A Fairly Quick Game – Nine Men’s Morris!


3.5 - 5

Number of Players: 2

Year of Publication: -1400

Creator(s): Designer is unknown and Dieter Zander is the Artist

Having taken a quick break from this chain of posts to write about Elixir, I’m back on fast games! This one’s all about Nine Men’s Morris. Another very old game, a board for which was found cut into a wall in the temple at Kurna, Egypt, that dates back to 1440 BC (although there is doubt as to whether this is an accurate dating of the carving as Coptic crosses were also found carved here that could not have been put there by the Egyptians at the time). Anyone who’s played Assassins Creed III might be familiar with this game – it’s one of the mini games available within the game. Variations of it are also Three Men’s, Six Men’s and Twelve Men’s Morris. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have copies of the others, so this post will mainly (but with some references to the others) be focused on Nine Men’s Morris.

A Nine Men's Morris board and pieces before a game begins.
A Nine Men’s Morris board and pieces before a game begins.

It’s a very easy game to learn, each player has 12 pieces in either black or white. The board is comprised of three squares inside each other, each with intersecting lines midway down each side. White plays first and you take it in turns to place pieces on the corners of the squares or the midway points created by the intersecting lines. The objective is to create lines of three, either horizontally or vertically, called mills. Once a player has created a mill they are then allowed to remove one of their opponents pieces from the board. If a mill is created whilst players are placing their pieces the player who created it is still allowed to remove one of their opponents pieces.

A game where all the pieces have been placed just before the moving phase begins.
A game where all the pieces have been placed just before the moving phase begins.

After all the pieces have been placed players take it in turns to move. Each turn you may move one piece one space. You cannot move, or create mills on, the diagonals. A player who has achieved a mill or two when placing their pieces is going to be in a stronger starting position than their opponent, as they will have more pieces left to manoeuvre round the board.

When a player has lost so many pieces that they have three or less pieces left on the board they are then able to move their pieces anywhere. They are no longer restricted to moving one piece one space. They can move one piece from any space on the board to any other space. This makes it considerably harder for their opponent to continue to make mills. Once a player has lost all of their pieces, or both agree that a point in the game has been reached where neither player can win, the game ends.

The end of the game and black is the winner having reduced white to less than three pieces.
The end of the game and black is the winner having reduced white to less than three pieces.

History Things:

These first five points are all about Three Men’s Morris, not Nine!

  1. In line for “oldest game in the world” – with Go, Backgammon and Chess.
  2. Noughts and Crosses or Tic Tac Toe are the same as the variation of Three Men’s Morris that involves the use of the diagonals for making mills.
  3. According to Thomas Hyde the Chinese played it in 500BC.
  4. Ovid mentions it in “Ars Amatoria” – the Romans played on wooden or stone boards, although occasionally more exotic materials were used.
  5. Three Men’s Morris was widely played in England 1300 AD – boards can be found carved, by monks, into the cloister seats in Norwich, Canterbury, Gloucester and Salisbury Cathedrals, and Westminster Abbey.
  6. Other Nine Men’s Morris boards have been found in Ceylon – carved in the reign of Mahadithika Maha-Naga (9-21AD), and European boards have been found in places like the first city of Troy, a Bronze Age burial site in Ireland and at the Acropolis in Athens.
  7. The game reached peak popularity in Europe in the fourteenth century.
  8. In old England the game was played with black and white pebbles on a board that was drawn out on the village green using a trowel, or drawn onto a pub or tavern table with chalk.
  9. Shakespeare references it in A Midsummer Nights Dream in Act II, Scene I – “The Nine Men’s Morris is filled up with mud!” ~Titania – this must be what happened to the boards drawn on the green whenever it rained!
  10. A version of the game called Morabaraba which is played using the diagonals on the board is still very popular, and played to a competitive level, in South Africa.

Because the game was popular in Medieval England there has been some speculation as to whether the name “Morris” is related to the English Morris Dance. However, Daniel King says that it is coincidence- the word Morris in this context actually deriving from the Latin “Merellus”, meaning a counter or a game piece.

I have, once again, achieved ten points of history about the game! I wonder how long this is going to last…
Pretty much everything I’ve put up about the history of the game I found here.
But I supplemented some of the points with information from our trusty old friend Wikipedia!

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