Game of the Month: Morris Games

by Dagonell the Juggler

Morris, or Mills as it is sometimes called, has been found in archaeological digs all over the world. Origins of the game are uncertain. Some scholars believe that the Moors in North Africa introduced the game to Southern Europe. Others think that the ancient Phoenicians introduced the game to all of their ports of call.

The origin of the name is uncertain as well. The two most popular theories are that it's either a corruption of Old French, "merel" meaning counter, or a corruption of "Moor", the Arabs who may have introduced the game.

It may be played with three, five, nine or twelve men and each variation has its own playing board, however the rules are always the same. For the first phase, players take turns placing their pieces on the board whenever two or more line segments intersect.

  Three Man Morris Game
        or Roman Game

    Five Man Morris Game

When a player has three pieces in a row, he has a mill and may remove one of his opponent's men from the board. The row must be straight, it cannot turn a corner, and it must be along a drawn line, which means diagonals do not count in the five or nine man variants. The piece removed cannot be part of an opponent's mill. A piece may be part of more than one mill at a time.

In the second phase, after both players have placed all their pieces, players alternate moving their pieces along the lines to any open space trying to form new mills. If a piece moves out of a mill, the mill is broken and a new mill may be made by moving the piece back. A particularly effective strategy is to use four pieces to form two pairs with a fifth piece moving back and forth between the pairs creating a new mill with every move.

  Nine Man Morris Game

    Twelve Man Morris Game

When a player has been reduced to only two men, he loses. If a player cannot move any of his men because his opponent has him completely blocked in, he loses. In the nine and twelve man variants, a third phase variation is sometimes played. When a player is reduced to three men, he may move any man to any unoccupied space on the board on his turn and does not have to follow the drawn lines. Players should agree ahead of time on whether this rule variant is to be used.

I've included the Roman game in this article because it plays very similarly to a Three Man Morris game. As the name implies, it was played in ancient Rome. The board is circular rather than square which allows more opportunities for three in a row as there are no corners to avoid. Players alternate placing their three men on the board on the intersection of the line segments. When all three men have been placed, players take turns moving their men along the lines trying to create three men in a row. As soon as one player has done so, the game is over. Some game scholars believe that the children's game of "Tic-Tac-Toe" or "Noughts and Crosses" is a simplistic variation of this game designed for children.