How to play Sungka

Sungca, sunka, soongka, soonka



Learn how to play this fun Filipino game.


I grew up in the Philippines and had the opportunity to learn how to play this game.  This outlines the basic rules so you can play it as well.

An Overview

Sungka is a two player game where the players take turns picking up shells from the board and distributing them.  The goal is to put as many shells in your home base as possible.  You take turns until no more shells are available and that concludes a round.  You start a new round with an obvious bias determined by how well you did in the previous round.  The game ends when one player cannot even play a round.
sungka fun
Notice the smiles!  I’m telling you its fun.

The Initial Board

You’ll need:
98 small (cowrie) shells,  alternatives:  beans, beads, rocks, anything you can easily fit 10 of in your hand.
1 Sungka board, alternatives:  some way to separate 16 piles of shells from each other.
The board consists of two rows of 7 holes, with two additional holes at the either end.  These two additional holes are the homes of the respective players.  The hole to your left will be yours home.  The game starts with 7 shells in each of the 14 holes in the middle.  
Your Home
Player 2’s Home
Sungka board

Playing a turn

When its your turn, you start by picking up any pile on your side of the board.  Once you pick it up, you start dropping one shell in each hole in a clockwise fashion.  This includes your home, but NOT your opponent’s home.  Once you place your last shell one of three things happens based on where it lands:
  • If it lands in a normal hole and it has shells inside, then pick them all up and continue.
  • If it lands in a normal hole and there are no shells, then your turn is done.
    • If this happens on your side (you land on your side), and there are shells in your opponents side in the same column, you get to take all of those shells from your opponents side and place them in your home.  Your turn is still done:

Your Home
2 3 0 0 5
Capture these
2 6
3 7 1 0 0
Land Here
5 4
Player 2’s Home

  • If it lands in your home, start again from any hole on your side of your choosing.
    • If you have no more shells you can play, the round is done.  The other player automatically claims all the shells on their side and will start the next round.
    • Common house rule: When making a choice on which hole to start with, as soon as you touch the shells/hole you must start with that hole.

Starting the very first round

To start the very first round, both players start simultaneously.  The first person out, just stops and waits for the other person to finish.
Hint: Start with last hole on your side.

Playing a round

First you reinitialize the board.  To do this start taking shells from your home and placing them into the holes on your side, placing 7 in each hole.  As soon as you do not have enough to fill a hole, leave the remaining shells in your home.  The board may look something like this:

7 7 7 7 7 7 7
7 7 7 7 7 7 X

You did not have enough to fill out the last spot on your side.  That hole is now burned and cannot be used during the entire round.  That means you and your opponent cannot put shells in the burned holes as you distribute the shells.

The person who was not the last to play in the last round gets to start the new round (which is very beneficial and one of the bigger benefits of not having a hole that is burned on your side).

Hint: Start with the hole opposite your opponents first burned hole.  In this case, the second to last hole on your side.  Then when you pick again, skip one and pick the next hole.  In this case the fourth hole on your side.  Keep skipping one…

Hint: If the burned holes are on your side, start with the hole that is the same number of rows away from your opponents home.  An example is if one of your holes is burned, start with the first hole on the other end of your side.

Playing a full game

You keep playing rounds until one entire side of a board has been burned.  At that point the game is over and the person with a remaining side wins.

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