At first, Nine Men’s Morris (also known as Nine Men’s Mills) may be reminiscent of simpler games like Tic-Tac-Toe. With the main objective being similar as you try to arrange your pieces into rows of three. Usually comprised of a small board of lined squares and a handful of tokens to place on it.
However, this game has much more depth and is rooted as far back as the ancient Egypt in 1400 BCE. This ancient game has lasted through many era’s but has remained mostly the same. Learning how to play Nine Men’s Morris can be easy, but learning how to outplay your opponent will be difficult.
History Of Nine Men’s Morris
The name of the game has existed Nine Men’s Mills can be traced back to the Shakespeare play “A Midsummer Nights Dream”.
And crows are fatted with the murrain flock.
The nine-men’s-morris is filled up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green For lack of tread are undistinguishable.Act II, Scene 1 – A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Despite the relatively modern name, Nine Men’s Morris can actually be traced back much further. With the oldest known depictions of the game being in 1400 BCE Egypt.
The iconic lined-square board design can be observed at many historic locations such as the temple of Kurna in Egypt, the church of St John Baptist in England, and many ancient Roman cathedrals.
One of the first mentions of Nine Men’s Morris in writing comes from the year 2 CE in Ovid’s Amatoria when comparing it to another ancient game, Latrones.
There is another game divided into as many parts as there are months in the year. A table has three pieces on either side; the winner must get all the pieces in a straight lineArs Amatoria – Book 3
It’s theorized that the game reached popularity in ancient Rome due to the many instances of the board on sculpted stone. Which eventually lead to it’s peak popularity in Medieval England among soldiers.
How To Play Nine Men’s Morris
- Men/Tokens/Pieces – The play pieces
- Mill – A row of 3 pieces of the same color
- Intersections/Points – Where the line’s intersect, where players can play their tokens.
- Fly/Hop/Jump – Moving a token anywhere else on the board
Objective and Overview
Each intersection on the board represents a point where players can place their tokens. The main objective of the game is to arrange your pieces into rows of three vertically or horizontally (mills).
The game takes place in 3 phases. Continuing until one player has 2 or less pieces and therefor loses the game. Or by ensuring the opponent doesn’t have any legal moves.
Forming A Mill
A whenever a player forms a mill of their own pieces, they are allowed to remove one of their opponents pieces from the board. Stray pieces must be removed before pieces that belong to mills. Mills cannot be formed diagonally.
Phase One – Placing
Players determine who goes first by flipping a coin. During the first phase, players take turns placing one of their pieces on the board on any open intersection. Any mills formed in this stage are legal and cause the opponent to lose a piece. This phase ends when all men are placed.
Phase Two – Moving
In the second phase, players take turns moving their pieces one space at a time. Trying to break and form new mills to remove the opponents pieces. Pieces may only move to adjacent points, and may not jump over other pieces. This phase lasts until one player is reduced to 3 men.
Phase Three – Flying
The third and final space is called the Flying phase. This phase is similar to phase 2 where each player moves their piece one space per turn. However players may move their men to any open space on the board instead of just adjacent ones.
Ending The Game
The game is over when either player is reduced to 2 men. (typically shortly after the flying phase begins). That player loses the game. Alternatively the game can end at any time if the opponent has no legal moves.
Nine Men’s Morris Strategy
Prioritize Board Position
A common mistake for newer players is trying to form mills quickly during the first phase. Even though this removes one enemy piece, it constricts movement for the next phase and forfeits board positioning. A better alternative is to try to spread out on the board so you can form various mills during the second phase and keep your opponent from doing the same.
Try To Form Adjacent Mills
If possible, try to find a way to open up two mills near each other. That way you can remove an enemy piece almost every turn and force the opponent into a defensive position.
If this is your first time learning how to play Nine Men’s Morris, chances are you won’t come out victorious. A good player will always keep the next phase in mind when making any move, and there’s always more to learn.