Mancala World
Other Names: Nchombwa
First Description: Meredith
G. Sanderson, 1913
Cycles: Two
Ranks: Four
Sowing: Multiple laps
Region: Malawi, Zambia

Nsolo, also called Nchombwa, is played by the Angoni in Malawi and Zambia. It is the one of the largest mancala games known to exist. A close variant of the game was already described in 1913 by Meredith G. Sanderson, a military doctor in the British colony Nyasaland (today Malawi). The rules which are given below were reported in 1975 from Ndola, Zambia. The holes are usually dug in the ground.


The game is played on a board ranging from 4 x 8 to 4 x 36 holes.

Each player owns the two rows on his side. If a very large board is used, two teams are fighting against each other.

Initially, there are two stones in each hole except in the rightmost holes (as viewed from the respective owner) of each inner row which are left empty. The largest variant needs 284 stones.


Initial Position (most challenging set-up)

At his turn a player distributes the contents of one of his holes one for one in a counter-clockwise direction in the consecutive holes of his two rows. If the last stone falls in a non-empty hole, its contents (including the last stone) are picked up and then distributed in the same way.

The move ends when the last stone is dropped into an empty hole.

It is only permitted to move singletons for a player if he has no holes left which contain two or more stones. However, singletons may only be moved if the next hole is empty.

If the last stone falls into an empty hole of the players inner row and the opposite hole of the opponents inner row contains stones, these enemy stones are captured.

In addition, this move entitles a player to remove, from any part of his opponent's area, the same number of stones as were captured from the occupied hole.

The captured stones are removed from play.

The game ends when a player resigns or does not have any stones left.

When the board position repeats, the game is a draw.


Sanderson, M. G. 
Native Games of Central Africa. In: The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 1913; 43: 733-744.
Serpell, R.
The Significance of Schooling: Life-Journeys in an African Society. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (England) 1993, 67-68.
Tembo, S.
Learning through Nsolo: A Game from Zambia. In: Pedagogical Possibilities of African Games and Cultural Activities (Proceedings of the Sixth WCOTP Southern Africa Conference held in Manzini, Swaziland, from 21 -23 September 1987). WCOPT/CMOPE, Morges (Switzerland) 1987, 44-45.
Young, R. 
Mancala: On a Large Scale. In: Games & Puzzles 1975; 4 (38): 21.


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By: Ralf Gering.
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