Mancala World

In most mancala games, the capture of seeds is an important feature of the game. Some games also allow the capture of holes.

Capturing Seeds

In most games, it is possible to capture seeds only on the opponent's side of the board, if the holes are owned by different players. There are, however, several games, in which it is permitted to capture on the own side (e.g. Bohnenspiel, Um ed-Dyar, Vai Lung Thlan).

The capture is usually effected by the last seed dropped, but there are also games, in which seeds are captured en passant while moving around the board.

In most games the captures are removed from the board and often they are kept in a special hole called "store". In some games played on four- or six-row boards, captured seeds are reinserted into the game.

The symbolic meaning of capturing often is hunting, fishing, cattle-stealing, harvesting, or eating and drinking in traditional mancala games.

Game Origin (Ethnic Group) Local Name for "Capturing" English Meaning
Adji-boto Suriname (Bush Negroes) nyam to eat
Aw-li On-nam Ot-tjin Indonesia, Borneo (Penihings) ára ot-tjin to make fish
Bao East Africa (Bajun, Swahili) kula to eat
Hoyito Dominican Republic (Dominicans) comer (1); beber (2) to eat (1); to drink (2)
Moruba South Africa (Pedi) tlaba to kill
Omweso Uganda (Buganda) okutta to kill
Warri Haiti (Haitians) manger / manje to eat

The following classification distinguishes different types of capturing according to the place where seeds are captured; e.g. in the last hole reached in a lap (sometimes including seeds in backward holes), in opposite holes or in holes which follow the holes into which the last seed of a lap was sown.

(1) Capturing the Contents of the Last Hole

In many games, the last seed of a lap dropped into a hole effects that seeds are captured from that hole, if it makes a defined number.

(A) Particular Numbers

Often seeds are only captured, when the last seed makes a particular number. In Africa and in the Caribbean, often 2, 3 or 4 seeds seeds are captured or a combination thereof. In some games, not just the contents of one hole are captured, but also those of any preceding hole as long as it forms an unbroken sequence of likewise holes. Oware, the most widely played mancala game in the world, has captures of twos and threes.

Capturing in Oware


South starts his move with his fourth hole.


After the sowing.


After the captures were removed. (It can only be captured on the opponent's side.)

(B) Odd and Even

Mancala games played by people of Arabic or Turkish background (including neighboring people which have been influenced by them) have a related capturing mechanism: the contents of a hole are taken, if the last seed makes an even number, which usually must not be larger than the original number of seeds in that hole when the game began. Examples are Toguz Kumalak and Um ed-Dyar.

Capturing in Um ed-Dyar


South starts the move with his most loaded hole.


After the move. (The first seed was put into the hole, which was just emptied.)


After the captured seeds were removed. (It can be captured on both sides, but 14 seeds can't be captured because each hole had initially 12 seeds.)

(2) Capturing by Opposition

Capturing by Opposition is another frequent way to capture stones. Either are the seeds opposite of an empty hole are captured, or the seeds opposite an occupied hole.

(A) Seeds Opposite to an Empty Hole

In these games seeds are captured, when the last seed of a lap falls into an empty hole on the player's own side of the board and the opposite hole of his opponent is occupied. Then he captures the seeds in the opposite hole and in two-row games often also the seed in his hole, which effected the capture.

Capturing by opposition exists is traditional and modern games, in single-lap (e.g. Kalah) and multi-lap games (e.g. Andada, Congkak, Sungka).

Capturing in Kalah


South starts his first move from his first hole.


It ends in his "kalah".


So he gets a bonus move. He sows the contents of his rightmost hole.


The last seed was dropped into an empty hole on his side and the opposite hole had 6 seeds. He captures 7 seeds.

Capturing by opposition is the standard way to capture seeds in four-row games, in which captures are removed from the game (e.g. Hawalis, Mefuvha, Moruba, Nsolo, Tchouba, Tsoro).

Usually, if the last seed of a lap falls into an empty hole of the player's inner row, he captures the contents of the hole opposite of his opponent's inner row and those of the opponent's outer row in the same file. In some games, the player is also entitled to capture the same number of stones as were captured from the occupied hole(s) or the contents of any one, two or three other enemy holes in addition.

Capturing in Moruba


South sows his most loaded hole.


The move ends after one lap. The three seeds in the opposite enemy holes are captured. He can chose another hole and decides to take the most loaded one.


The board after the captures were removed from the black holes.

In Afrika,a modern mancala game, it is compulsory to capture (traditional mancala games with compulsory capturing are Bao and Kisolo) the contents of enemy holes, if they are opposite to an empty hole of your own. The contents of opponent's holes which contain the smallest number of seeds must be captured first.

Capturing in Afrika


South sows the three seeds from his third hole.


After the move.


North will capture the contents of the black holes (2 seeds), but not the contents of the dark grey hole, while White gets the 16 seeds of the white hole.


