Sometimes on Tuesday, knowing that I have a playtesting session coming up that evening spurs me into creating something completely new. This week was no exception. I’m trying to get a few more microgames done, and exploring what can be done in the space, and I’ve found Brett Gilbert’s (of Good Little Games) 18-card limit a good way to breed creativity.

The mancala mechanism is not particularly new, considering archaeologists have found evidence of the game from the 6th and 7th century AD, and it is not even necessarily novel in the world of modern boardgames (I’m looking at you, Trajan). For those who haven’t come across it before, mancala is played with a series of bowls into which pebbles or stones are placed, and the object is usually to capture the stones of your opponent. The main mechanism used in the game is one where a player on their turn takes all stones in one bowl and then distributes them one by one into the bowls following the bowl where they picked the stones from.

I thought this mechanism could be applied to a microgame, and so I present, the Mancala Microgame (for lack of a better title)!

Mancala Microgame – for 2-6 players

Rules

Components

18 cards (6 mancala, 6 modifiers and 6 goals)

60 cubes (10 cubes in each of 6 colours)

1 bag

Setup

Shuffle the 6 mancala cards and place them in a circle in the middle of the table. Then shuffle the 6 modifier cards and place them on an outside ring around the mancala cards, so that each modifer card is directly above one mancala cards. Deal one goal card to each player face down.

Place 1 cube of each colour in the bag, and then get each player to pick one cube and keep it secret. This will be the colour that they will score during the game. Leave the remaining cubes in the bag – they will not be used in the game. Then take 2 cubes of each colour and distribute them randomly onto the mancala cards, 2 cubes to each card. Place the remaining cubes to the side of the mancala.

Play

On their turn, players take all cubes on one mancala card and then distribute them one cube at a time to the other mancala cards in a clockwise direction. The card that the player places the last cube on is activated, and the player can then take the action described on the card. The actions are:

  • Place 1 cube of any colour on this card
  • Place 2 cubes of any colour on this card
  • Move 1 cube from any card onto the modifier card above it
  • Move 2 cubes from any card onto the modifier card above it
  • Take 1 cube from this card into your personal supply
  • Exile 1 cube on this card from the game (place it back in the bag)

The game ends once any two colours have no cubes remaining on the side of the table. Each player then gets one last turn, and then the game is over.

Scoring

Players first reveal their colour, and all cubes of colours that are not representing players are removed from any mancala or modifier cards.

Players score points from their cubes on the mancala and modifier cards depending on the modifer card. For example, one card might say 6 points shared. This means 6 points are shared amongst the cubes on that modifier card and the mancala card associated with it. So if Alice had one cube, and Bob had two cubes, then Alice scores 2 points and Bob scores 4 points. All points are rounded up.

Then players look at the cubes in their personal supplies. If you have the most cubes in your supply of another player’s colour (not your own), you score a bonus 5 points. Finally, players reveal their goals, and if they have been sucessful in completing them, they also gain a bonus 5 points. The goals are things like having a cube of every colour on a single modifier card, having a cube of every colour exiled from the game, etc. The player with the most points wins!

**********

We played a 3 player game a couple of times, and while we got to the end, the secret colours didn’t really matter so much, as it was a bit too easy to work out who was who. One playtester even suggested maybe we didn’t need to keep our colours a secret, as it would still be interesting (although then we would know what colours were not worth anything). Also, it is difficult to play for having your cubes on a particular spot, as they move around so frequently.

In any case, there definitely appears to be a game here, but there is a still a bit of searching to do. As always, any suggestions are very much welcomed!