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How To Play Nine Man Morris

Updated on October 22, 2014
CuAllaidh profile image

Jeff Johnston is a medieval reenactor and avid history fan. He is also the publisher at Living History Publications.

The History of Nine Man Morris

Nine man morris is one of the oldest board games that can be documented. The earliest known mention of morris is in a document from 8CE called Ars Amatoria or The Art of Love. There is some evidence that the game was played as far back as 1400BCE, although that evidence is somewhat questionable. It is known that the Vikings played the game as there are several extant Hnefatafl boards with a nine man morris board on the other side, in fact for a long time the connection wasn't made and morris was referred to as "the game on the other side" by viking historians.

The game was known throughout the world, the Romans were certainly familiar with it. It reached peak popularity though in medieval England. There are morris boards carved into cloister pews so the monks could play while in church without anyone noticing, there is even records of giant boards being cut into the village greens where people would play using people as the morris pieces.

image credit: Nine Man Morris Board I made myself.

Nine Man Morris is an easy game to learn, but difficult to master.

By Elembis (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Elembis (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

How To Play Nine Man Morris

Nine Man Morris is a strategy game similar to senet, fox and geese, go, checkers and several others. The end goal of the game is to take all of your opponents men.

Capturing an opponents man

To capture a man you must line three of your own men up in a horizontal or vertical line. At this point you can take any one of your opponents men, the only safe men are ones already in a mill (line) during the setup phase. Once into the moving phase men in a mill are no longer safe.

Setup

The setup is arguably the most important phase of the game. To start both players have nine men and the board is empty. One by one the players alternate placing one man at a time anywhere on the board. Your strategy in during set up can make or break the game. Ensuring your opponent cannot make a mill is crucial, leaving yourself able to make a mill is important as well, but blocking your opponent should be your primary objective.

Moving

During this phase of the game players take turns moving one man at a time to an adjacent square. If a mill is formed then the player who formed the mill may remove any of the enemies men.

Flying Optional

This is not often used, but when it is the rule states that once a player is down to three men they are no longer restricted to moving simply to an adjacent spot but to any available spot on the board.

Pounding

Some chose to play with a no pounding rule, pounding in morris is basically moving a man out of a mill then back in the very next move. A no pounding rule would either forbid a user from moving a man back into the same mill, or require at least one turn between moving out of a mill and then back in.

By Elembis (Copied from Nine Men's Morris.svg and modified.) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Elembis (Copied from Nine Men's Morris.svg and modified.) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Three Man Morris

Three man morris is a variant of nine man morris that is sometimes also called "Nine Holes". It is played in much the same manner as nine man morris, but each player has only three men and the game is one as soon as one player forms a mill. The board, shown on the right, is considerably different than a nine man morris board, but the concepts remain the same.

This variant is perhaps the slowest paced game, although it is the shortest version in time actually playing. In three mans morris the set up is pretty much the entire game, as in one move the game can be won or lost.

By Elembis (Copied from Nine Men's Morris.svg and modified.) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Elembis (Copied from Nine Men's Morris.svg and modified.) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Six Man Morris

Six man morris, like its nine and three man brothers is played exactly the same, but with only six men. This is perhaps the fastest paced game, requiring less strategy then the three man.

The six man morris board (shown right) is essentially the same as the nine man board, except the outer level is removed.

By Elembis (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Elembis (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Twelve Man Morris

As you can probably guess twelve man morris is identical to all the other variants except in the board (shown to the right) and the number of men. Twelve man morris is played with twelve men. As you can see the twelve man board has diagonal lines added to the board to increase where the mills can be formed but not where the men can be placed. The strategy during play in this game is much more important than the other variants where the strategy is primarily in where the men are placed, in this variant the game play can easily alter the end result.

The Avacal Games Guild is a group of people in the SCA Kingdom of Avacal who are interested in Medieval games

The Badge of the Avacal Games Guild
The Badge of the Avacal Games Guild | Source

© 2013 Jeff Johnston

Have you played nine man morris before?

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    • CuAllaidh profile image
      Author

      Jeff Johnston 4 years ago from Alberta Canada

      @HSP Connections: Not quite but there is definitely strategy involved. Generally the game is won or lost during the piece placement phase of the game. Place your men right and there is nothing your opponent can do.

    • HSP Connections profile image

      Peter Messerschmidt 4 years ago from Port Townsend, WA, USA

      I first heard of this game when I lived in the UK... I was in boarding school there in the 1970s and some of my dorm mates would play it. I never tried, though-- looks simple, but I'm sure it's as complex as chess or backgammon can be.

    • shellys-space profile image

      Shelly Sellers 4 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

      Never played Nine Man Morris before. Congrats on your Purple Star :)

    • myoyster1957 profile image

      myoyster1957 4 years ago

      No, but it looks interesting.

    • Craftypicks profile image

      Lori Green 4 years ago from Las Vegas

      I have never heard of this before. Still reading.