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Tips to Win Mancala – A Complete Guide

Griffin Bateson / August 23, 2023
Tips to Win Mancala – A Complete Guide

Of all the board games that exist out there, Mancala is no doubt one of the oldest in history. It is also one of the games that requires the most strategy. In this blog, we will go over 4 different Mancala strategies to help you beat your opponents and establish total domination over the competition!

Before we begin to talk about the various tips and tactics of Mancala, let’s briefly go over the basic rules of the game. After you have gained a basic understanding, we can go into the important details of Mancala strategies.

Mancala Basics

The goal of Mancala is to get more stones into your store than your opponent (the big hole at the end of the board). This is done by shifting around your stones and outsmarting the opponent. Every single strategy in this guide is going toward the goal of getting as many stones as you can into your store.

If you want to learn how to play Mancala, check out our blog Coolmath Games blog. This is full of all the tiny details that you need to learn if you want to play Mancala competitively. If you already know all the rules though, continue reading.

If you are more interested in the background of this ancient game, check out the blog about the history of Mancala. It is full of interesting fun facts that any history buff will love.

Top Mancala Strategies

Mancala Strategies Blog Gameplay

The key to Mancala is managing the board well. This means that you must have a good combination of skill, adaptability, and foresight. If you don’t have these skills yet though, don’t worry. If you follow our Mancala strategies, they will start to come naturally as you get more and more practice.

Start With a Good Opening

The opening is a critical piece when playing Mancala. If you have the opportunity to go first, there is a common consensus on what the best move is. Players should start from the third hole on your side. This will land your last piece right into the store, which means that you will get an extra turn.

What is great about this strategy is that you don’t even have to think about what your first move should be. It is objectively the best move. It’s nice to have an absolute winner of an opening when playing such a complicated strategy game. In a game like Chess, there are 5 or 6 moves that you can choose to start with, all of which have their own unique advantages. The burden of choice is not as good as it sounds. The simplicity of the Mancala opening is a real blessing.

Focus on the Long Term

One of the most fun actions to do in Mancala is capturing your opponent’s seeds. While this is definitely fun, it can be a bit of a double-edged sword. It is often a better idea to concentrate on setting up advantageous positions for future moves. Avoid depleting your own pots that are close to your opponent's side, as this can inadvertently grant them an advantage. Instead, focus on moves that increase the number of seeds in your pots while diminishing those in your opponents. Sometimes it is better to play smart instead of aggressively.

Control the Tempo

One of the most important Mancala strategies is maintaining control of the pace of the game. You can do this by prioritizing the sowing of seeds into your own pot instead of just going for captures. If you do this, you will gain extra turns and be able to manipulate the board in your favor more. The more moves you have, the better you can dictate what is going on in the game. 

Set up the Endgame

As the game starts coming to a close, the focus should shift toward securing the most advantageous position for the final moves. Get your seeds to the pits that are the most favorable for captures. Just make sure that nothing is left vulnerable to counterattacks.

If possible, set up a "seeding" strategy by keeping a sequence of pits with a single seed each. This allows you to keep the game alive while putting pressure on your opponent to make a mistake. This kind of comes back to setting the tempo strategy, where having a lot of pieces in different spots will give you a massive advantage at the end.

Now that you know all of these tips and tricks, get out there and employ these Mancala strategies! The more you practice and use these tactics, the better results you will get when playing Mancala.