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Let the Games Begin

One of Simon’s Chanukah presents (thanks Amanda!) was a game called mancala. This is a count and capture games, a sort of African/South Asian checkers. You have to be good at counting to play, and Amanda thought the game would be a good fit for Simon given his current obsession with numbers. She played it in Africa herself. The board looks like this:

and the goal is capture more pebbles than your opponent. Each player has one side of the board and one tray at the end, and pebbles are moved from cup to cup according to proscribed rules. While playing, players must keep their eye on ways to capture the most stones while not leaving their own stones open to capture during their opponent’s next turn.

The box said ages 6 and up, and I believed it. After playing a few times ourselves, Matt and I assumed that Amanda had a great idea, but that we’d be putting the game away for a year or so until Simon was ready. Or to quote my brother-in-law reading from the box. “’A game of strategy, judgment, and patience.’ That’s great for a five-year-old!”

Four days later, here’s what a game sounds like at our house:

“Oh, Mommy, I’m going to trick you!”

“Mommy, are you sure you want to do that?”

“You didn’t see that coming, did you?”

Not to mention the times he places a finger in a cup and silently taps it to indicate my next suggested move in perfect imitation of how I coached him the first two days we played.

The player who goes first in mancala has a distinct advantage. In fact, if played perfectly, that person should and will win every time. Whereas in the beginning I would hold back or coach so Simon could continue playing and enjoying himself, now I do neither and he wins about 75% of the time. My best hope, besides insisting on going first, is that something like Elmo or Wild Kratts will come on TV and distract him.

Yesterday he took the game to his grandparents’ house, taught his Papaw how to play, and pulled just about even in scoring. I can’t tell you how much this pleases me. Not just that he learned the offensive strategy, went on to learn defensive strategy, or can explain things well enough to teach his Papaw, but also that he had the patience to sit down and get to this point in the first place.

This is just one more example of the splendor of middle childhood. In a year or so, Matt will have to get out the chess set. Let the games begin!

One Response to “Let the Games Begin”

  1. Amanda says:

    Glad he liked it so much! Your bro’s skepticism aside, I saw plenty of African 5 year-olds play this really well. They beat me most of the time! I was sure Simon could handle it.

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