Nine Mens Morris

Nine Men’s Morris. Thought by some to have been named after the English medieval morris dancing due to the movements around the board during the second phase of the game, but if this is the case then it was a renaming of the game as it is much older than this practice. Also known by the by the names of Mill, Merrills and Merels, is a very old English game. Evidence has been found that the game was played in ancient Rome and possibly Ancient Egypt.

Like most of the best games, the rules for Nine Mens Morris are simple, the objective being to capture the oppositions pieces by forming lines of 3. A game of skill and strategy that is easy to learn but requires a deceptive amount of thought to play well and so is an entertaining game for beginners and veterans alike.

The wooden board is 280mm square and 40mm thick and created from 4mm plywood which is coloured where shown by hand using acrylic paints before three coats of varnish are applied to the outside. The colours are for decoration only and are not significant during play. The colours may vary.

The draw contains a copy of the rules and 10 stones of each colour (including a spare in case of loss).

A  board consisting of three concentric squares connected by lines from the middle of each of the inner square’s sides to the middle of the corresponding outer square’s side. (In this set broken lines connect the diagonals which are used in one of the rule  variations)Colours used on this board are for decoration only.

9 pieces for each side in contrasting colours.

Preparation and Objective

The basic aim of Nine Mens Morris is to make “mills” – vertical or horizontal lines of three in a row. Every time this is achieved, an opponent’s piece is removed, the overall objective being to reduce the number of opponent’s pieces to less than three or to render the opponent unable to play.

To begin each player starts with their 9 pieces ready for play and the board is empty.

Basic Play

Player’s toss a coin to decide who will play first – moving first gives a slight advantage. Play is in two phases. Players take turns to play a piece of their own colour on any unoccupied point until all eighteen pieces have been played. After that, play continues alternately but each turn consists of a player moving one piece along a line to an adjacent point.

During both of these phases, whenever a player achieves a mill, that player immediately removes from the board a single piece belonging to their opponent. This piece must be a piece that does not form part of a mill unless all of the opponent’s pieces are part of a mill. A piece is only removed on the turn that creates a mill and only one piece may be removed per turn.

A player will often break a mill by moving a piece out the mill and then, in a subsequent turn, play the piece back again, thus forming a new mill and capturing another piece.

Captured pieces are never replayed onto the board and remain captured for the remainder of the game. The game is finished when a player loses either by being reduced to two pieces or by being unable to move.


Sometimes a “wild” rule is played for when a player is reduced to only three pieces. In this case, any player with only three pieces remaining is allowed to move from any point to any other point on the board regardless of lines or whether the destination point is adjacent.

Alternative Merels board layouts have been used over the centuries. One common pattern adds four extra diagonal lines to the basic board, the lines being drawn from the corners of the inner square to the corners of the outer square. (In this sets these lines have been drawn in as broken lines) Pieces can be moved and mills made along these extra lines in the usual way.

When playing it is possible to create more than one mill in a turn. It can be played that in this case an opponent’s piece can be removed for each mill created that turn.