The Mankala family of games must be among the oldest of human entertainments. They are played on a board with fourteen pits in it, which could be scooped out of or simply drawn on the ground. The playing pieces could be stones, seeds, or shells.
If you have a Java enabled web browser, then a Mankala game board will be popping up in its own window any time now. It will look like the board illustrated in the image above.
The game begins by distributing 3, 4, 5, or 6 stones into each of the play pits. A player takes the stones from a play pit and distributes them one by one into the play pits and into the player's home pit moving counterclockwise around the board. The object of the game is to have the most stones in your home pit at the end of the game.
This applet implements several variations of the basic game which differ in the pits which may be played, when a turn is finished, and when the game is finished.
The Mankala game which I learned with my first Mankala board corresponds to an asymmetric game with capture across, replay, and no continue variations played with 3 stones.
It turns out, after all these years, that I misread the rules that came with that first board. The game they described used capture to home rather than capture across.
The Manbula game which Caroline learned from Eric corresponds to a symmetric game with replay, continue, and no capture variations played with 4 stones.
R. C. Bell, Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations (Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1979) describes seven variations of Mancala games from Africa, India, and South America, none of which correspond to any of the games this applet plays. He mentions several others in passing.
If you know of other variations or other names for specific combinations of variations, please let me know about them.
In the manual strategy you are responsible for picking the pit to play with a mouse click. In the other strategies the program will choose a pit one way or another. If you choose the manual strategy for both north and south, then you can play yourself or with a friend. If you choose automated strategies for both north and south, then the program will play itself.
The play is animated with visual highlighting. When it is north's turn to play, all of north's pits will flash once together. The pit selected for play will flash. Each pit into which a stone is played will flash in turn. If a play results in a capture then the captured pit and capturing pit will flash as the captured stones are transferred.
There are two informational fields in the menubar. One displays the state of the game. The other displays the number of stones in the pit last entered by the mouse cursor. This is technically cheating -- you're supposed to remember how many stones are in each pit -- but since the computer never has to guess I figure you shouldn't have to guess either.
Here is the source for the applet. The original program, which only implemented Mankala itself, was written for Tcl/Tk, and the source for that program is also available.
Comments, criticisms, corrections, or contributions are welcome.