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How To Play Nine Men's Morris

Game Overview.

  • The board begins empty. Each player has 9 playing pieces, these are the 'men'
  • The board has 3 squares interlinked with each other, creating 24 holes where the lines overlap.
  • Each player takes it in turns to place their men on a hole of their choosing.
  • Ones the men are placed, the can be moved sideways and upwards and downwards to try to make three in a row.
  • For every three, the player may remove one of their opponent's men.
  • The player wins when the opponent either cannot move, or has run out of men.

Where it came from

Nine Men's Morris has been around since the Romans came to Britain, and it became massively popular with the Anglo Saxons.

Holes and lines used to be cut into slate, wooden slabs, or even drawn into the sand, and stones or pebbles would be used as playing pieces.

The game is still around today, but it's not nearly as popular as it was all those hundreds of years ago.

Strategy is essential, and it's pretty damn hard to master until you've had a good few goes at it - it's miles harder than chess - so in this article is the basics. All the rules you need to know and how the game works. I'll then let you in on a few hints and tips.

I first discovered this game in a museum in Liverpool, UK, and have since been attempting to play well. I've only won a few games in my time... But it is incredibly addictive and tons of fun.

Lets bring Nine Men's Morris back in style!

The aim of the game

When placing your pieces on the board, be the first player to create a 'mill'. This is three pieces in a row. When you create a mill you can take any one piece from your opponent's off the board.

To win the game, trap the opponent so they cannot make any more moves. Or remove all but two of your opponent's pieces from the board.

It's kind of like tic tac toe, except insanely more difficult.

The game starts on an empty board.

The game starts on an empty board.

Stage one

  • Choose your colour

Pebbles or playing pieces will usually be painted black and white. Nine will be black. Nine will be white. Once you've chosen your colour this will be your team of 'men' (that's what they call the playing pieces, hence the name of the game).

  • Place your first man on the board

You've got 24 spots to choose from, but choose them wisely. Try not to place all your men in one place on the board. It is important to create mills yes, but it is also important to have access to the entire board with your pieces.

  • Creating a mill

Mills must be a line of three men. They can be placed horizontally or vertically, but they do not count when placed on a diagonal line.

If you do successfully create a mill of three, you may chose any of your opponents men and permanently remove them from the game. Again, choose wisely.

  • Placing your final men on the board

When both players have place all of their men on the board, we move on to stage two.

Scroll to Continue

Watch the game being played

Stage Two

Now that you have placed all your men on the board, the game continues in a slightly different fashion.

  • Moving your men

On your turn, move your men one space at a time. You must move horizontally or vertically, you may not move diagonally.

  • Trapping the opponent

You cannot move onto the same space, or over the space of the opponent. So if the player places two of his/her men on either side of the corner on which the opponent's is place, it becomes trapped. If all the opponent's men become trapped, the player wins the game.

  • Removing the opponent

Continue to create your rows of three, your mills, and with every mill created remove on of your opponent's men. If the opponent only has two men left on the board, the player has won.

Difficulty rating

Hints and tips

One crafty strategy for the game is to try to create one row of three, and one row of two. Make sure the two rows are next to each other. This will then enable you to continuously move your piece that makes up the third in the mill, backwards and forwards between each row, guaranteeing you a mill each turn and enabling you to take away your opponent's pieces.

Unless your opponent makes a mill elsewhere on the board and removes your piece that is creating the mills, you are guaranteed a winning game once in this position.

Ariel view of the board

This game is in the middle of stage two.

This game is in the middle of stage two.

Nine Men's Morris is a great strategy board game that will have you improving your thinking, logic, and problem solving skills.

To master this game you must play regularly, understand how the board works, develop tactics, and make good use of every space available.

Make sure your men are spread across the board in stage one of the game. Don't be too eager to create mills so early on, they're not essential at the beginning and you don't want to get yourself trapped!

Never played before?

Have a go on the internet here

Don't worry, you don't need anyone with you, this is a computerised opponent.

Create your own board

It's very easy to create your own game of Nine Men's Morris. Just use the image at the top of this article as reference, and draw the lines and dots in the sand. Collect nine pebbles each and voila! You've got yourself a game.

If you don't live near a beach or have any sand handy (which is understandable) all you have to do is draw the board on a piece of paper.

You can use counters, torn up pieces of paper, match heads, or anything small and easily movable as your pieces. Just make sure you can easily distinguish between which men belong to which player.

Of course alternatively you can go all out and find a stone slab to engrave!

Ancient boards.


Good luck, and have fun!

Buy the game!


Tim raudales on August 05, 2018:

I really enjoy playing board games

But I never heard about this, now this is gonna be my next DIY project..

The whole familly will enjoy this game.....

Amy Naylor (author) from England on June 21, 2014:

I hadn't until a visit to the world museum. It's old... But it's certainly not outdated!

Thanks for your feedback.

David Hamilton from Lexington, KY on June 21, 2014:

I have never heard of this game, but it looks like fun. Maybe I can find someone who is willing to try it with me. Upvoted!

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