How to Play Mancala (AKA The Marble Game)

Today we have a special guest… my Mom. I get my love of family games from her. Since she’s the one who taught M and M how to play Mancala, she’s the perfect person to share her tips with you! Yippee.

I am so excited to come back and share with you one of my favorite childhood games,  The Marble Game.  

As I mentioned before, when I shared the Card Game GOLF, we come from many generations of game players.  When I was very young, my Dad made us a marble game board out of plywood, and my Mom made us a marble bag out of some very cute carrot fabric, which was filled with colorful marbles.  

I only knew this game by the name Marble Game until I was an adult and learned the correct name was Mancala.  

How to play Mancala. A fun marble game for kids

Our childhood Mancala game board ended up at my house, so my girls learned to play The Marble Game with the set their Grandparents had made.  

By the time it went through 2 generations, it was time for a new game board and marble bag.  Jill’s dad and I decided it was time to make a new set for each of the families.  

What you see here is the new marble board and marble bag.  Hopefully, it will last another couple of generations. (If you would rather buy a board you can find one on Amazon — Mancala. This is an affiliate link.)

How to Play Mancala & Printable Mancala Rules

(There are many different variations of Mancala, this is how we play.)
Mancala Rules – Printable Instructions

Age 5 and up:  I don’t like putting ages on games.  A child at age 3 could enjoy this game with adult supervision.  A 7-year-old may begin understanding how to use strategy while playing.

Object: 2 players compete against each other to collect as many marbles in their large hole (closest to them) as they can before one of the players clears his side of all its marbles. This is a game of strategy; the more they play, the more they will come to understand this.

How to play Mancala. A fun marble game for kids

Setting up the game: Place the marble board in a horizontal line between the two players.  Place three marbles in each of the holes. The six holes to the right of them are their side.  Choose a player to go first.

How to play Mancala. It's so fun introducing games I loved as a kid!

Playing the game: The first player picks up all the marbles from one of his holes. The player then starts with the first hole to the right and starts dropping one marble in each hole. If he reaches the end of his side, he is to drop one marble in his large hole, then continue around to the other side of the board. He does not drop a marble in his opponent’s large hole.

How to play Mancala. With printable Mancala Rules.

If the player places his LAST marble in his own large hole, he gets to take another turn. Example: If you start the game, a good play may be to choose the hole that is located 3rd from the right. You would pick up three marbles, dropping one in each hole and ending in your large hole. This gives you an extra turn.

If the player drops his last marble on his side of the board in an empty hole, he captures all the marbles in his opponent’s hole directly across from that hole. All the captured marbles, plus the capturing marble itself, get put in the capturing player’s large hole. Players are not allowed to touch marbles in order to count them. If you touch your marbles, you are to play that hole.

Winning the Marble Game

The game ends when one player runs out of marbles on his side of the board.

When the game ends, the other player gets to take all the opponents’ marbles still left in play and place them in his own large hole.

The strategy sets in by determining whether it is wiser to go out or play longer, depending on how many marbles are in the opposing player’s large hole.

How to play Mancala. With printable Mancala Rules.

Tips (to maximize learning): A fun way to find out who the winner is at the end of the game is to fill each of the person’s six holes with three marbles.  

  • Do you have empty holes or extra marble?
  • Who had the most or least?
  • How many more do you have?
  • You can add different amounts to your starting number, such as five marbles instead of 3.

There are so many things that games teach, but one of my favorites is good sportsmanship.

I hope you and your kids enjoy the marble game as much as we do.

If you play already, do you have the same set of Mancala rules?  Do you have a homemade board?  Do you use something other than marbles?

Other Marble Games

If you are looking for another game of marbles or marble activity, these are a great place to start.

 Jan is not a blogger… yet.  She loves hiking and searching garage sales for fun old stuff. Thanks Mom!

This post originally appeared April 28, 2012.


  1. Yes we have a homemade board (made out of two egg boxes) and we play with little buttons. I did not know anything about this game until a few weeks ago we got a package from Malaysia and I read all about it. Of course I wanted to play the game straight away so I had to make my own board 🙂
    It is a fun game and kind of relaxing to “sow” the buttons.. well the marbles can be more relaxing.. I think I would enjoy the sound when dropping the marbles into the holes 🙂
    Our board is here

    Lovely post. Thank you 🙂

    1. Thank you for sharing your button board (aka Mancala) I love egg cartons and what a great idea to use buttons. I was wondering how old your daughter is and how many buttons do you start with in each hole?

      1. Hi Jan, my daughter is nearly seven and we had 7 buttons in each hole. She understood the game very well but we had problems with buttons because she wanted to keep all the cute ones (pink and purple).. so now we play only with “not so cute buttons” 🙂

  2. Thank you so much to your Mum for posting ‘The Marble Game’. I grew up on a farm in Zimbabwe and have such fond memories of sitting in the dust playing our version in little indents worn smooth over time, with pebbles found nearby!

    1. What a fantastic memory! My kids have a mud pit and I bet they would love the idea of playing with pebbles. I’ll pass on your message to my Mom and perhaps a new way to play with my kids!

      1. In Malaysia we called this game ” Congkak”. Actually it is our traditional game played by young girls hundreds years ago. Here we played with 7 small holes and 7 marbles for each holes.

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