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Mancala: The Game That Isn't
Head in the Clouds
Updated: Monday, Dec 4, 2017
Hello, Chaz Marler from Pair Of Dice Paradise, welcoming you to another installment of Board Games Throughout History, where we take a look at games that are either very old or have had a significant impact on history. At least, that’s what this series is supposed to be about, but as I started researching the topic of today’s discussion - a game that’s been in the background of my gaming universe as long as I can remember - I discovered a shocking secret about it. It doesn’t actually exist! That’s because it turns out today’s historical game, Mancala, isn’t actually a game after all. There is no actual game called Mancala. It’s actually just a ruleset - a mechanism - like rock paper scissors, or I split you choose, or roll and move, or muting your phone when expecting a call from Kevin.

Yeah, to my surprise, it turns out that Mancala is actually just a generic name for an entire family of two-player games that share the mechanism of moving groups of pieces from one location to another in a staggered manner. Hundreds of games incorporating variations of the Mancala mechanism have been played all over the world for hundreds of years.

Among the earliest surviving example of a Mancala game are fragments of a pottery board and several rock cuts that can be found in Eritrea and Ethiopia, dating back to between the 6th and 7th century AD. Some of the most popular Mancala games over the centuries have been Bao, originating from Kenya and Zanzibar, played on a 48 board. Omweso, originating from Uganda, and played on a 48 board. And Kalah, which is the ruleset usually included with modern editions of the game that are marketed as Mancala.

A slightly more recent, but less popular, Mancala variation would be Disney Tsum Tsum Mancala Super Stack, in which players stack the skewered heads of their Disney character allies in order to score.

Some recent, modern board games that have incorporated the Mancala mechanism that I’ve enjoyed include Five Tribes and Gold West. What about you? What Mancala-inspired games are at the top of your list of favorite games? Let me know by picking up your thoughts, and strategically dropping it into the comments below. That’s a Mancala joke. Because I couldn’t come up with an idea of how to end this episode. I better call Kevin back.
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