A quick search of the Mancala African board game on YouTube will fill your search results with tutorials that have no less than thousands of views on how to play the game. The tutorials are mostly created by people who are not from Africa. These people probably visited an African country, fell in love with the game and decided to share this African culture with the world. We are slowly following suit by embracing and promoting our culture through the medium of video games. Let’s explore five African studios that are using the Mancala board game to do so.
What is Mancala?
Games have been played in Africa since time immemorial. One of the most famous games is Mancala which has different names and variations across the whole of Africa. Some of the other names it bears are Bao, Orusoro, Ekishoro, Soro, Coro, Gebeta, Kombe, Oware, Ayo, Wuri, Omweso and Igisoro just to mention a few.
Mancala games are two-player turn-based strategy board games played by moving small stones, beans or seeds across holes on a wooden board or tiny pits on the earth.
Igisoro is said to have been played by the former Kings of Rwanda. In an interview with Trans World Sports, Martin Itimana said he has been playing Igisoro for over 50 years. He said Igisoro dates back to when the king wanted to spend time with his people. He would invite people and they would play Igisoro. He would then give the winners a cow or land as a prize.
It is an old tradition for all Rwandans and was the King’s favourite game. The game requires the young generation to socialize with older people in order to learn from them. Martin a retiree calls the young men he plays with, his friends because they help him pass time now that he has endless free days. Igisoro gives Martin a purpose that is filled with lots of joy and laughter.
In 2019 Qene Technologies an Ethiopian company released Gebeta a video game named after the Ethiopian and Eritrean variation of Mancala. It is a modern take on the traditional game played across the African continent.
Gebeta is a free-to-play mobile board game built on the core principles of the mancala games
While adding features that make it more engaging and adaptable to a modern audience.
The CEO of Qene Technologies Dawit Abraham said, “Be it using wooden boards or burrowed ground holes, many Africans have played Gebeta growing up. It is a great honour for our team to pay tribute to the wisdom and artistry of our ancestors. We’re certain that Gebeta will bring joy and excitement to the world, as it has for us for thousands of years, “
Kissoro Tribal Game
Masseka Game Studio is based in France and aims to create content based only on African cultures, facts and histories. The studio was started by Teddy Kossoko who is originally from Central African Republic.
Kissoro Tribal Game their first game launched in 2018 and was a worldwide success. They had more than 250 articles in national and international media, reports in many TV channels and more than 6000 downloads in 3 weeks.
In Kissoro Tribal Game each player aims to capture all of their opponent’s pawns to stop them from moving. It also uses African Folklore to give the game a rich cultural setting. The mobile game is themed around African conflicts, two kingdoms fight to control a river rich in gold.
The Ayo Game is based on two forms of gameplay namely Pia and Seca. The digital game possesses 3D scenes that simulate reality.
In Ayo Game you can challenge your friends to a multiplayer match regardless of your proximity to one another. The players get to decide which game rules they will abide by. The game presents the 3 game rules at the beginning of the game: Ayo (Nigeria) Seca/Awale/Oware (played across the world) and Pia (played in Cape Verde and other regions in Africa.
The Wagadu Chronicles is a sandbox Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) where the players get to farm, fight, trade and build with other players while shaping the wonderful African inspired world.
In the game’s Alpha trailer released in April 2022 Twin Drums highlighted the fact that their players will also get a chance to sample a Mancala-style board game within The Wagadu Chronicles.
The version on the Mancala board game in this case will be Oware. In Alpha, Wagadians get to play this fun minigame with each other while testing their strategic thinking, luck and a little bit of math.
Busara Board Game
The word busara means wisdom, sense and understanding in Swahili. The game was created by the participants of Enter Africa, a creative African network represented in 15 African countries, initiated by 15 Goethe-Instituts in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Busara was created to celebrate African culture and explore the potential of a borderless, united African continent. The development started in October 2018 and culminated in the presentation and the release of the game Busara at international events in A MAZE Berlin in April 2019 and Gamescom in August 2019.
The game was created as a print and play, meaning it can be downloaded, printed and prepared for tabletop play in a few minutes. It is meant to be a cultural artefact something accessible to as many people as possible
It is lovely to see Africans joining the rest of the world in promoting this jewel that is Mancala, Oware, Ayo, Gebeta, Isigoro and all the other lovely names it possesses out there. This game truly deserves all the praise it has received and is yet to receive. And in the words of Teddy Kossoko the CEO of Masseka Game Studio “ We have a new generation of African youth working hard to create solutions. It’s only a matter of time before everything changes.”