Nine Men's Morris

Nine Men's Morris

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Nine Men's Morris is believed to be one of the oldest games in history. It is an alignment and configuration game that is found widely around the world. Morris does not have to do with Morris dancers, instead it comes from the Latin word merellus, meaning the corruption of counters. The earliest known diagram of this game was found in an Egyptian temple in Kurna Egypt, dating around 1440 BC. Other boards have been discovered in Ceylon of Sri Lanka (c. AD 10) and in the Gokstad Viking ship (c. AD 900). In Ceylon two boards are cut on the steps leading to the hill at Mihimtali and others are found on a rock near Lankarama dagaba. Evidence of the board scratched in the ground has also been found in the Bronze-Age Ireland, ancient Troy, and the Southwestern United States. In the US, Kere, Tigua, Tew and Zuni Indians played a version of the game called paritariya, picarva, and pedreria. To the ancient Celts, the Morris square was sacred. The central square known as the Cauldron or Mill was a symbol of regeneration while the lines and squares coming out from the middle were symbols of "the four cardinal directions, the four elements and the four winds"(Mohr 30).

Although it is not known when Nine Men's Morris reached Britain, it was widely played during the Middle Ages, along with similar games such as Three, Six, and Twelve Men's Morris. The game was most popular in the 14th and 15th Century. During the fourteenth century, Nine Men's Morris boards were a part of a set of games that were played on "shallow boxes with hinged lids" (Bell 8). When the box was closed, one surface had a chessboard while the other had a Nine Men's Morris board. When opened, the box was used as a backgammon board. The game was also frequently played with pebbles on engraved boards in taverns or on boards drawn in the ground with a trowel. The board was found scratched onto the seats of many British cathedrals, and on the "steps of Furness Abbey, tombstones at Dryburgh Abbey, Worksop, and Arbory in the Isle of Man, at Norwich, Dover, Helmsley, and Scarborough Castles, and on stones built into the walls of churches, as at Hargrace (Northants), Ickford (Bucks.), Sparsholt (Berks.), and Kirkby Underdale (Yorks.)" (Murray 44). By the late 16th century, the game was called Merels from an Old English word "mere" meaning boundaries.

Shakespeare refers to Nine Men's Morris in A Midsummer Night's Dream, when he wrote "The Nine Men's Morris is fill'd up with mud" (Act 2, Scene 2). In the passage, Titania, the queen of the fairies blames Oberon for causing chaos in the world. The rain has not stopped causing disease and the Nine Men's Morris Board to be unplayable. This passage is often cited as evidence that the game was played outdoors. The game is also mentioned in the medieval literature of France and Germany. In Civis Bononiae MS, the popularity of the game among commoners is described as "Tunc merellos doceo quibus plebs iocatur" (Murray 45). The game has also been played with real life pieces. On June 24, 1897, boys and girls were used as pieces at Saffron Walden. During World War I, new versions of the game sprung up. Known as Trencho, these versions of Nine Men's Morris were inspired by trench fighting.

The Board

The board consists of 3 concentric squares of increasing size. The midpoints of each side are connected to the midpoints of the corresponding sides of the other squares by a line. The pieces are played on the intersections of the lines and the squares' corners.

The Pieces

There are 9 pieces or men of one color for one player and 9 markers of a different color for the other player. Any two types of pieces will work as long as there are 9 for each player. Traditionally the two colors used are black and white.


To move: The moves are split into three phases. When beginning the game, players alternate placing one of their pieces on any empty node on the board. Once all 18 pieces have been played, players alternate taking turns sliding a piece from its node to any other empty node connected to it by a line. If a player's move (during either phase) completes a "mill", which is a line of 3 of that player's piece, then that player gets to remove any opponent's piece from the board that is currently not in a mill. A mill may be broken and reformed several times and the player may remove a piece each time it is formed. "Fly" rule (third phase): When a player is down to 3 pieces, that player may move his or her piece to any empty node on the board.

To win: A player wins when he or she reduces the number of the opponent's pieces to 2 or puts the opponent into a position where he or she cannot make any legal moves.

The board starts out empty. Players alternate placing all 18 men on the board. The object of the game is to form a mill of three men along any of the 16 lines. If a player creates a mill, they remove one of their opponent's pieces from the board. The player may not take a man from an opponent's mill, unless there are no other options on the board. Once all pieces have been placed, players alternate sliding pieces to adjacent, empty nodes. Players may move their piece in any direction and are not allowed to leap over their opponent's pieces. During either of these phases, whenever they form mills, they remove one of their opponent's pieces. If the player is unable to move, their opponent continues until there is a move available. When a player only has 3 men left, he or she may fly. During this phase, the player may move to any position on the board. Capturing is still enforced in this phase. When a player reduces the opponent's men to 2 or the opponent cannot make a legal move on his or her turn, the player wins.



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