Mancala World
Inventor: (?), 1968
Variant of Kalah
Ranks: Four
Sowing: Multiple laps
Region: USA

Swahili was published by the American game company Milton Bradley in 1968. The inventor of the game was not given.

The name of the game is an exoticism, which is a common marketing trick to increase sales. Swahili is similar to Cups. As it stands the two-person game is flawed as the second player can simply imitate the moves of his opponent (called "move-stealing strategy") and win.


Initial Position (4 Players)

Swahili can be played by 2-4 people.

The game is played on a cross-shaped board with each player controlling one row of 11 holes. When the game is played by just two or three people, only two or three rows are needed.

At the start of the game each one of the four outermost holes contain three "warriors" of his color (either blue, green, yellow, red). Deviating from 'normal' mancala terminology, the holes were confusingly called "rows" by the publisher. The first six holes were known as "safe rows", the other five holes as "capture rows".

Play is always towards the large common "center hole". In addition, each player owns a "compound" to his right.

If there are more than two players, they can agree that subsequent turns are taken in an anti-clockwise (player to the right) or clockwise direction (player to the left).

On his turn a player [[sowing (game mechanism)|distributes the contents of one of his holes, one by one, towards the center.

If the last warrior ends up in an empty hole or the central hole, the move is finished.

If the last warrior entered a hole, which was occupied, the player can distribute its contents in another lap or stop the move.

If a player has still warriors in hand after he added a warrior to the center hole, he distributes them starting from the outmost hole of his row again.

If the last warrior of a lap ends up in one of the five innermost holes of his row, while it was empty, all singletons in opponent's rows were captured. The capture are put into the player's compound. It is possible to capture up to three warriors, when the game is played by four.

The game ends as soon as a player's row is empty.

A player gets 10 points for each of his warriors in the center hole, and 5 points for each enemy warrior he captured. The warriors that are still in the other holes are considered neutral.

The player with the highest score wins.


If played by more than two people, unfair coalitions can be formed. However, the two-player game needs an additional rule to prevent the second player imitating his opponent and thus ensuring an easy win. The game is probably best with four players who are forming two teams and are forced to sow the contentss of a different hole in their starting move.

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