The board after these three captures. Now South will play his first hole (4 seeds), then, after capturing 5 seeds from the white hole above, his second hole (then 3 seeds) and eventually, after capturing 4 more seeds (from the other white hole above), his fourth hole (then 9 seeds). North will be forced to capture 4 seeds in the black holes, while South gets a total of 9 seeds in this sequence.

(B) Seeds Opposite to an Occupied Hole

Capturing by opposition is also the usual way to capture seeds in four-row games, in which seeds are reintoduced into play. It is known in the six-row game of Katro, too.

If the last seed falls into an occupied hole of the player's inner row, he captures the seeds of the hole opposite in his opponent's inner row and sometimes also the contents of the hole in the same file behind. The captured seeds are reintroduced into the game in a new lap on the player's own side (not unlike as captured pieces in Shogi) following special rules. The new lap is either sown with just the captures (e.g. Hus, Mwambulula) or with the captures and the contents of the hole into which the last seed was dropped. The sowing either starts in the next hole after the hole in which the last seed was dropped (e.g. Hus) or from the next hole after the hole which began the last lap (e.g. Mangola, Omweso. It is possible to capture several times in a move.

Capturing in Hus


South starts his first lap with the marked hole.


He captures the three seeds in the black holes.


The three seeds are sown in the second lap. Nothing is captured as the opposite hole is empty.


The two seeds were picked up and sown in the third lap. The four holes in the opposite hole are captured.


The captured seeds are sown in the fourth lap. The last seed falls in an empty hole and the move ends.

In Kisolo, another four-row game, seeds can be captured even without moving, when two occupied holes face each other in the inner rows. It is also one of the few games, in which capturing is (partly) compulsory.

Capturing in Kisolo


The contents of the black holes can be captured by South who can choose among four moves as there are four pairs of occupied holes in the inner rows.


He captures four seeds from two enemy holes and then sows them on his own side dropping the first seed into the hole, which effected the capture. The hole following the hole into which the last seed was sown (marked light grey) is occupied as well as the opposite hole of his opponent (marked black). So he captures another four seeds.


These seeds are sown, again starting in the hole, which effected the capture. The last seed is sown into a hole, which is followed by an empty hole (light grey), so the move ends.

(3) Capturing Seeds from Following Holes

Sometimes the contents of holes are captured that follow the hole, into which the last seed of a sowing was dropped.

(A) Pussa Kanawa Capturing

This way of capturing is associated with a special multi-lap sowing known as pussa kanawa. It is typical for Indian mancala games. Pussa kanawa laps end, when the last seed falls into a hole, which is followed by an empty hole. In pussa kanawa capturing, the contents of the hole, which is right after the empty one are won, of course, only if it is occupied.

Capturing in Pasu Pondi


South starts his move with the sixth hole ...


and sows 2 seeds counterclockwise.


The contents of the following hole are distributed in the second lap.


The move ends because the following hole (light grey) is empty. The 6 seeds of the next hole (black) were captured and put into the player's store on his left.

In some games (e.g. Longbeu-a-cha), it is permitted to capture the contents of several holes at once, if the holes beyond the hole, of which the contents were captured, are alternately empty and occupied. Then the contents of the occupied holes are captured for as long as the alternating pattern continues.

Capturing in Longbeu-a-cha


South begins his first lap with the third hole.


After the first lap.


The second lap.


The contents of two holes (black), three seeds, were captured.

(B) Capturing Seeds from the Adjacent Hole

In Adji-boto, the contents of the hole are captured, which follows immediately after the hole, into which the last seed was sown, if it contains one, three or five seeds. When this hole is followed by more holes that contain one, three or five seeds these seeds are also captured as long as their holes form an unbroken chain.

Capturing in Adji-boto


The move begins with the third hole.


After the sowing (the first seed must be dropped into the emptied hole). The 9 seeds of 3 following holes (marked black) are captured.


After the move.

(4) Capturing En Passant

In some games (e.g. Anywoli, Ba-awa, Hoyito, J'erin, Obridjie, Pasu Pondi, seeds can be captured en passant while moving around the board. Usually these seeds must form groups of four, which are captured by the player who owns their holes (an exception is Hoyito). However, if the last seed of a lap effects the capture, the seeds are won by the moving player (see "1.1 Capturing the Contents of the Last Hole").

In Kauri, a modern mancala game, seeds of any opponent's holes are captured en passant, if (a) these holes contained no cowrie, and (b) a cowrie is dropped into them.

Capturing in Anywoli


South begins his first lap with the 6 seeds in the marked hole.


Each player gets four stones en passant in the first lap.


South makes a four with the last seed of the second lap. These are captured by him and the move ends.

(5) Capturing by Reaching a Hole First

In a few games invented by Ralf Gering, the first player to reach a certain hole captures. In Progressive Mancala, he tries to reach the common goal hole and, if he succeeds, wins its contents. In 55Stones, the player who drops the last stone of a lap into an empty hole, captures the stones, which his opponent has still in his hand (both players sow simultaneously).

