Nine Men’s Morris – a game for Yuletide

Board carved on a chapel floor – believed to be C13th or C14th. Thanks to Hartland Archives

The holiday season is a time for family games. Forget those that require technology and indulge yourself with a test of skill and tactics in a game of our time. Sir Francis will challenge all-comers, as long as there is fortified wine provided for the winner.

Nine Men’s Morris is also known as Mills or Merels. It is usually played on a wooden or leather board but can also be played anywhere, by scratching a board in the earth with a stick and using stones, acorns or shells as playing pieces.

How to play

Each player has nine pieces of the same colour and tries to capture their opponent’s pieces. As soon as a player only has two pieces left they have lost. If you are playing more than one game, take it in turns to start.

Take it in turns to lay one piece on the board, placing it on any a corner or place where the lines cross. You are trying to lay three of your pieces in a horizontal or vertical line (diagonal lines do not count). The pieces must be on corners or points that are joined by a line, you cannot cross the square in the centre to form a line. At the same time, watch what your opponent is doing, as you also need to block their attempts to make a line of three.

nine-mens-morrisWhen all your pieces have been laid, at each turn you move any one of your pieces (including those that are part of a row) to the next point on the board (in any direction). If you only have three pieces left, then you can move a piece to any point on the board, it does not have to be the next point.

As soon as you have made a line or ‘mill’ you can take one of your opponent’s pieces off the board. The piece that is taken cannot be one that is part of a mill. If all the opponent’s pieces are in rows of three, then you can take one from a mill.

As soon as one player has only two pieces left they have lost.

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