The Glass Bead Game 2.0
Far far away, all the way back in the seventies, I invented a mancala game called The Glass Bead Game. It introduces beads of different values that can be captured with beads of zero-value. They are called 'gems' and 'stones' and only gems can be captured while only stones can capture. Compared to existing mancala games the material has been drastically reduced, with only two rows of five pits that initially hold two beads per pit, a stone and a gem. The game introduces a fundamentally different approach to mancalas.

Most regular mancalas have one track with a north- and a south side, in which pits are chosen on a player's own side and the content, the beads, are distrubited in one direction over the whole track. The Glass Bead Game is no exception.

I did actually consider changing this topology several times in the past, but it was only after Mike Zapawa tried to rekindle interest in the mancala family of games at the BGG Abstract Games Forum that I gave it some serious thought.
Mike admires the Glass Bead Game and had come up with his own coloured beads mancala Rainbow Chase a few weeks before.

So I returned to an old idea of different intersecting tracks and at a certain point it occured to me that I could give players an actual choice of which track to take. That was the clue and instead of two rows of five pits I suddenly saw four rows of four pits, that is: a regular 4x4 board of pits.

Shakala is a kind of Glass Bead Game 2.0. It introduces another generic change that in principle can be applied to most mancalas: a double track at both the North and the South side with two 'fork pits' where players may choose which track to follow.

To sow a 'house', a pit with enough beads to go all the way around for a multiple capture, a player can in principle choose between four tracks: inner-inner, inner-outer, outer-inner and outer-outer.

If you follow the little black arrows between the pits in the above initial position, you see that the general direction is anti-clockwise, left to right for each player on their own side. Fourteen pits have one incoming and one outgoing arrow, while the H- and h-pit, have two incoming arrows and the E- and e-pit, have two outgoing arrows. The latter are the 'fork-pits' where the app gives the choice to proceed on either the inner- or the outer track. The complete outer track is four pits longer than the inner one.

The consequences
These are far from cosmetic. As in the Glass Bead Game, Shakala strategy revolves around building a 'house', a pit that has enough beads to sow a full round and end up sowing into pits of the opponent's side for the second time, to harvest the gems that were sowed during the first time or, indirectly, an amount of gems from the opponent's pits, at the moving player's choice.

The most obvious pit by far for a house is the last one before entering the opponent's side. That way there's maximum room behind it for tempo manoeuvring. Which track to choose may depend on the number of beads in the house: the inner-inner track needs from 8 to 11, the outer-outer from 12 to 17 and the intermediate tracks both start at 10 and go belly up after 13 or 15, depending on which of the two is taken. Since these numbers overlap, a single house can be aimed at more than one pit. That is a difference with single-track mancalas, including the Glass Bead Game, the importance of which cannot be overestimated. It turns a deep but rather one-dimensional strategy into a layered one that lifts Shakala into the realm of truly great strategy games.

A two storey house
In Shakala the obvious 'house-pits' are H and h. From there the inner track has eight pits, including the house-pits themselves, but when going all around, which is the case when sowing a house, the pit that is being sowed must be skipped in the process, so the eight's bead falls into the same pit as the first. That means that for harvesting an inner track house it must contain eight to eleven beads. The twelfth bead would end up in the moving player's pits again, making the house useless. That is, in a one-track mancala.
In Shakala things are quite different. If the house gets a twelfth bead, it goes belly up so far as the inner track is concerned. But not for the outer track, which has twelve pits, meaning that the twelfth bead falls into the same pit as the first. Nor for intermediate tracks that combine an outer and an inner track. An outer track house may harvest if it contains twelve to seventeen beads. So when the inner track house goes belly up at twelve beads, it may switch to an intermediate or an outer track and in the latter case grow up to seventeen beads.

Simultaneous atacks on two pits
As I already pointed out, simultaneous atacks on two pits are an inherent feature. Pits with stones that, if sowed, end up with two, three or four beads landing in the opponent's pits, always attack two of them, one in the inner track and one in the outer one. Of course it's harder to defend against both of them, whether it's against a house or against a shorter attack from one of a player's pits immediately to the other side. If these attacks require an immediate answer, they have a habit of upsetting tempo conditions.

Trapping pits
If you've ever played mancalas you have probably encountered the phenomenon of trapped pits. In the Glass bead Game you may have a leftmost pit filled with valuables and, due to tempo conditions and forced movement, you will have to sow it at one of your next turns. Say that the first three pits that receive a bead from it are empty. That's still at the players own side, so they each get one bead. Your opponent has a pit aimed at precisely the last one of these, so you'll have to put your head on the chopping block and take your losses. At best you may be able to avoid a multiple capture.
On the other side of the picture, the attacker also faces tempo conditions and he ties to avoid adding a bead to the attacking pit because then it will overshoot its target. Shakala harbours a basically new way to do this, by using the other track and thus avoiding the attacking pit to go belly up.

Extended tempo play
Tempo play in the Glass Bead Game can be excruciating. "How many moves can I make within my own side, without spilling over to my opponent's side and provide him with additional tempo moves"? "Do I speed up and spill over or slow down by playing the rightmost pits first, thus possibly leaving pits that can be trapped"? "If I move, do I leave singles exposed that can be captured"? "How do I keep a pit defended that is attacked by a house"? Those are the questions that come up time and again. Shakala is pervaded by the very same dilemmas but its double track topology provides new answers to them by offering two alternative routes to provide more flexibility and breathing space for both defense and attack.

Shakala provides significantly more strategic depth and flexibility to the concept of its ancestor, and a much wider array of tactical tools, lifting it into the realm of truly great games.

Christian Freeling, Enschede, May 2022

Shakala © MindSports