Capturing in 55Stones


East starts the move with the white hole, West with the black hole.


East reaches an empty hole after 2 laps. West is still playing his first lap. Each player distributed 4 seeds, so West has still 9 (=13-4) in his hand, which are captured by East.

(6) Combined Types

Sometimes several types of capturing are combined in one game. In Ali Guli Mane and Pandi, pussa kanawa capturing and capturing by opposition occurs together.

Capturing in Ali Guli Mane


South sows his most loaded hole.


After the move.


The following hole (light grey) is empty. The contents of the next hole and its opposite hole (black) were captured.

Capturing Holes

Holes can be captured in some mancala games, either during a game or between several games, if the game is played in rounds.

The captured hole either remains a playing pit, is turned into a accumulation hole or it is completely closed and no longer used in play.

(1) Capturing Holes during a Game

(A) Playing Pits Changing Their Owner

In Grand Coastal Oh-Wah-Ree, a modern mancala game, a capture of seeds also results in a change of ownership of the respective hole.

Capturing in Grand Coastal Oh-Wah-Ree


South plays the marked hole.


He captures five seeds and the two black holes.

This kind of capture is not known in traditional mancala games.

(B) Playing Pits Turned into Sinks

In several mancala games played in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, playing pits of the opponent can be "closed" during the game so that they are no longer used (e.g. Embeli, Imbelece and Nambayi. If a closed hole is encountered during sowing, which is on the player's own side of the board, it is skipped. However, if the close hole is on the opponent's side, the player is "taxed", that is, he must put a seed in the central store (not shown in the diagrams below). The object of these games is not to capture most seeds, but to leave the opponent without a legal move. Turning pits into sinks are an important strategic means to achieve this goal.

Capturing in Imbelece


South picks up the contents of the 3rd hole.


After the first lap. (The sinks in the lower row were skipped.)


The second lap turns a hole in the upper row into a sink.


The fourth lap turns another hole into a sink. (One seed was taxed.)


The move ends.

(C) Playing Pits Turned into Accumulation Holes

In some games, holes can be turned into accumulation holes, if the last seed distributed in a lap makes a given number. No move can start from such a hole, nor will a lap be continued, if the last seed falls in them. However, seeds will be sown in them as usual. At the end of the end of the game their contents are won by the player who had captured them.

In Kotu-baendum and Selus an accumulation hole can be acquired on either side of the board, while in Bulto, Sadéqa and Toguz Kumalak it is only permitted on the opponent's side. Often there are some restrictions; for instance, in Toguz Kumalak only one pit can be captured by each player, which may not be the ninth hole and may not be symmetrical to the opponent's accumulation hole (if he already got one). Required accumulation holes often have special names; e.g. uur (pregnant") in Layli Goobalay, wegue ("wound") in Selus and tuzdik ("holy place") in Toguz Kumalak.

Creation of a Tuzdik in Toguz Kumalak


South plays from the third hole.


He turns North's seventh hole into a tuzdik.

In Layli Goobalay, all accumulation holes (known as uur) are created pairwise. When the last seed of a lap falls into an empty hole on the player's own side of the board and the opposite hole of his opponent contains three seeds, both are turned into accumulation holes. One of the three seeds is shifted to the own side so that each of the accumulation holes contain two seeds when formed.

Creation of an Uur in Layli Goobalay


South begins his first lap with his fourth hole (clockwise sowing).


After the first lap.


The second lap creates an uur (black holes).


After the move.

(2) Capturing Holes between Rounds

Many mancala games are played in several rounds. Usually each player puts his captures back into the holes on his side of the board, after the game has ended, and the board changes. In some games, a player captures holes from his opponent, if he has enough seeds to fill them. For instance, if, at the beginning of the first game, each player had six holes, in the next round one player can have eight holes and his opponent just four. In most games, however, the holes which the loser can't fill again are "closed" (literally with earth or just marked by a leaf, a pebble or another sign) and not used in the next game. Seeds that were left over from the previous game are counted as if they were captured in the next game.

Three holes closed in the game of Hoyito, two with carob pod, one with two big stones.

Closed holes can be reopened (or reconquered), if in a game the losing player captures enough seeds to fill them again.

All these games are played with multiple laps (including pussa kanawa) that move along one circular path around two-row boards.

Play continues until one player has not enough seeds to fill a certain number of holes at the end, the exact number may vary according to the game

These games are traditionally played in many parts of the world including Africa (Ba-awa, Um ed-Dyar, Bosh), America (Hoyito) and Asia (Ali Guli Mane, Sungka).


The sections (1c) and (2) on capturing holes were adapted from the Wikimanqala. The other sections were published under the GNU FLD for Wikinfo.
Capturing Holes, Sections (1c) and (2) © Wikimanqala.
By: Ralf Gering & Víktor Bautista i Roca.
Under the CC by-sa 2.5.