DIY Mancala Game Board! {Learning Math Through Play!}

Have you ever played the game Mancala? Growing up, this was definitely a favorite at our house, and I can remember playing it over and over again! And while you can certainly buy a nice, wood folding Mancala game board, why not just create your own? Let the kids get involved and then take turns playing this fun game! To create this simple DIY Mancala Game, all you need are a few items from around the house!
Create your own Mancala game out of an egg carton! A great way for kids to learn math and strategy through play!

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Mancala is a game that is thousands of years  old and has been played in various ways in countries all around the world. The word mancala is arabic for “transferring,” because the basic concept of the game (no matter which version you’re playing) is to transfer the beads (or stones or beans, etc.) from one cup to another, making your way around the board.

Although I grew up playing this, and was aware of our rules (which may or may not be the actual rules), I did not know anything about the origins of this game or variations. So today I want to share how I play, as well as some other versions that I learned from the book, Math Games & Activities from Around the World, by Claudia Zaslovsky.

I LOVE this book, and have shared another super simple game from it over at B-Inspired Mama. So if you like this game, be sure to check out the game Shisima as well!

Materials Needed:

  • Egg carton (I think cardboard works best, but styrofoam would work too)
  • Markers or paint (to decorate)
  • Counters (beads, beans, marbles, etc.) I used beads similar to these because I already had them at the house, but anything you already have will work!

Set up:

The first thing you need to do is cut the top off of the egg carton, as well as the flap that keep it closed.

Create your own Mancala game out of an egg carton! A great way for kids to learn math and strategy through play!

Then you need to cut the ends off of the top so that they will fit on either side of the bottom.

Create your own Mancala game out of an egg carton! A great way for kids to learn math and strategy through play!

Once you have an extra “bucket” on either end of the egg carton, tape them securely and you’re ready to decorate!

Because this two player game consists of a player 1 side and their “end bucket” and then player 2’s side and their corresponding “end bucket,” I had my kids color Player 1 and Player 2 accordingly. The “end bucket” to the right belongs to that player. They just used a marker, but I think paint would be even better, and make each player’s side really stand out!

Create your own Mancala game out of an egg carton! A great way for kids to learn math and strategy through play!

Once the game board is secure and colored, you’re ready to play! To set up the game, place 4 counters in each of the 12 cups (the main egg carton piece).

Create your own Mancala game out of an egg carton! A great way for kids to learn math and strategy through play!

I have read many different versions of how to play this, so first I’m going to share how we played growing up, then I’ll share some variations I have found in my research. Then you can share with me how you and your family plays! 🙂

To Play:

Player 1 begins by picking up all the beads in any of their cups and dropping them one by one into each cup, moving counterclockwise around the board. A bead is dropped in their own end bucket, as well as their opponents cups, but not their opponents end bucket. The last cup that they land in is then picked up and they continue on dropping those beads one by one into cups as well. Once they land in an empty cup, any beads in the cup opposite are captured and placed in their end bucket (unless they end in an empty cup on their opponent’s side, in which case they gain nothing). It is then player 2’s turn.

Player 2 plays the same way.

Play continues until one of the players runs out of beads. The other player gets to keep whatever is left and adds it to their end bucket.

The player with the most beads in their end bucket wins!


Do not continue to pick up and “sow” beads, just drop one cupful per turn. If, however, the last bead lands in your end bucket, you get to take another turn.

Oware (from Ghana): Beads are not dropped in either end bucket, and can only be gained by capturing your opponents beads. To capture, the last bead must land in one of your opponents cups, forming a group of 2 or 3. Those as well as any groups of 2 or 3 next to it may be captured. If an opponent’s cups are empty, you must move beads into them on his or her turn. If this is not possible, the game is over. Any beads left go into the end bucket. Again, player with the most beads in the end bucket wins.

Giuthi (from Kenya): In Kenya, they refer to the counters as cattle and  the end buckets as storage sheds, and the goal is still to get the most “cattle” into the “shed.” The game is set up the same way, but player 1 chooses which direction to go, and then picks up all the “cattle” in the last cup, and continues to drop them in the opposite direction. Play continues this way until they land in an empty cup. If the empty cup is on their side, and they have dropped some beads into their opponents cups at some point during their turn, the beads in the cup opposite the empty cup are captured. (As the Kikuyu people say, “You can’t steal the other person’s cattle unless you cross into his land”). If the last seed falls into an empty cup on your opponent’s side, your turn is over. Players go back and forth in this way until it is no longer possible to make a move. All remaining “cattle” are moved into the shed and the player with the most wins.

As you can see, there are a lot of variations, and lots of different ways to play! In the Philippines, they play a version called Sungka that starts with 5 cups for each player, and 5 beads in each cup.

How have you learned to play this game? One of these versions, a combination of them, or something entirely different??

Want more ideas? Check out this post with other simple ways to create your own game board, as well as ways to use it for learning in the home or classroom!

No matter how your family plays, I hope you will have fun practicing counting, as well as important problem solving and logic skills! The better you get at it, the better you will be able to strategically choose places to start.

Playing games like Mancala is a great way to get your kids’ brains working and thinking, as well as learning and practicing important math. But there are tons of other great skills to learn and practice through the important work of play! Be sure to check out the rest of this month’s posts in the “Play Matters” blog hop! There will be tons of ideas for fun games and activities to learn through play!

Come discover how to learn math through play with the "Play Matters" blog hop!

Tree Valley Academy


  1. We LOVE the game Mancala; what a cool project to make it yourself! I play the way you first listed, but now I want to try some of the other versions too! I love using games like Mancala to help kids practice taking turns, being flexible and being good sports. Thanks for being part of the Play Matters Blog Hop!

    1. Yes, for younger ones, this would be great for fine motor practice and taking turns! They wouldn’t even need to play by the formal rules, just practice “sowing the seeds!” Thanks for letting me participate in the blog hop! 🙂

  2. My kids love Mancala! But I have to admit – I have no idea how to play. Thanks for sharing. I’m going to add this to my Facebook page to share with others. (Found you at A Thoughtful Place linkup.)

    1. Oh thanks! Glad you could stop by and I hope you guys have fun with this! 🙂 I love your site! Looks like lots of great encouragement, I can’t wait to check it out further!

  3. Thank you for stopping by the Thoughtful Spot Weekly Blog Hop and sharing your fun math activity with all of us! Have a wonderful weekend and I hope to see you on Monday again!

  4. My 5 year old would just LOVE to make this. I’m pretty confident to say if I bought a nice game board she would play it, but she would love it much more if she got to create it out of egg cartons. I often have to bring my recycling outside quickly because if she see’s all the “treasures” I’m throwing away, she wants to take them out to do art with. So I will make her happy and try this with her :).

    1. HAHA! My kids are that way too! Especially my oldest…she recently turned an empty capri sun drink into a piggy bank! 🙂 Hope you guys have fun with this!

  5. We keep it simple. I’m not sure that we had directions when we played it growing up so we just made it make sense to us. Player one chooses a cup and drops beads counter-clockwise until they’re gone (even in Player two’s cup). When one player runs out of beads, the game is over.

    1. Yeah, I feel like if you were to ask my brother and my dad how we played, we may all give different responses, because we probably changed the rules up a lot! That’s one thing that’s so great about this game, it’s so versatile! 🙂

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