Mancala World
Layli Goobalay
Other Names: Leelo Goo-
balay, Laylo Goobalay
First Description: G.
Marin, 1931
Cycles: One
Ranks: Two
Sowing: Multiple laps
Region: Somalia

Layli Goobalay (literally: "closing the holes") is a mancala game played in Somalia. The board is dug in the ground and the pieces are dry camel dung called salo. Slightly different variants of the same game exist, among them a more simple game, which is promoted by the Somali ethnomathematician Jama Musse Jama in Italy.

The following rules were observed in 1931 by G. Marin in the area of Berbera, Somaliland, where it was (and probably still is) a favorite pastime of the Isaaq clan.

Layli Goobalay Proverb

Layli goobalay
Nin graad liyi
Gelu kugu yuus

"Oh, Layli Goobalay! You are preferred by wise men and camels."


Layli Goobalay is played on a board that consists of two parallel rows of 12 holes on each side. A player controls the 12 holes on his side of the board.


Initial Position

Each move a player empties the contents of one of his holes that is not an uur and distributes one ball in each of the following holes in a clockwise direction (as observed by G. Marin).

If the last ball is dropped in an occupied hole, the player takes its contents, including the last dropped ball, and continues to distribute the balls in a clockwise direction. The move ends if the last ball is dropped in an empty hole or an uur.

If the last ball is dropped into an empty hole on the player's own side, he captures this last ball together with the contents of the opposite hole if it contains one, two, four or more balls. A move which captures nothing is called abar ("famine").

If the opposite hole contains three balls, one of these is put into the hole in which the last ball was dropped, so that each hole has two balls. These two holes now form an uur ("pregnant"), and both are owned to their creator. An uur may never be emptied by either player. Balls must be added to an Uur during the normal course of distribution. However, if the last ball is dropped into an uur, the move ends.

The game is over when one player has no legal move left. Each side then counts the balls he has captured together with the balls in his uurs and any balls remaining on his side of the board outside of uurs. The player who captures most balls wins.

If, at the end of the game the board position repeats in an endless cycle, the game is considered a draw.


The two most important techniques are:

  • Forcing your opponent to make an abar while you capture twice in a row.
  • Creating an uur early in the game.


The first player has a strong advantage. After he started with 1, which captures 6 stones, his opponent cannot capture in the following move. The best the opponent can do is to play 5 - the only move he has where the starting player cannot capture again in move three. However, the opening player can play 5, followed by the forced sequence 3-4-8-11. After that North has no good follow-up, while South has numerous threads (e.g. 8 makes a Qur, 10 captures 12 stones) and will expand his lead.

Layli Goobalay Endgame


North has captured less balls, but he has an uur (marked as squares) and the stronger position. What is the best move, if it is South to move, which one is best, if it is North to move?

See also

Closely related Layli Goobalay variant


Gering, R. 
Layli Goobalay: The Preferred Game of the Camels. In: Abstract Games Magazine 2003; 4 (13): 9, 14, 29.
Jama Musse Jama 
Shax: The Preferred Game of Our Camel-Herders and Other Traditional African Entertainments. Sun Moon Lake, Rome (Italy) 2000, 29-36.
Jama Musse Jama 
Layli Goobalay: Variante Somala del Gioco Nazionale Africano. Redsea-Online Publishing Group, Pisa (Italy) 2002.
Jama Musse Jama 
Layli Goobalay. Pisa (Italy), 2003.
Marin, G. 
Somali Games. In: Man: The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 1931; 61: 506-507.
Pankhurst, R. 
Gabata and Related Board Games of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. In: Ethiopia Observer 1974; 14 (3): 180-181.
Russ, L. 
The Complete Mancala Games Book: How to Play the World's Oldest Board Games. Marlowe & Company, New York (USA) 2000, 46-47.


(A) If South to move:

10/9a/1U/8/12/1/11/North must play into his opponent's uur; South wins by one point.

If a: 1 (instead of 9), then: 11U/2/1/1 South wins.

(B) If North to move:

1/12/4 (x2)/10(x3)/1; North wins by two points.


© Wikimanqala.
By: Ralf Gering.
Under the CC by-sa 2.5.