The Objective Of Mancala - After a turn of two, it's fair to ask what it is we're trying to accomplish. The winner of the game is the one who has the most buttons in their Mancala when the game ends. You add to the number of buttons in your Mancala in three different ways. We've already mentioned the first. In your travels around the board, placing buttons in pockets, you will most certainly place one in your Mancala on occasion. When that happens, the button just stays there and counts towards the final number.
The second way to add buttons to your Mancala is to capture some. In the course of the game, some pockets are going to be empty from time to time, and as more pieces are captured, more pockets will be empty at a given time. An empty pocket will generally not remain so for long, as eventually a button will be dropped into it. If, as you are distributing buttons, and the last button should go into an empty pocket on your side of the board, you get to "capture" that button, and also "capture" all of the buttons on the adjacent pocket on you opponent's side of the board. If for example, it's your turn, you have no buttons in your "K" pockets, and your last button lands there, you get to capture that button plus any buttons there might be at the time in the opposing pocket, my "B" pocket. So if there happens to be 7 buttons in my "B" pocket, you capture those plus your own piece and place them in your Mancala.
How The Game Ends - The third way of capturing pieces occurs at the end of the game. The game ends at the instant either your side or my side has all empty pockets, it doesn't matter which side it is. When that happens, the player who still has pieces, captures them all and adds them to his Mancala. At that point, each player counts the pieces in their Mancala and the one with the most pieces wins.
It is of course possible for a game to end in a draw, with each person having 24 pieces in their respective Mancala. Usually this won't be the case however. A game can end before one player's pockets are empty if either player succeeds in capturing 25 or more pieces. This would make it impossible for the other player to win, no matter what happens, so in this case a game could be halted early.
You Can Spend A Lifetime Learning The Intricacies - As we have said, the Mancala rules are really pretty simple, but the game can be complex, as the number of possible combinations of events is in the billions, if not in the trillions. More than any one of us can keep track of. Although you start out with 4 buttons in each pocket, as the game progresses, the number of buttons in a given pocket will constantly be changing. As you are working to capture as many buttons as you can, and at the same time trying to empty all of the pockets on your opponent’s side (your opponent is trying to do the same thing to you) the differing number of buttons in different pockets makes strategy quite complex. In this game you really have to be trying to think 2 or 3 moves ahead.
One of the Mancala rules which is often put into play is that you cannot physically count the number of buttons in any pocket. Obviously if there are only 2 or 3 you can tell, but if there were 6 or 7 you couldn't count them by touching or moving them, you have to estimate. This of course can leave room for errors in your strategy, which makes the game all that much more complex.
Mancala, whichever version you choose, is likened to the game of chess by many. Though chess rules are not a lot more complicated than Mancala rules, the number of possible moves and combination of moves in both games is mind boggling, and both games can become very intense at times.
By the way, using egg cartons, cups, and buttons, might make the game board retailers unhappy, but a real Mancala game board with fancy plastic pieces would still make a nice gift.