The Africa Classroom Package:
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All around Africa, and all around the world for that matter, children play a group of similar games known as mankala games. They are believed to have originated in Africa and they have many different names, such as ayo, ajwa, and wari. Below is a simplified version for two players. In Africa, there are many, many variations of the game played below. Maybe you can come up with your own variation, once you learn the basics. Note to teachers: This is an excellent game for learning spatial math skills and practicing strategic thinking and visualization.

To play, you'll need:

The bottom of an egg carton.
Two paper cups.
48 dried beans.

Place the egg carton in the middle of the table with one paper cup next to each end of it. One player owns the six houses on one side of the egg carton and the other player owns the six houses on the other side. Each player sits behind his/her row of houses and the cup on his/her right belongs to him/her. Before the game begins, each player places four beans in each of his/her houses.

To begin, the first player picks up all four beans from any of his/her houses and drops just one in each of the four succeeding houses, moving counterclockwise. The second player does the same and the two take turns doing the same for the remainder of the game. After the first couple of moves, some of the houses will contain different numbers of beans. Whenever a player takes a turn, he/she must pick up and 'sow' all of the beans from one of his/her houses. (A player never picks up and sows beans from his/her opponent's houses.)

When the last seed from either player's hand falls in one of the opponent's houses which contains one or two beans (making a total of two or three), the player removes all of the beans from that house and puts them in his/her cup. (It will usually take several moves before the players reach the point of being able to capture beans.) A player may only capture beans from his/her opponent's houses.

When either player captures 12 beans (or any total number agreed upon in advance), he or she is declared the winner.

Variations: Some people include a rule that allows the beans from multiple houses to be captured at once. When the beans in the opponent's houses immediately before a house whose beans are being captured also contain two or three beans, the beans from those houses may be captured as well. In other words, if the last house ends up with two or three beans in it, those beans may be captured and, if the house before it ends up with two or three beans in it, those beans may be captured, too, and, if the house before that one ends up with two or three beans in it, those beans may be captured and so on. But, first things first, these multiple captures can only take place if the first house ends up with two or three beans in it.

In another variation, if, after a while, a house contains twelve or more beans, then a sowing from that house will take more than one complete circuit of the board. When this happens, the house from which the beans were taken is left empty and stays empty for the rest of the game.

Have fun playing!

Sources: African Games of Strategy by Louise Crane; Learning Magazine, Feb. 1991.

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