Mancala games are a family of board games which have the following characteristics in common:
- Most mancala games are games of strategy, usually played by two people. However, some of them are also guessing games or games of manual dexterity.
- The board consists of rows of holes (metaphorically, they can be rounds or even squares drawed with chalk on concrete).
- Usually, there are two or four rows of pits.
- In most games, counters (usually seeds, cowries or pebbles) are not differentiated. This is, however, not true for many modern mancala games and some traditional ones played in Yunnan, China.
- There can be several pieces in the same hole.
- While still in play, pieces are not owned by any player. Again, there are numerous exceptions among modern games.
- Usually each player controls the holes (and their contents) that are in a certain part of the board (their "side", "field", "sector"...).
- On his turn, a player takes all the pieces from one of his or her pits and distributes them one by one into succeeding pits.
- The pieces are distributed following predetermined circuits (cycles).
We call mancala games those games which follow most of these characteristics, but there are some that do not follow all of them. The essential characteristics are that there can be multiple pieces in one pit, and that these pieces are distributed one by one in a certain direction.
Mancala games are played traditionally in most of Africa (except, perhaps, in the central Congo Basin and the far south according to P. Townshend; the game also appears to be absent in Northern Algeria), a large share of Asia, some parts of America with African population and a few islands in Oceania, at least on a tiny peninsula in western New Guinea and on the Mariana Islands.
In addition, there are traditional mancala games in south eastern Europe. One mancala game Bohnenspiel was popular during the XIX century in the Baltic area and still survives in Germany. Another game appears to have been played in Weikersheim.
The mancala classification of Eagle:
- Multiple lap sowing games
- One cycle games
- Two cycles games
- Single lap sowing games (all of them have a single cycle)
Mancala games versus other board games
|Many pieces per square|
|Non ranked pieces||(but the king)|