play. If you manage to drop your final seed into your bank, you get another turn. If you drop your final seed in an empty divet on your home row, you capture the seeds in the opposite divet and they all go directly into your bank, which also ends your turn.

Now that I’ve explained a few things about the game, I thought I could also show you how to make an egg-carton game-board of your own. Soooooo, as anyone doing a DIY show says, let’s get started!

1) You’ll need a egg carton (duh), scissors, glue or tape, and something to use for game pieces. You’ll need 48 in total.

2) Cut the lid off, and then in half. These will be the “banks.”

3) Decorate!

4) Take the lid halves, and attach them to the ends of the carton, creating two “banks” at the ends of the board.

5) Put your game pieces, four per divot, and you’re all set to play! We used bits of pasta and then tried dried beans. Experiment to see what works best for you!

It’s a quick game, too, which makes it great for kids. You can make it really out of anything, from an egg carton to drawing circles on a piece of paper, and then use beads or rocks as the “seeds.” You can even go like the ancients and dig little holes in the ground!

Have a go! Show us your creations and tell us how your games went.

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