Mancala World
Sàn yáo
First Description: (?)
Cycles: One
Ranks: Two
Sowing: Pussa Kanawa
Region: China (Henan)

Sàn Yáo (散窯), literally "sowing holes", is a simple mancala game, which is played by girls in Henan Province, China. The game is described on Chinese Wikipedia. The boards are either drawn on the ground or the holes are dug into the earth.


The game is played on a board, which is composed of two rows, each one with five holes. There is a store at each end. A player controls the holes on her side of the board.

At the beginning every hole contains five seeds.


Initial Position

At his turn a player takes all the pieces from any hole on his side of the board and sows them in an anticlockwise direction, one in each hole. After the player has distributed all the counters, he takes those in the next hole and continues the move by sowing them.

The turn ends when the last stone is put into a hole, which is followed by an empty one.

Board madarinbox.JPG

If the hole following the empty one is occupied, he captures its contents. Thus the contents of two, three and even more holes can be captured, if these are separated by empty holes.

Passing is prohibited unless a player is unable to move.

The round ends, when nothing can be captured anymore, that is, as soon as there less than two stones left. The remaining counter, if any, is awarded to the player who owns its hole.

After that the players fill their holes with their winnings, each hole must contain five stones.

For each surplus of five stones the winner conquers an opponent's hole, which is known as a "son". Any excess must be lend to the player who has captured less (as long as she has still more than five stones). The stronger player starts the new round (otherwise the game would never end).

The players continue to play in rounds until one of them has less than five stones (i.e. cannot fill even one hole). Her opponent is declared the winner of the match.

Endgame Problem


South has just one hole left. North to move and win the match.

External Links

Solutions to the Endgame Problem

1(+8)-2(+3)/1/8(+5)-7/1/8(+2),9/1/1(+10)-2(+10)-3(+10) North wins all five stones in 5 turns.

3(+9),7(+10)/1(+1)/5(+2),4(+7),5(+2),3(+3),4,5,6(+12),7,8,2(+1),7,8,6(+1),7,5(+1),6,4(+1),5,3(+1) North wins four stones in 3 turns.

Note: There might be many more solutions.


© Ralf Gering
Under the CC by-sa 2.5 license.