The ability to prepare systems in specific target states through quantum engineering is essential for realizing the new technologies promised by a second quantum revolution. Here, we recast the fundamental problem of state preparation in high-dimensional Hilbert spaces as ManQala, a quantum game inspired by the West African sowing game mancala. Motivated by optimal gameplay in solitaire mancala, where nested nearest-neighbor permutations and actions evolve the state of the game board to its target configuration, ManQala acts as a pre-processing approach for deterministically arranging particles in a quantum control problem. Once pre-processing with ManQala is complete, existing quantum control methods are applied, but now with a reduced search space. We find that ManQala-type strategies match, or outperform, competing approaches in terms of final state variance even in small-scale quantum state engineering problems where we expect the slightest advantage, since the relative reduction in search space is the least. These results suggest that ManQala provides a rich platform for designing control protocols relevant to quantum technologies.

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