The Game of Mancala
What you will make:
This project includes patterns and instructions for making game
boards for two mancala games from different regions in Africa. The games
are ba-awa, from the Twi people of Ghana in Africa, and kiuthi, played by
the Masai tribe of Kenya. In both of these games, you "sow" seeds in
holes and try to capture as many seeds as possible.
Mancala games are usually played on wood or molded clay game
boards. In that spirit, the game boards in this project are made using
homemade clay dough from the recipe included in the project.
At the end of this project page, learn more about the history and
rules of Mancala.
Here's what you need:
- Computer paper
- Homemade clay dough (see recipe)
- For dough: Salt, flour, vegetable oil, water, bowl, measuring cups and spoons,
- Acrylic or poster paints
- Small ball or plastic egg
- Cookie sheet and wire rack
- Rolling pin
- Oven and oven mitts
- Optional: Knife, ruler, varnish or acrylic
This project is rated AVERAGE to do.
How to Make a Mancala Game Board
Read all of the steps before starting.
- Step 1: Choose a Pattern and Print It
Download and print two copies of the pattern for the mancala game board
of your choice. The pattern is for half the game board, and is used
to size and position the holes. After printing the patterns, cut
them out on the black outline, cutting away the glue tab on one of
the patterns. Glue the two halves together to complete your game
Patterns are Adobe PDF files. The
Adobe Reader is available for free.
All of Aunt Annie's project patterns are designed to be printed on standard letter-size paper (8.5"x11" or A4).
When printing from Adobe Reader, you may need to select Auto-Rotate and Center or Choose paper source by PDF page size to ensure the best fit.
- Step 2: Make Dough Clay
- ½ cup salt
- ¾ cup hot water
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- In a bowl, add salt to hot water. Stir until salt is
- Add 1 cup of the all-purpose flour and 1 tablespoon of
the vegetable oil. Stir.
- Add the remaining flour and mix with your hands. Knead until well blended, keeping hands wet.
Add more water if the dough is stiff. Add more flour if it
Makes about 2 cups of dough clay.
- Step 3: Mold Clay
Using your oiled hands and a rolling pin, pat and roll the clay
into a rectangle on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Use the printed
pattern as a sizing guide. Be sure that the clay is a uniform thickness
of about ½" to ¾".
Tip: Start by rolling a clay "snake" the
required length, then pat the clay into the rectangular shape. Use
the rolling pin to make an even thickness.
- Step 4: Make Holes
Use the toothpick to poke a hole in the center of each circle on
the printed pattern. Position the printed pattern over the board and
push a toothpick into the clay through the center of each hole.
Press something round (a small ball, the end of a plastic egg, a
large marble, etc.) into the clay at each hole mark. Use the printed
pattern to see how big to make each hole. Smooth the clay around the
edges, the ends, and the holes.
- Step 5: Bake Dough
Bake the dough game board in an oven at 300 degrees for
about an hour, or until dry and hard. Place the dry game board on a
wire rack to cool.
KIDS, YOU MUST GET AN ADULT TO HELP YOU WITH THE OVEN.
- Step 6: Paint
Paint the board with acrylic paints or poster paints. Paint the
holes in a contrasting color.
You can seal the board with varnish or an acrylic finish. This
will make the board more durable, and keep poster paint from rubbing
- Step 7: Play Mancala
Mancala is a two-player game. You will need 48 seeds, pebbles,
or beans to play the game. Pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds work
well. The object of the game is to capture the greatest number of
- Draw lots to see who goes first.
- Players sit opposite each other with the game board
lengthwise between them. To start with, each player owns the
holes on his or her side of the board.
- Setup board
- Ba-awa: Four seeds are placed in each of the twelve
holes. Each player uses the collecting hole on his or her right to
store captured seeds.
- Kiuthi: Four seeds are placed in each of the center
twelve holes. Each player uses the collecting hole on his or
right to store captured seeds.
Ba-awa is one of the simpler forms of mancala, and is more like the
ancient version. It is played by the Twi people of Ghana in Africa.
- A ba-awa game has several rounds or small "games". Who plays
first alternates between the players with each round.
- The first player lifts all of the seeds from any hole on his or
of the board, then "sows" the seeds in a counter-clockwise
direction into the next four holes, one by one. The player then picks up the seeds
from the last hole sowed and continues sowing. This goes on until
the last seed of a "sowing" goes into an empty hole. (This
starting play will always have five "lifts" or "sowings".)
- The other player lifts all the seeds from one of his or her holes and
sows as before. Whenever a hole contains four seeds, the owner
of that hole lifts the seeds and puts them in his/her storage
hole. The player's turn ends if the last seed makes four in a hole
or goes into an empty hole. Play alternates between the players
until there are only eight seeds left in play. The starting player
puts these seeds into his or her storage hole.
- If one player has no seeds, the game is over; otherwise,
another round is played.
- To set up for the next round, each player puts four seeds into
as many holes as possible. These are his or her holes for this
round, and the round starts with the other player.
- The rounds continue until one player has no seeds, but this
can be very difficult when the two players are evenly matched. So,
the game is often played until one of the players owns ten or
eleven of the twelve holes.
Kiuthi is played by the Masai tribe of Kenya. The rules are a bit more
complex than ba-awa, and the play is more strategic.
- The first player takes all the seeds from any hole (single
seeds cannot be moved) on his or her side of the board. The player
"sows" the seeds in a counter-clockwise direction into the next
holes, one by one. The sowing must go into the opponent's row.
- If the last seed falls in a loaded hole, those seeds are taken
and sown in a clockwise direction. The play continues, with the
directions alternating, until the last seed is sown in an empty
- If that hole is on the opponent's side, the turn ends. If it
is on the player's side, the player captures that seed and the
seeds in the opposite hole on the opponent's side. If the next
holes on either side are empty, the seeds in the opposite hole(s)
are captured. The captured seeds are placed in the player's
- If the last seed is sown in an opponent's hole with three
seeds, that hole becomes a "ram". Seeds in a ram cannot be lifted
and sown, and the player's turn ends. The ram can be captured by
this player later, by sowing his or her last seed in that hole.
His or her turn ends with the capture of the ram.
- The players alternate turns "sowing seeds" until both players
have nothing but holes with one seed or rams. Each player moves
the remaining seeds on his or her side to their collecting hole.
The player with the most seeds is the winner.
Mancala is not one game, but a whole family of "pit and pebble" or
"hole and seed" games. These games are played mostly in Africa.
Mancala games are usually played on wood or molded clay game boards.
In Africa, children often make game boards by digging pits in the dirt.
Anything handy can be used as playing pieces—pebbles, seeds, beans,
These games are thousands of years old, but their exact origin is lost.
Mancala type games are played all over the world. They spread from
Africa to Southeast Asia, South America, and the Caribbean islands.
The name "mancala" can be traced to the Arabic word manqala. It is
derived from the verb naqala, meaning to move. It is believed that
mancala games originated near the Red Sea. Egyptian game boards from
3,500 years ago were found at Al-Qurna, Luxor, and Karnak.