Make a Nine Men’s Morris Board

Duration: 10 minutes for making the board, 10-15 minutes for playing the game
Recommended Ages: Suitable for anyone ages 9 and older
Description: Make and play a game that was popular with Revolutionary War soldiers.

Colonial Games

Most people in the 18th century worked or went to school six days a week.  They usually had only Sunday for leisure time. While they had less free time than we have, people of all ages still found time for fun.

Soldiers fighting in the American Revolution, especially, had a lot of responsibilities.  But even they found time for games.  With no vehicles to transport their belongings, common soldiers had only what they could carry in their own packs.  Some of them found room for a pack of cards, but most did not have room for other gaming materials.

How did soldiers manage to play games, if they could not carry equipment with them?  They had to be creative. Board games such as Nine Men’s Morris required very few supplies.  All soldiers really needed were two distinct sets of game pieces, such as rocks, acorns, or pieces of twig.  They might have used a stick to scratch a game board in the dirt. Because it was so easy to improvise the game’s equipment, people could play Nine Men’s Morris anywhere.

At first glance, Nine Men’s Morris is similar to tic-tac-toe.  It is a two-person game, and the goal is to take turns to place, and eventually move, your markers into a line of three.  In this game, three-in-a-row is called a mill.

But unlike in tic-tac-toe, once you have moved your “men”  into your first mill, you are not done.  When you get three-in-a-row, you get to capture and remove one of your opponent’s markers from the game.  Be careful! Your opponent will look for opportunities to create mills and therefore remove your pieces.  The game ends when one player has only two markers left, or no more moves can be made.

For detailed instructions on playing the game, including how to make your own board, keep reading.

Make a Nine Men’s Morris Board and Play the Game

What you need

A surface to draw on  Be creative!  You might make a board you can reuse out of paper or cardboard.  Or you might make a temporary board on a driveway or sidewalk You could even mark on dirt.
Writing materials such as a pencil, colored pencils, crayons, markers, pens, sidewalk chalk, or a stick
Scissors (if using paper)
Ruler (if using paper)
2 sets of 9 game pieces (or “men”) such as buttons, beans, rocks, legos, shells, paperclips, or other materials you have at home.  Just make sure that you can tell the difference between the set for each set player.

1. First we need to make a square of any size.  It is hard to play if your square is too small, though.  Use your ruler to determine how long the short side of your piece of paper is.   For example on copy paper, the short side is 8.5”. This size square works well.

2. If you want to make your board on a piece of copy paper, use your ruler to measure out 8.5” along the long side of your paper, and draw a line there.  Cut the paper all the way along that line.

3. Draw three squares on the paper, one inside the other so that they get smaller in the center of the board.

4. Draw a circle or dot at the corner of each of the squares, and in the center of each line making up the square.

5. Draw lines connecting the dots on the center of the lines.  Congrats, you’ve finished your board! It’s time to find someone to play with.

6. You decide who goes first.  Take turns. Each turn, one player places one man on a dot.  No two pieces may share a dot; each man must have its own dot.

7. Your goal is to try to get three in a row.  If you are lucky enough to make a row of three, you get to capture one of your opponent’s pieces.  Take it off of the board and put it in a little pile next to your own men.

8. Once you and your opponent have finished taking turns to put all  men on the board, you will begin the next part of the game.  Take turns sliding your markers one space at a time to make new lines of three in a row.  You may move your markers only one space at a time, and they must move along one of the lines on the board.  You may not jump other markers or to another part of the board!  You may slide from one dot to another if the two dots are connected by a line, and the place where you are going does not have another man on it.

9. Just as in the first part of the game, every time you get three in a row (a mill), you get to take one of your opponent’s markers.  Add it to your pile of captured pieces.

10. Keep going until one of you can no longer make a mill, either because you have only two men left or because you are completely blocked from moving.

Do you want to make your board more challenging?  Remove the diagonal lines to look like the one below.  Both designs are historically accurate.