Dusting Off My Sungka, A Traditional Filipino Board Game

I was decluttering when I found this toy I purchased from Dagupan in 2008—a sungka (pronounced as soong-kah) set. Still wrapped in plastic with its ₱130 price tag, my oblong-shaped traditional Filipino board game was gathering dust.

Sunkga is a traditional Filipino mancala game. The player with the most shells in their head (home base) at the end of the game is the winner.

As I unwrapped it, I realized I didn’t really know how to play this game. My parents forbade me to play with sungka as a kid because Filipino-Chinese businessmen considered it bad luck to own one. All I could do was watch the other kids play. The closest I got to playing sungka was a digital version back in 2000—the bantumi game in my Nokia 3310 mobile phone (time warp!).

Sungka is similar to other Asian mancala games such as congak (played in Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Southern Thailand, and Indonesia), chongka (from Marianas), and chonka (from Sri Lanka).

Like most Asian countries, Filipinos are superstitious. Folklore forbids playing sungka indoors because it could cause your house to burn down in an accident. Let’s be realistic—it’s just a game.

In Manila, I rarely see Filipino kids play classic Filipino games. I sound like an old fart when I complain that they’re too glued to their gadgets and apps.

The Philippine government has proposed the House Bill No. 6192, which aims to be the Philippine Indigenous Games Preservation Act. If passed, we will see annual tournaments of indigenous sports, including sungka. Remember when board game cafés were all the rage in Manila? I was disappointed not to see a sungka set in the spots I visited.

Keep the game of sunkga alive in our culture by getting your own set. You may purchase online from Lazada or Shopee.

So how is this game played? The player with the most shells at their head (home base) at the end of the game is the winner, but the rules can be confusing for beginners, especially if your math skills are as brilliant as mine. Here are a few helpful sites that break down the rules of sungka:


Sungkaan, anyone?

First published on: October 24, 2011
Updated on: February 4, 2021