Mankala board image Mankala Applet

The Mankala family of games must be among the oldest of human entertainments. They are played on a board with fourteen pits in it, which could be scooped out of or simply drawn on the ground. The playing pieces could be stones, seeds, or shells.

If you have a Java enabled web browser, then a Mankala game board will be popping up in its own window any time now. It will look like the board illustrated in the image above. Usually, the board will go away when you leave this page, however some versions of Java, under some conditions, will leave an orphaned window behind.

The Rules of the Games

The family of Mankala games -- at least those implemented by this applet -- are played on a rectangular board with fourteen pits. The six roughly circular pits at the bottom of the board are the play pits for the south player. The oval pit at the right edge of the board is the home pit for the south player. The six pits along the top of the board and the oval pit at the left edge of the board are the play pits and the home pit for the north player.

The game begins by distributing 3, 4, 5, or 6 stones into each of the play pits. A player takes the stones from a play pit and distributes them one by one into the play pits and into the player's home pit moving counterclockwise around the board. The object of the game is to have the most stones in your home pit at the end of the game.

This applet implements several variations of the basic game which differ in the pits which may be played, when a turn is finished, and when the game is finished. These are logically simple variations which were easy to implement, but they don't approach the variety of games which people play.

If the game is a symmetric variation, then players are free to choose any of the play pits on their turn, and the game is finished when all the play pits are empty. In the asymmetric variations, a player may only choose one of her or his own play pits, and the game is finished when either player can no longer make a move.
Capture to Home
In the capture to home variation, if the last stone played in a turn lands in an empty play pit, then any stones in the opposite play pit are captured. The captured stones are transferred to the capturing player's home pit.
Capture Across
In the capture across variation, if the last stone played in a turn lands in an empty play pit, then any stones in the opposite play pit are captured. The captured stones are transferred into the capturing play pit.
In the replay variation, if the last stone played in a turn lands in the home pit, then the player takes another turn.
In the continue variation, if the last stone played in a turn lands in a filled play pit, then the player picks up the stones in that play pit and continues the turn.

The Mankala game which I learned with my first Mankala board corresponds to an asymmetric game with capture across, replay, and no continue variations played with 3 stones.

It turns out, after all these years, that I misread the rules that came with that first board. The game they described used capture to home rather than capture across.

The Manbula game which Caroline learned from Eric corresponds to a symmetric game with replay, continue, and no capture variations played with 4 stones.

R. C. Bell, Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations (Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1979) describes seven variations of Mancala games from Africa, India, and South America, none of which correspond to any of the games this applet plays. He mentions several others in passing.

If you know of other variations or other names for specific combinations of variations, please let me know about them.

The Java Applet

The Java applet allows you to choose any of the sixteen possible combinations of Mankala games with 3, 4, 5, or 6 stones, to choose whether north or south plays first, and to choose any of several strategies for north and south to play. Choosing any of these options from the menues will immediately start a new game, even if the option chosen is already selected.

In the manual strategy you are responsible for picking the pit to play with a mouse click. In the other strategies the program will choose a pit one way or another. If you choose the manual strategy for both north and south, then you can play yourself or with a friend. If you choose automated strategies for both north and south, then the program will play itself.

The play is animated with visual highlighting. When it is north's turn to play, all of north's pits will flash once together. The pit selected for play will flash. Each pit into which a stone is played will flash in turn. If a play results in a capture then the captured pit and capturing pit will flash as the captured stones are transferred.

There are two informational fields in the menubar. One displays the state of the game. The other displays the number of stones in the pit last entered by the mouse cursor. This is technically cheating -- you're supposed to remember how many stones are in each pit -- but since the computer never has to guess I figure you shouldn't have to guess either.

If you want to download the applet for offline play, then you need to download the three files in this folder. Loading the HTML file, which you may safely rename to a .htm extension, from your disk into your browser should start the game.

Here is the source for the applet. The original program, which only implemented Mankala itself, was written for Tcl/Tk, and the source for that program is also available.

Author This program and document is Copyright © 1996,1998 by Roger E. Critchlow Jr, Santa Fe, New Mexico. All rights reserved, fair use permitted, no warranty, caveat emptor.

Comments, criticisms, corrections, or contributions are welcome.