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Some games are more often played with holes dug in the earth, or carved in stone.

The holes may be referred to as "depressions", "pits", or "houses".

Most mancala games share a common general game play.

Players begin by placing a certain number of seeds, prescribed for the particular game, in each of the pits on the game board. A turn consists of removing all seeds from a pit, "sowing" the seeds (placing one in each of the following pits in sequence) and capturing based on the state of board.

Many games from the Indian subcontinent use pussa kanawa laps.

Although the details differ greatly, this general sequence applies to all games.

Board configurations vary among different games but also within variations of a given game; for example Endodoi is played on boards from 2×6 to 2×10.

The largest are Tchouba (Mozambique) with a board of 160 (4×40) holes requiring 320 seeds; and En Gehé (Tanzania), played on longer rows with up to 50 pits (a total of 2×50=100) and using 400 seeds.

Multiple laps or relay sowing is a frequent feature of mancala games, although not universal.

When relay sowing, if the last seed during sowing lands in an occupied hole, all the contents of that hole, including the last sown seed, are immediately re-sown from the hole.

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